Decolonising Anthropology: How and Why it Matters
The Course and its Evolution
This is a 10-week course that I put together with the support of colleagues Adom Heron and Gabriel Dattatreyan in 2019. Whilst the course has in inevitable paradox of having a private cost (i.e. the knowledge and teaching is privatised as part of the university’s process of commodifying education for profit), it offers the opportunity for people of all levels of education and experience to collectively go on a journey of learning and unlearning in a communal and participatory way.
In this course, we interrogate the notion of anthropological research being for ‘the public good’ and consider anthropology from the perspective of indigenous peoples who have often been made the object of study. We address our emotions and bodily reactions as we discuss issues of race and racism, question the liberal and western objectives of feminism and feminist anthropology and end with a critique of the nation-state as we learn with and from people crossing borders and living in detention centres. We see how borders become deterritorialized and play out in the everyday life of particular people with particular bodies. How race, colonial projects and identities play out in the contemporary era forms some of the context of understanding how anthropology as a discipline inevitably exists in relation to ongoing processes of colonisation and how the coloniality of power plays out in material, emotional and intimate ways.
Student work and reflections
Here are a few examples of works produced by students for the final week of presentations for the Decolonising Anthropology: How and Why It Matters short course and a teaching resource from one of the course collaborators Katerina Gray-Sharp from Aotearoa New Zealand.
In the final week, students are invited to present for 5 minutes or so on any topic of their interest that relates to the content of the course. They are encouraged to use visual forms, creative outputs and performance. We have had an amazing array of spoken word poetry, personal testimonials, video presentations and story-telling. Here is a Power point by Charlotte Paddock, who works at the National Maritime Museum, who gave a presentation on her experience of taking part in thanksgiving dinners with her partner from the US and questioning the origins and meanings of this ritual in settler-colonial violence.
This short video is made from a selection of audio-visual material shown during the course, collated by Laura Belinky - who is an Associate Lecturer and Technical Practice Tutor in the Media Communications and Cultural Studies Department at Goldsmiths. She curated this piece based on her learnings and own positionality as being a Brazilian of Jewish diaspora, reflecting on colonial violence and the Holocaust (resonating with the work of Aime Césaire 1972), during the course.
Finally, this is a short introduction to Katarina Gray-Sharp’s (Ngāti Rangi, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kauwhata, Ngāti Rangiwewehi) PhD work. Katarina and I met at the Social Movements Aotearoa conference (https://www.socialmovementsaotearoa.com/) in 2016 in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have been supporting each other through our academic endeavours since and she offered significant pedagogical suggestions and support for this course. Here she introduces her work, during the course she offers us presentations on Kaupapa Maori research methods and her analysis of Franz Fanon’s essay on colonial violence ‘On Violence’.
No-one thinks alone
Each time this 10-week course has been taught, the people that come in to the room as students bring significantly important viewpoints and perspectives that shape the course. However, the bulk of the ideas and materials for the course have resulted from various colleagues as noted below.
This course came together as a result of the many conversations I had with friends, colleagues and co-conspirators over the years as I struggled through the process of finishing a PhD in social anthropology at the University of Auckland, where I began and finished my training for becoming an anthropologist. Having not studied anthropology before, I was not fully aware of how colonial and ‘traditional’ the nature of my project truly was in the grand scheme of anthropology’s history. Thrown in at the deep end with fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, a huge privilege and amazing place to live, but also a place I had a feeling must be “crawling with anthropologists” - I had to find ways to make sense of the many uncomfortable feelings I had about the discipline and my own research process. This course results from many of the readings, media and conversations I had with generous and patient friends and colleagues in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea throughout the process. Whilst I still have not resolved many of these questions and undoubtedly gain a huge amount from my studies, especially with a focus on economic anthropology, and do see the philosophical merits of ethnographic theory, I remain unsure of the commonly taken for granted dynamics of who becomes the ‘subject’ of study and who gains the prestige of being the anthropological ‘theorist’.
The following friends and colleagues within and outside of anthropology provided me with a decolonial education. Their writings and our conversations provided me with an alternative training, they introduced me to readings and their writings affirmed my concerns and questions, which I have attempted to continue asking with this short course.
Dr. Daniel Hernandez
Dr. Andrea Low
Dr. Farzad Zamani Roja Tafaroji
Professor Kyle Whyte
Professor Kristie Dotson
Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem Associate
Professor Marama Muru-Lanning
With further Inspirations from:
Dr. Lisa Uperesa
Dr. Ty Tengan
Professor Linda Tuhi-Wai Smith
Professor Tēvita O.Ka’ili
Dr Gabriel Dattatreyan
Dr Akanksha Mehta