The current volume presents 11 logically sequenced chapters organized along historical, conceptual, and thematic areas. The notion of decolonisation of higher education and hybridity is elucidated as a central organising theme, binding together the diverse perspectives of the authors. The subsequent section provides a brief introduction and overview.
Decolonisation of higher education in Africa: Background and current debates
In its first part, the volume tackles some essential deliberations on decolonisation such as approaching a common definitory ground and historical narration of its evolution as well as of the role of hybridity in this discourse.
Emnet Tadesse Woldegiorgis opens with a bird’s-eye view reflection on debates of decolonisation in higher education (Chapter 1). In an attempt to conceptualize African higher education from a historical perspective, the author explores the political economy of pre- and postcolonial African universities and their ‘academic oligarchies’ set among society, the market, and the state. In the process of transformation from colonial to postcolonial setting, higher education institutions in Africa shouldered multiple responsibilities as agents of economic growth, Africanisation, and state building in the 60’s and 70’s. Since the 1990s, however, the growing popularity of liberal economic principles, new debates on the notions of ‘knowledge economy,’ ‘knowledge society,’ and commercialization of higher education, triggered a whole new philosophical debate on the social responsibility of higher education.
Providing the methodological groundwork for doing decolonisation in higher education, Vanessa Wijngaarden and Grace Ese-Osa Idahosa offer an integrated approach (Chapter 2) from anthropology as a social scientific field that is specialized in dealing with a multitude of knowledge systems, and suitable to facilitate cross-cultural dialogues as well as highly critical reflections on its own knowledge constructions. They argue that if science (natural, social, and humanities) is to be a truly global knowledge system, scientific endeavours have to move beyond dualistic binaries of Indigenous versus Western, towards a dynamic dialogic approach that centralizes intersubjectivity, relationality, and contextualisation. Around the concepts of ‘radical multivocality’ and ‘adamant reflexivity,’ the authors convincingly explicate how the self-transformative effort of anthropology with its focus on self-reflexivity equip the discipline beautifully for developing transdisciplinary methods in decolonising science and thus the self-understanding of a university by treating science ‘as a form of culture’ and ‘co-creative dialogue.’ The authors advocate for a resistance against ‘integration/incorporation,’ which necessary implies hiérarchisation and appropriation.
From the lived experience of applied decolonisation, Jacqueline Liick (chapter 3) offers the perspective of applied linguistics in a southern context. The chapter introduces a ‘bottom-up transformative African-centred model for Linguistics.’ Applied here refers to the specific ways that the discipline transforms itself into a decolonial endeavour by stressing that ‘decoloniality is context’. The chapter provides practical examples from case studies that explore what it means to develop local southern multilingual knowledge projects and, to also enter into northern conversations. The chapter explores how Linguistics is navigating decoloniality in different spaces from workshops, curriculation spaces to the classroom at the Nelson Mandela University in South Africa. By so doing, it considers what it means to learn about language and to learn through languages in South Africa. The chapter rightly points out the dangers of an uncritical revival of hybridity in romanticising diversity and obscuring inequality in service of clearing the consciousness of northern academia: ‘A “new” hybrid science would have to pay attention to these critiques, if it is to serve a decolonial Linguistics agenda.’ The challenge is to create something new from the old while at the same time avoiding assimilation.
Expanding from linguistics proper and looking at decolonisation from an interdisciplinary perspective, Irina Turner’s contribution (chapter 4) -coauthored with Masters students — integrates students’ voices with regards to decolonisation. Emphasising the critical stance according to which decolonisation is not only for the former colonised to be undertaken, Turner insists on the self-critical engagement of academia from the North as a condition for success. Because of their influence in the continuation of neocolonial structures and power relations, the decolonial project also entails decolonising the institutions of higher education in the North, foremost and especially, the field of African studies. Implementing one step into this direction, the chapter presents the results of discussions with and among Master students of the AVVA programme (African Verbal and Visual Arts) at Bayreuth University in their visions of decolonisation as such and decolonsing learning spaces in particular. Accordingly, this discourse analysis is preceded and framed by a critical historical overview on German Afrikanistik, which is both the hosting discipline of AVVA as well as a carrier of ideological colonial baggage. The chapter is located in the realm of language sociology based on focus group interviews. Thus, it contributes to the current redefinition and re-legitimization of African studies in the North with a focus on art, literature, and language studies.
Iris Clemens (Chapter 5) focuses on the relationality of trading knowledges. Starting from an analysis on the contested terrain of the very definition of knowledge in science and the biased discussion in the past, she draws attention to the approach of trading zones (Galison, Raina) and travelling knowledge in the educational field from a network theory perspective. The author is also aware of the problematic entanglements of hybridity and asks whether bringing this up inadvertently might reinforce the notion of pure science: ‘Notions such as hybrid science discussed in this volume raise the question of whether there is — or could be at all - a science, which is not hybrid? Calls to indigenize the Anthropocene and hear epistemologies from the South DeLoughrey & Handley, 2011; Nixon, 2005; suggest that knowledge or knowledge production would normally be without such “contaminations’” (Clemens, 2009).
We agree with Clemens that hybridity must not be mistaken for ‘false copies’ of the original, universal knowledge: ‘The search for “origin” or first source of a concept is reducing the possible analyses and the gain of knowledge unnecessarily. Any knowledge we could know of today is per se hybrid then’ (Clemens, 2009). While we don’t see the point of this book to establish whether or not pure science does exist, we rather strive to rewrite the ahis-torical representation of this very notion.
The subsequent section on languages and literatures presents some case studies from these disciplines which maintain a central position in the decolonisation debate.