Paths Ahead, 3: Decolonization and Open Knowledge

In conjunction with my last post, decolonizing anthropology must at the same time involve a breakdown of barriers between the so-called disciplines and faculties of a the typical university. The typical university, as Wallerstein and others have amply demonstrated, derives its fundamental structure from the nineteenth-century European fragmentation and classification of knowledge into the distinctive disciplines that we know today (excluding more modern aberrations). Anthropology was the most obviously colonial discipline in the bunch since it was outward oriented, a way of knowing about peoples who were located in colonies.

Decolonizing both the subject matter, the ways of thinking (epistemology), and practices (analytical methodologies and research methods) of anthropology will have to entail an openness to other knowledge systems, both in the surrounding university arena and in the wider world. What this means is that African philosophies, Hindu texts, Amerindian cosmologies, and many other such examples, need to be incorporated into the mental framework of an open anthropology, so that the only knowledge that is privileged is no longer a purely Western one. At present, one would think that the only thinking that has ever been done, or done well, on this planet was done by Michel Foucault, or Mary Douglas, or Judith Butler, or Frederic Jameson, or Raymond Williams, or whoever else. That we, as academics, should feel so secure and confident in resorting to these as “authorities” that are quotable, as pillars of authorized and valuable knowledge, speaks volumes about our continued colonial mentality. That anthropology departments still feel no shame in passing over indigenous applicants in favour of more white analysts who speak about, and sometimes for, indigenous peoples is also an inexcusable practice that is impregnated with colonialist assumptions.

To decolonize anthropology means overcoming our cherished conceptual repertoire, to stop teaching “anthropological theory” as if it were a kind of bible, and to be open to not only the other disciplines whose feet are not as muddied by trekking through colonial terrain, but more importantly other knowledge systems altogether.

One thought on “Paths Ahead, 3: Decolonization and Open Knowledge

  1. Karl Eklund

    [] or “Wholly Holistic Evolution, Mr. Darwin:
    A Mathematical Theory Of Behavior With Particular Application to Homo Sapiens Sapiens” has some anthropological notions that are not colonial because they are mostly mathematical. Mathematics isn’t the answer to everything, but it is hard to make it racist.

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