Reflections on the UCT Decolonial Summer School. Or, learning to ask questions

Updated: Apr 6



What does it mean to do decolonial work?


Not, what is decoloniality, not, what constitutes a decolonial method, not, what defines decolonial theory, not even, what criteria make up decolonial practice, praxis, or what have you.


But, let's hear it again, what work needs to be put in in order to make it happen?



This question, among countless others, set the stage on which a week of dialogues, reflections, immersions, and exchanges took place at the University of Cape Town Hiddingh Campus in early January 2020, an experience that I was able to accompany thanks to the generous welcome of ECR Phoebe Kisubi and the South African WP1, as well as the African Gender Institute and Black Academic Caucus organizing committee.



A stage centred in the UCT Institute of Creative Arts´ Hiddingh Hall on which a small inscription beside the backstage door reminds us of the obvious, but not at all simple or easy answer to so many of our questions.



At one of the intermittent debrief sessions, the question was asked – in response to the dis/comforts inherent to doing decolonial work – how were you disrupted? cognitively? emotionally? psychologically? or…?


Our ability to identify these processes is crucial to the permanent process of a decolonial re/orientation.



In this spirit, I here choose to register some of the most potent questions that struck me over the course of the week. I choose questions, because easy answers are quick to come by. All you need is Google. Yet, the decolonial work that needs to be put in, what does it look like? What questions can guide our ways?



What is being risked to put forward one´s struggle?


When speaking to the im/possibilities of dealing with racial and gender violence and the materiality of domination...



How to deal with everyday trauma, and continue?


When affirming a healing process that can only work if collectively undertaken…



Do we actually want to hold those responsible accountable?


When interrogating the many historical debts and wounds that remain open...



What are the spaces of knowledge production from which you draw?


When speaking to one´s interlocution, those who accompany us...



How to teach a knowledge that is in motion, from libraries and archives that cannot be fixed?


When seeking ways to incorporate in our teaching, learning, researching the principle of movement…



How does today´s learning processes compare with those in your classroom? Is it a noisy classroom?


When pausing to come to terms with one´s role here and now…



Does the term decoloniality erase decolonization?


When speaking to the challenges of institutionalized, bureaucratized, and even – in transitional democratization processes in the South – compulsory processes of transformation and indigenization…



What is going to liberate us?


When questioning how we got to where we are…



How is writing like a photography of knowledge?


When proposing a film portrayal of linguicide and code-switching – lest us forget it´s about context and not multiplicity...



What constitutes a theory of knowledge?


When acknowledging the realities of epistemic extractivism, academic dependence and North/South division of (intellectual) labour along the lines of theory/case study standards, and the necessity to not distort that which one seeks to critique…



How to enable people to speak from their frame of reference?


When opening reflections on education, while being reminded of the role of formal education with its origins in missionary conversation projects...



How much does “decolonize” make sense as an objective in itself? What does it legitimate?


When working through the limits of decoloniality coming in through the backdoors of the academy and the necessity to constantly reframe the dispute…



How to proceed when we recognize that there is too much money to be made from social inequalities?


When putting reflections on health on the table, where looking to debility (as the agency to look after one´s wellbeing) resonates more loudly than disability (as an individual assessment)…



How do the muted speak?


When confronting the dynamics of working within contexts of structural violence, intergenerational trauma, mistrust, and the dispossession of land and labour and being, for those who have lost the confidence in their being and becoming due to endless dehumanizing assaults…



How are specific bodies legible? What happens when one does not enact their prescribed script?


When delving into the specificities of racialized gender and the problems of entitlement, credibility, and the value ascribed, aggregated, diminished, invested, etc. to human life...



How do women stay? How is agency enacted?


When deconstructing the question of why women stay, citing narratives of shaming and identifying who carries the shame as a way to grasp how power works in a given context…



What is your subjectivity relationally?


When proposing to think the subjectivity of relationships, that is, relationally rather than individually, in terms of an economy rather than property, ethics rather than law, and accompanying sources of author-ity…



From where comes decolonization?


When speaking to the role of institutions…



Who are we, how are we, and how are we going to move forward?


When addressing the restorative justice component of our actions and the right to restitution…



What would be a decolonial attitude for...?


When remaking attitude takes priority to changing content, specialized and specializable…



These questions open and close pathways...re/orienting the decolonial work.


As one participant put it, we must not forget the necessity of spaces of silence so that we can hear. And with hearing, comes discernment.


Here we bear witness to the necessity of being able to work with a knowledge in movement, of teaching, learning, researching a knowledge in movement...a backward and forward movement, rememoralizing the past and dreaming new futures, which gives us impulse to continue ahead, in the decolonial work that gives meaning to any idealized theory or practice.


Written by Andréa Gill (andrea.b.gill@gmail.com), Cape Town, 20 January 2020


***For more information on the UCT Decolonial Summer School see: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Black-Academic-Caucus-UCT-785908911530731/

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