Despite sustained critical attention to the politics of knowledge, contemporary anthropology disproportionately engages with ideas produced by academics based in European and North American universities. The ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ movement speaks to core areas of anthropological interest while making a critical comment on the academic structures in which anthropologists produce their work. The articles in this collection interrogate the terms on which academic work engages with its own history, and ask how the production of knowledge relates to structures of race, gender and location. The collection considers the historical, political and institutional context of the ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ movement, the potential impact that the movement might make on education and research, and the major challenges facing it.
Decolonizing the Curriculum
Coloniality, Curriculum and Crisis
The decolonization movement is a knowledge project insofar as colonialism was an epistemological form of imperialism. As such, curricular change in the primary grades to university life requires a fundamental reworking of theories of knowledge, if not knowledge itself. To interrogate this problem and pose possible interventions, this article explicates Edward Said’s conceptualization of colonialism as taking place on an epistemic level that orients western knowledge towards non-western ways through a will to dominate. Extending beyond the administrative colonial era, coloniality in the modern era, more appropriately called postcoloniality, transforms as a knowledge relation. Decolonization requires dis-orienting this relationship through Said’s methodology. Finally, the article argues that a ‘travelling curriculum’ poses an alternative against the dominant mode of knowledge that aims to fix and essentialize people, ultimately opening up the known world towards processes of co-existence.
Reflections from Cambridge
Heidi Mogstad and Lee-Shan Tse
This article has grown out of ongoing conversations, critical reflections and practical attempts at decolonizing anthropology at Cambridge. We begin with a brief account of recent efforts to decolonize the curriculum in our department. We then consider a few key thematic debates relating to the project of decolonizing the curriculum. First, we interrogate some consequences of how the anthropological ‘canon’ is framed, taught and approached. Second, we ask how decolonizing the curriculum might subtend a broader project towards epistemic justice in the discipline and the university at large. Third, we reflect on the necessity of locating ethics and methodology at the heart of ongoing conversations about anthropology and decoloniality. We conclude by reflecting on the affective tensions that have precipitated out of debate about the ‘uncomfortable’ relationship between anthropologists as intellectual producers at the ‘cutting edge’ of the canon, and the discipline’s rife colonial residues.
A Participant Observer’s View
I dwell here on my own experience of working at Cambridge University for methodological reasons. Anthropologists could make more of the humanities tradition of going deeply into particular personalities, places, events and relations in search of wider truths. Ethnography exemplifies this, but the discipline’s assimilation into the social sciences and academic bureaucracy counteract this impulse. I draw selectively on my anthropological education and academic work to interrogate the political relationship between western societies and their former colonies. Cambridge University is reactionary for sure, but its decentralized organization makes room for a minority sometimes to change the world. The historical example of the abolition movement illustrates this. Anthropology ought to be a way of rethinking the world, and I conclude with how and why I introduced students to the anti-colonial intellectuals who did just that when they led the liberation (not ‘decolonization’) movements that overthrew European empires.
Consensus-Building, Party-less Politics and a Culturalist Critique of Elections in Northeast India
Jelle J. P. Wouters
Interrogating the normative notion of ‘man the voter’, this article draws on ethnography among the Chakhesang Naga in Northeast India to communicate a cosmopolitan, culturalist critique – and an answer to this critique – of liberal democracy’s hallmark of party-based elections, individual autonomy and equal voting rights. While Nagas have been decorated as ‘traditional democrats’, their sense of the good political life is shaped by values of communal harmony, consensus-building and complimentary coexistence. However, these are threatened by practices and principles of liberal democracy, which led Phugwumi villagers to attempt a procedural adaptation of elections by substituting individual voting for consensus-building and the selection of a leader. I use this ethnographic case to provincialize the sprawling contemporary sense of ‘liberal universalism’, and to postulate that, in their political sociality, Nagas are a ‘society against voting’, an adaptation of Pierre Clastres’ (1977) Society against the State.
Beyond Reciprocity and Obligation in the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
In the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, known as ger districts, a growing number of rural-to-urban migrants live without access to formal urban infrastructure or regular incomes. Under these challenging material conditions, personal networks take precedence, providing and regulating access to employment and meat provisioning. Looking beyond discussions of anticipation among migrants focusing on the goals of migration, I interrogate the role of anticipation in the making and maintaining of relational networks. Existing analyses of such networks in Mongolia have generally relied on idioms of reciprocity or obligation. Focusing instead on material transfers and transactions among ger district residents reveals such networks to be more ambiguous and prone to failure than notions of reciprocity or obligation can easily accommodate. This article argues that the productive contradiction within the concept of anticipation – encompassing both expectative waiting and pre-emptive action – can illuminate new aspects of these relations and networks in action.
On Soldierly Becomings in the Desert of the Real
Thomas Randrup Pedersen
What if war is not hell? What if war is not entertainment? What if war is, instead, the stuff dreams are made of? What is one then to anticipate of one’s tour of duty in a war zone? In this article, I interrogate anticipations in relation to soldierly becomings through deployment to Afghanistan. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with Danish combat troops, I explore the uneasy coexistence of two anticipatory plotlines: ‘the passion’ and ‘the desert’. The former depicts the tour of duty as a heroic adventure driven by desire for real combat, while the latter casts deployment as an anti-heroic misadventure imposed by the dull reality in theatre. I argue that anticipation can harbour ambivalent, even antagonistic, yet simultaneous expectations of what might come. I show that anticipation is further blurred, as our anticipatory horizons are tied not only to our unsettled plotlines of becoming but also to our being’s existential imperative.
Adjudicating Moral Being and Becoming in the Los Angeles Mental Health Court
Abigail Jane Mack
Engaging an account of a judicial decision made in the Los Angeles Mental Health Court, this article interrogates the role of anticipation in the lived negotiation of moral, social and institutional orders. As Judge Samuel Benton recounts his attempt to let himself ‘emotionally off the hook’ in the wake of a patient’s suicide, anticipation emerges as: 1) an ordered, linear sequencing of events towards logical ends; 2) unsettled, temporally disjunctive engagements with the past in order to make sense of present experience and ambiguous futures; 3) existential negotiations of one’s potential morality and social belonging; and 4) distributed organization of information between people and across objects in order to elaborate present and future experience. These manifestations of anticipation reveal the social and temporal contingency and deep intersubjectivity of our negotiations with uncertainty in the unsettling process of becoming moral.
This article investigates civic-political and cognitive participation as they play out in democratic theory. Its core purpose is to develop a conceptual-normative critique of the presupposition in liberal democratic theory that these logics are mutually reinforcing and complementary. This misunderstanding of a theoretical ambivalence contributes to inhibiting constructive assessment of epistocratic*technocratic frameworks of democratic interpretation and theory. I demonstrate that these logics circulate contrasting views of democratic power and legitimacy and should be disentangled to make sense of liberal democratic theoretical and political spaces. This critique is then fed into a political-epistemological interrogation of post-truth and alt-facts rhetorical registers in contemporary liberal democratic life, concluding that neither logic of participation can harbor this unanticipated and fundamentally nonaligned way of doing liberal democratic democracy.
María y yo by Miguel and María Gallardo, Arrugas by Paco Roca and Una posibilidad entre mil by Cristina Durán and Miguel Ángel Giner Bou are contemporary Spanish graphic novels that can be considered pathographies. This article shows how they use the metaphor of the journey to deconstruct social representations and challenge preconceived ideas about autism, Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral palsy. By making readers travel to the unknown territory of differences and diseases, these works help them to discover and understand alterity. I also study how the authors use techniques specific to travel guides to explain these disorders, and interrogate the extent to which creating and reading those pathographies can have a curative dimension. This will lead to questioning the concept of the therapeutic journey.