Interview with Alice Feldman, School of Sociology at University College Dublin on the first Masters program in Race, Migration and Decolonial Studies in Ireland.
DIN: “What does the program consist of?”
Alice: “Given the dynamism of decolonial scholarship that has evolved in Europe these past years, I was surprised not to find other masters in decolonial studies when I was searching around while developing this one.
The pedagogy of the programme is itself shaped by the ever-expanding landscapes of decolonial projects, complemented by advanced training in critical sociology. Talking with some students the other day, and thinking about how to distil a description of it, we came up with three key elements or anchors: materiality, methodology and re-invention, or even re-in(ter)vention. So the programme is centred, first, on the exploration of trans-disciplinary and pluri-versal knowledges that are grounded in the histories and circumstances of lived experience — particularly in relation to the materialities of survival and resistance to the subjugating legacies of colonialism, imperialism and modernity. Second is experimentation with and cultivation of creative, embodied practices of engagement and critique through which such knowledges evolve. And third, is the element of praxis – the critically reflexive mobilisation of knowledges towards ‘re-existence’ as Achinte has called it, or ‘worlds otherwise’ as Escobar has articulated.
So, it’s inspired by efforts to reach beyond some of the legacies or limitations that have come to undermine knowledge politics as shaped by identity politics, and the disciplinary and paradigmatic divisions that they can generate. For example, unlike programmes which begin their epistemic journeys from a Western perspective to reach intersectionality, this course proceeds from a normative base of intersectionality and sort of explodes it – in a constructive way – through the lenses of knowledges that have always existed on the ‘Other-side’ to begin with. Perhaps it’s a matter of where you begin the conversations and how you get there — so it’s about more than including scholars of colour on reading lists or replacing readings by White, western, colonialist writers, or trying to avoid what a student in a recent discussion on identity and the curriculum referred to as ‘Week 11’ syndrome (which is the situation whereby this is the only session out of 12 in the semester that addresses feminist/postcolonialist/decolonial scholarship or writers — all the ‘Others’ — and sometimes all in the same lecture! So not only is it ‘lip service’ but it comes too late for students to even really engage or develop such work for assignments and so on their own).
But this isn’t an idea that can be achieved in one course alone, so we’ve tried to thread a decolonial or decolonising pedagogy throughout the delivery of the programme as a whole, from course content and assignments, to dissertation projects and supervision.
Students take courses in Critical Race and Decolonial Theories; Global Migration; Art, Knowledge and the Politics of Social Change; and research methods, and these are complemented by electives available in other disciplines and schools at UCD. There is a lot of space to support students according to their own interests and senses of inquiry, where they’re coming from and where they want to go after the programme, whether they’ve got specific plans about what they want to study or just want to try things out and experiment.
The programme is also very practice-focused, encouraging critical explorations of innovations in creative, activist methods of social/political engagement in art and research practices. Central to this is embodied, or, to use the term, ‘aesthesic’, which is about centring multi-sensory, sensual engagement and expression, as well as collaborative approaches to teaching, learning and knowledge creation. These, too, are also fundamental anchors of race critical and decolonial practice. And I’m referring here to the distinctions made, for example, in critical race theory between simply critiquing and the work of ‘reconstructing’, and the use of the term, ‘re-existence’ as ‘more-than’ ‘resistance’ in the contexts of decolonial scholarship. And this dimension of the programme comes from my own experience of using arts-based research methods and moving those practices into the classroom, along with my collaborations with artists associated with Parity Art Studios at UCD and the Artist in Residency programme they run. We’ve been doing a lot of interesting projects around the confluences of art and research practices, particularly in relation to the politics of reflexivity, representation and appropriation, exploring alternative sites of learning and so on, that cross-cut the different sectors and contexts of mobilisation/change work.”
DIN: “How’s the first year going?”
Alice: “Really well! The courses and activities have attracted an extremely enthusiastic and engaged group of students – both within the programme itself and across other related programmes and disciplines.
The pedagogy of the programme — ultimately it doesn’t constitute a huge leap for critically oriented students, but it is very demanding. The nature of decolonial work, and the vast intellectual and activist genealogies that underpin it – and the fact that so much of this work has been excluded from conventional university curricula – requires students traverse vast landscapes of ideas, histories, materialities and practices. While there’s lots of support for these journeys, students must ultimately give up a lot of the ‘certainties’ or senses of ‘security’ that they have come to construct or rely on in conventional curricula or teaching practices – false though they may be! – or that they’ve been taught to seek, like in terms of the western paradigms of research – things around ‘validity’, ‘evidence’, ‘knowing’ and so on.
And as I was saying earlier, the embodied, expressive, reflexive nature of this work turns on the cultivation of skills and perspectives that, for many, can be well out of their comfort zones or even familiarity. They not only have to try out new ways of doing things, but often literally have to ‘feel’ their ways through projects so as to develop (or further develop) their own styles or practices of critique and methodologies, by sifting through exposure to a multitude of different ways of working. But the students have totally stepped up to this and immersed themselves in these challenges — It’s not like I’m surprised by this, but I’m just so impressed and edified by what they’re accomplishing!
They might not have been exposed to the specific ideas and methods of these paradigms, but I think students, now more than in the recent past – at least in my experience in Ireland, or at UCD – they intuitively know that they need new skills– beyond those that constitute many of the ‘staples’ of the Western university or curriculum. They know that skills that more effectively rise to the complex and multiplicitous challenges they face and the social conditions they are contending with or seek to transform – the ways of thinking, doing, mobilising ‘otherwise’ which are at the heart of race critical and decolonial paradigms – are crucial, regardless of where they’re headed after the programme.
All of this seems to have come together to create a ‘vibe’ or a sense of a learning environment, where the big ‘knowledge/power’ issues like ‘unknowability’, ‘incommensurability’, ‘positionality’ arise in ways that are natural and inspiring – ‘aha moments’ that ‘make sense’. And students’ own journeys through all this become part of the process as well as the outcomes. These sorts of dynamics have generated a real sense of a collective, a collective experience or ‘project’ that all of us have become part of – including guest speakers, other staff and students – any event or happening can become an opportunity for a decolonial moment of learning, questioning or intervention!
And there’s a lot that is really catching on – we’ve started a Decolonising the Curriculum Platform that is attracting academic and administrative staff as well as students. The lexicons of decoloniality and decolonising the curriculum are starting to enter conversations in relation to equality/diversity initiatives in the institution, so hopefully all of these different dynamics, their synergies with other similar groups and efforts will continue to grow and evolve. So even though it’s taken a while to get things rolling, we’re really excited about linking in to such a vibrant network of scholars, activists and artists – in Europe and internationally. We’re very keen to build alliances with other programmes, groups and people, so anyone who’s interested in collaborations – even simple things like shared talks through skype or such, anything that can be mutually reinforcing across our different projects, please contact us!”
For further information see: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.racemigrationdecolonialstudies.com; and for the Decolonising the Curriculum Platform UCD see: www.facebook.com/DecolonisingUCD ; email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Feldman (School of Sociology, University College Dublin) uses arts, collaborative and decolonial methods to intervene in the intersecting global colonial legacies and amnesias underpinning the current necropolitical moment. This research has, in turn, informed her techniques of ‘pedagogical bricolage’ for methodology training around creative research practices, the reflexive imagination and research justice. Over the past fifteen years, she has worked in research, advisory and volunteer capacities with many civic, community and other organisations in Ireland involved in anti-racism, migration and interculturalism work.