Thursday, 24 September 2015

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, counter-hegemonic globalizations and cognitive justice - implications for teaching and learning

In the SOTL@UJ: Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy discussions we have considered many perspectives on social justice, critical theory and appropriate research methods, and have spent time - but possibly not enough - on the question of knowledge: whose knowledge, how do we approach knowledge for social justice, and what are the implications for teaching and learning? I recently came across the work of Bonaventura de Sousa Santos, who is Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Thanks to Sioux McKenna for a reference to his work.) His principal thesis is that western critical theory is 'tired', and that it has nothing new to offer. This clearly means we need to look elsewhere for inspiration - for example the global South, which rather than the geographic South, is a metaphor for wherever the disposessed live. The work of latin American writers who can show us the way forward are summed up in the concept of "nuestra America". de Sousa refers to the hegemonic globalization of western theories and knowledge as a form of 'epistemicide': in the academy and the capitalist knowledge economy we are destroying local and indigenous knowledges. It is worth listening to his talks, at:

An article I found which had lots of ramifications for social justice in higher education is:

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2001) Nuestra America: Reinventing a subaltern paradigm of recognition and redistribution. Theory, Culture and Society, 18 (2-3) 185-217. (I have saved it in the project dropbox folder under "general readings: cognitive justice". )

The points that are particularly relevant for social justice in the higher education classroom are threefold:

The sociology of absences - rather than to continuously see the marginal classes as ignorant and dangerous, we have to be reflexively on the lookout for those silences and gaps imposed by the dominant knowledge practices. To me this has major implications for how we approach teaching and learning, and what we frequently talk about as 'epistemological access' - the knowledges to which our students do not enjoy access, and in whose thrall they are seen as ignorant.

The theory of translation - here one wants to see the mutual intelligibility between different concepts and struggles and oppressed groups, without homogenizing all struggles, or subsuming some under others.

The third step is manifesto practices,  or the principles of action that bring about alliances between different struggles. Significant here is the idea that there can be no recognition (achieved via a politics of difference) without redistribution (achieved via a struggle for equality). In the SOTL@UJ seminars last year we discussed the relationship of recognition and redistribution with reference to the writing of Nancy Fraser. This is a good point to bear in mind presently in South Africa, where on some campuses a struggle for recognition is more salient (e.g. Rhodes must fall) whereas at others, protests about access, fees and residence condition are more about a struggle for redistribution. There is a nice section in the article:

.. the notion of a fundamental meta-right: the right to have rights. We have the right to be equal whenever difference diminishes us; we have the right to be different whenever equality decharacterizes us (p. 193). 

This is a useful complementary view to that of the role of indigenous knowledge systems. We would need to think deeply of how we were to achieve this kind of listening, translating and recognizing of other worldview in our classes. Granted, our classrooms are not the same as the international arenas in which the struggles of the landless or oppressed are fought, but as the current tensions in South Africa that are playing themselves out at some of our universities are showing, our classrooms are by no means totally separated out from these broader societal struggles. If this is the case, how do we teach and research our teaching differently?

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