Decolonise Your Knowledge How Colonial Are the 599,000,000 Results of Your Most Recent Google Search?

Decolonise your knowledge
Photo: picture alliance / empics

Who is Chatting?

Bobby Shabangu (Wikimedia/Jo'burgpediA), Noa K. Ha (urban scholar) and Lucia Halder (curator) chat with you about knowledge in a postcolonial world. How do methods and hierarchies of knowledge production and distribution intersect – and what changes are necessary?

Concept and further authors: Regine Hader, Elisa Jochum
 
On WhatsApp and Telegram #DecoloniseYourLife ends on 7.12.2019. Here you can continue to follow all chats, and discuss with us.
  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    The first time I heard the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was about four years ago. I got excited because to me it meant that technology would make it easy for people to have access and share information regardless of who they are and where they are in the world. By that time, I’ve already been an active blogger and a contributor to Wikipedia. However, as I continued to acquire and share information online, I noticed that most of the information is skewed toward Western countries (the USA and Europe). There’s not a lot of information from global-South countries like mine, South Africa.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Hi Bobby, I’m not surprised, there’s only little – and also wrong – information about global-South countries in Europe. Full of stereotypes and assumptions – it took me quite a while to unlearn this.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    I grew up in Europe, that’s why I referred to the European context.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    I totally agree with Noa. It also took me a long while to realise that knowledge production is embedded in power asymmetries.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    @Bobby: Was it then when you started your Jo’burgpediA project?

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    Oh yes, it was around this time when I started this project because I got worried about how to ensure representation, moving forward in a digital world. It raised the question of whether we should be excited about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    That’s a good question!

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    What do you think: if there was more information available to us (through new technologies), would we know better?

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    There’s a direct line between your question and how the Fourth Industrial Revolution – like Bobby put in his opening statement – did not fulfil his hopes, if I got it right.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    Maybe the question is about WHOSE knowledge…

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    And whose technologies? I would add.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    Oh yes.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    That’s a very interesting question because, as much as new technology makes our lives easier, it unintentionally excludes others.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    I would also add that we need to organise, evaluate and interpret information. How do we engage with information that is new to me/us – and how may this information question my/our previous knowledge? How are we able to deal with this kind of knowledge?

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    Very good question – because, as a Wikipedia editor doing projects in South Africa, it hit me that most of the information I want to see online doesn’t have references. Some is not even in written format but has been orally passed down from generation to generation. Song has also been an important medium to convey information, which means it cannot be accepted academically or even be considered notable.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    New technology does not necessarily grant access for everyone but can include many more people – as well as knowledge that platforms like Wikipedia still marginalise. There are, for example, systems for managing community knowledge, i.e., web-based platforms for gathering information on objects, rituals, intangible heritage, etc. I know them from the museum context: people who gained their expertise, independently of the academic world of knowledge production, through experience use them as “knowledge repositories”. Here’s a link to an example: https://www.keepingculture.com/

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    These systems serve as platforms for knowledge that exists besides “official” narratives. What do you think about such approaches compared to Wikipedia, for example?

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    I think knowledge management systems are great platforms but there will still be hurdles when it comes to issues of licensing. African knowledge belongs to the people. Do you know on what licence these systems draw?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    No, I don’t know which licence they are using.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Yes, it is painful when knowledge is not considered as adequate. As knowledge does not only get lost, but also destroyed. Boaventura de Sousa Santos writes about the destruction of knowledge through colonialism as epistemicide, and Gayatri Spivak writes about epistemic violence. Therefore my main concern here and now is: what do I know? Why don’t I know? Why wasn’t I able to learn earlier?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    @Bobby, what do you think, what has to happen for African knowledge to stay and to belong to the people?

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    @Bobby: Thank you for talking to us.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    Thanks for your inspiring comment, Bobby!!! I think there are several prerequisites for – and ways of – participation. Access is definitely an important one.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    By the way, this does not only apply to African knowledge but all knowledge. As the world evolves, we are becoming highly dependent on technology, but that technology is controlled by few people who are mostly men from “first-world” countries. And all others merely consume without contributing to this knowledge.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Yes, I agree.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    The aim is not to judge global-North countries but to find out what can be done to sensitise them to the rest of the knowledge that exists.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Your point about “gatekeepers” is very important – because I would think that universities function as gatekeepers as well.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    My point exactly.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    Instead of getting excited about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), I become worried and ask myself: does this usher in a new colonial era where a few people control information and how it’s contributed and shared? Does this mean the death of other cultures’ knowledge? How can internet – and other media – platforms as well as academic institutions be inclusive to all forms of knowledge in a way that is not discriminatory?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Why do you think it’s not about judging the global North? In my view, it’s important to judge and think about the rights and wrongs – and the wrongdoings of the (over-)developed rich countries. As we also need to share a sense of common justice while we gain knowledge. Knowledge production is an ethical process as well – and, too frequently, I miss a discussion about such ethical implications.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Also @Bobby: I like your questions – as they focus on the structures of knowledge production (such as platforms and institutions). It’s important to know where there are based.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    What would the world look like if these infrastructures would be based on the African continent, or in the south of the Americas, or in some of the Asian countries?

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    The thing is, since I’m an African who has the privilege of having the tools to contribute to knowledge (not all knowledge), I’m not sure if the gatekeepers are aware that they are excluding an entire host of other people in the process of improving the way we access information. Gatekeepers could be universities, as you said, as well as internet platforms, media and every institution that has control over access to vast amounts of information. And you can’t blame a person if they don’t know, they only need to be sensitised!

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    I agree that an emphasis on structures is key. A closer look at them can be very interesting. For example, the immense hidden archives of images behind facial recognition, which consist mostly of western models’ faces. And that’s only one example...

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    So do you think working on a shared/common curriculum might be a point of departure?

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    Or questioning the institutions themselves?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    It would be wonderful if it would be that easy that we only need to sensitise people. But to be honest, I’m very sceptical as I work at a European university – and the degree of ignorance and innocence is sometimes mind-blowing. Gloria Wekker writes as a Surinamese-Dutch scholar about “White innocence” and about how Dutch society considers itself to be very innocent of its own colonial history.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Her work gives an impression of the knowledge invested in a refusal to know.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    @Lucia: I love the idea of a shared curriculum and I think this might work well if there can be a way for Western knowledge to fully recognise indigenous knowledge as an authentic source. Once that happens, bearers of indigenous information and insight will be recognised to be standing on an equal footing with PhD university scholars – because, while the PhD scholars received their expertise through academia, bearers of indigenous knowledge acquired theirs through experience passed down through generations. I have the sense that a medical researcher holding a PhD would look down on a North American Shaman who would want to teach him/her about a medicine that has been used for thousands of years.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    But once he/she proves it’s working (through laboratories), he/she will then "licence it" and sideline the poor shaman who had been the actual bearer of this knowledge, that is, without whom no one in our present time could have known about this medicine in the first place.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    Exactly, that knowledge itself could be sidelined, or even worse, exploited and extracted – and then licenced by others. That’s why I think the “Charter of Decolonial Research Ethics” is so important, because knowledge of indigenous societies has too often been exploited – see here: https://decolonialityeurope.wixsite.com/decoloniality/charter-of-decolonial-research-ethics

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    Going forward, what do you think needs to happen to decolonise all knowledge?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    I think that there is a long way to go. We also need look at the archives and ethnological collections (in Europe, the USA, Canada). We must think about this knowledge, their cosmologies within the archives and about how to give credit, meaning and life to them. Perhaps we also have to question the need for property rights on knowledge – in particular in Western/industrialised countries – and we have to re-consider our methods of profit-oriented knowledge production.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    I think the first step is to sensitise and to have debates. Then come the structures. Maybe it’s less about contributing (like on Wikipedia) and collaborating, and more about co-creating and distributing knowledge in a global classroom/museum/archive/world wide web or whatever form this might take. Or to quote Achille Mbembé: “In order to set our institutions firmly on the path of future knowledges, we need to reinvent a classroom without walls in which we are all co-learners; a university that is capable of convening various publics in new forms of assemblies that become points of convergence of and platforms for the redistribution of different kinds of knowledges.” (Source: https://wiser.wits.ac.za/system/files/Achille%20Mbembe%20-%20Decolonizing%20Knowledge%20and%20the%20Question%20of%20the%20Archive.pdf)

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    Lucia and Noa, thank you so much for the chat and thanks for not being too formal. This is an interesting and an eye-opening conversation for me...

    Dear readers, what must change in your opinion?

  • Reader Question from a reader

    Noa, to what extent do you see the potential for a continued, digital colonialism in new technologies?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    The question somehow implies that there is a continuation of a digital colonialism. Although “new technologies” may suggest to be more accessible, I deem it key to undo colonialism to unpack the infrastructures of technologies. So far, as I see it, the knowledge to produce knowledge on new technologies is in the hands of former colonial powers. Furthermore, I think the extent of the “potential” you mention is quiet exceptional as these new technologies come along with a new set of surveillance technologies.
    I understand the term you use, “potential”, as a possibility of becoming – but here, actually, the point is that, on the one hand, a continuation is addressed and, on the other, a crafting of new ways to gain, maintain and uphold knowledge (and power) takes place.

  • Yaghoobifarah Hengameh Yaghoobifarah

    Would you suggest an (extra) class, say at universities, on decolonising your schedule or would you integrate it in different classes (politics, history, philosophy, etc.)?

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    I would rather conceptualise all courses in a new way. Instead of adding some decolonial thinking into disciplinary courses, I would think of decolonial teaching and knowledge about learning. An extra class might be a kick-off but might run into the problem of not questioning the ways of our thinking and learning. If we take a decolonial approach to the university system seriously, than we need to think beyond disciplines and courses. How do we support a way of learning that students are able to question, to discuss and where they can change perspectives? We rather need small groups of students who might work in problem-oriented projects and think through all steps of transformation.

  • Halder, Lucia Lucia Halder

    Thanks for the interesting question. I think the process of decolonising the schedule should be negotiated on different levels – on the political (top down), but also in participative formats (bottom up), and this in a transdisciplinary way.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    I think it would be a good start to integrate a process of decolonising knowledge into the education system. This process might extend to the High-School level as well, because knowledge is colonised at this very place. As to the subjects where to integrate this topic, well, this question is open to discussion.

  • Bobby Shabangu Bobby Shabangu

    I do agree 100% with Lucia and Noa’s comments because this is a very complex subject and it needs broad thinking where you put yourself in everyone’s shoes – both those underrepresented and the gatekeepers of knowledge. This issue requires one to think about how to find balance between the two.

  • Noa Ha Noa Ha

    That is a good point, and I think it needs many people. It’ll also be extremely fascinating how to define “balance”. Balance of what and for whom? It’s not only complex but also discomforting and the process needs to include a lot of un-doing and un-learning.