Dr Seán M. Muller: "Decolonisation across the disciplines"

Event date: 
Wednesday 9 February
A picture of Dr Seán Muller

An IASH Work-in-Progress seminar, delivered by Dr Seán Mfundza Muller (IASH-SSPS Visiting Research Fellow 2022; University of Johannesburg):

Decolonisation across the disciplines

There has been a marked increase in interest in the decolonisation of academic disciplines in the last decade and particularly in the last five years following the highlighting of these issues by South African student movements. One might categorise the associated literature into two broad stands. The first strand elaborates the intellectual case for decolonisation and examining questions of decoloniality – in society (local and global) as a whole and the academy. The second strand contains studies of particular disciplines, either starting directly from the history of those disciplines – by mapping, for instance, forms of omission, exclusion, erasure, intellectual colonisation or epistemic injustice – or seeking to apply contributions from the first strand to an area of study. Within both strands of the literature, consideration is given to research, its use in society, and its representation in academic curricula.

What appears to have been relatively neglected in these literatures is the question of how the imperative of decolonisation might, and should, vary across different academic disciplines and topics. For example, one might ask whether the imperative is as strong in mathematics as it is in anthropology? If so, why? If not, why not? Or, for instance, one might ask if ‘Eurocentric logic’ is inherent in any knowledge produced in Europe and North America, or is some knowledge inherently context-independent? Answers to such questions would, I suggest, provide additional structure to our understanding of decoloniality and the direction taken by decolonisation initiatives.

The broad thrust of my work, which partly draws on some examples that have emerged from the South African case, is two-fold:

  • To address the above-mentioned lacunae regarding the questions of how and why the decolonisation imperative might vary across different disciplines
  • In doing so, to contribute to broader understandings of decolonisation and what it might mean for different academic disciplines.

By its nature, the research should be of interest to anyone interested in decolonisation in the academic context, regardless of discipline, from whom I also welcome comments and insights from the perspective of their own disciplinary contexts.

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