International Conference Beyond the Master’s Tools

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Opening address to the conference ‚Beyond the Master’s Tools: Post- and Decolonial approaches to research methodology and methods in the social sciences’ 

by Aram Ziai

“Postcolonialism is booming.” This statement introduced an edited volume on postcolonial sociology already a few years ago. That this conference – and indeed my own professorship – is being generously funded by the German Research Foundation bears witness to the fact that there is some truth to the statement.
And yet, one look into the newspaper is enough to convince me that the overwhelming majority is entirely free of even the remotest influence of postcolonial or decolonial studies: ... Continue reading.

Solidarity with the AcademicsForPeace!

Solidarity with the AcademicsForPeace!

15th January 2016
The participants in the conference affirmed the following statement:

We are very sad to hear that this morning many scholars, intellectuals and academics have been detained by the Turkish government, because of the signing a collective declaration issued that calls the Turkish state to restore peace and stop the escalation of violence in the Kurdish provinces. As conference organizers and participants, we would like to state that we are following these events with great sadness and are worried about the well-being of our colleagues and friends who are openly taking a critical stance against the Turkish government. We thoroughly condemn these actions and express our solidarity with all the scholars, intellectuals and academics that have been detained and investigated because of their commitment to justice and peace.

Es erfüllt uns mit Trauer zu hören, dass zahlreiche Wissenschaftler_innen, Intellektuelle und Forscher_innen heute morgen von der türkischen Regierung festgenommen worden sind, weil sie eine Erklärung unterzeichnet haben, die den türkischen Staat auffordert, die Eskalation der Gewalt in den kurdischen Provinzen zu beenden und Frieden wiederherzustellen. Als Organisator_innen und Teilnehmer_innen der Konferenz möchten wir zum Ausdruck bringen, dass wir die Ereignisse mit großer Sorge verfolgen und besorgt sind über das Wohl unserer Kolleg_innen und Freund_innen, die öffentlich eine kritische Haltung gegenüber der türkischen Regierung eingenommen haben. Wir verurteilen diese Handlungen und solidarisieren uns mit all jenen Wissenschaftler_innen, Intellektuellen und Forscher_innen, die wegen ihres Einsatzes für Frieden und Gerechtigkeit verhört und festgenommen worden sind.

Bu sabah bircok Türkiyeli akademisyen, arastirmaci ve aydinin Türkiye sinirlarindaki Kürt illerinde ve tasralarinda hala devam etmekte olan savasi durmak ve bariscil dayalogu tekrar gündeme tasimak icin yayinladiklari kollektif bildiriyi imzaladiklari gerekcesiyle gözaltina alindiklari ögrenmis olmaktan dolayi üzgünüz. Bu konferansin organizatörleri ve katilimcilari olarak süreci üzüntüyle takip ettigimizi ve Türk hükümetine karsi muhalif görüste olan meslektaslarimizin geleceginden endise duydugumuzu belirtmek isteriz. Türk hükümetinin bu davranisini kiniyor; barisi ve adaleti saglamaya duyduklari sorumlulugun bir göstergesi olan bu deklarasyon nedeniyle gözaltina alinan, hakkinda sorusturma acilan bütün meslektaslarimizla dayanisma icinde oldugumuzu beyan ediyoruz.

More information and solidarity activities

The declaration "We will not be a party to this crime!"



Post- and Decolonial Approaches to Research Methodology and Methods in the Social Sciences

The contention that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" (Lorde) translates into a major critique of Social Science research. Accusations regarding the continuation of "epistemicide" (Santos) highlight the dangers of an occidentalist or Eurocentric research agenda. Post- and decolonial perspectives point to colonial continuities embedded not just in the epistemic foundations and thematic concerns, but also in the actual practices, i.e. the craft of research as canonised in research methods and methodologies. A decolonising approach to Social Science research is necessarily twofold: the deconstruction of existing methodologies and methods that (re)produce the coloniality of knowledge; and a reconstruction and/or reinvention of research practice. The conference aims to bring together scholars to discuss methodological and methodical critiques as well as potentially post- /decolonial ways of doing empirical research.

Academic knowledge production has become a highly diversified field. Various turns (argumentative, ethnographic, spatial, practice, intersectional etc.) claim to offer epistemological lenses that allow for a more pluralist, contextualized and enriched understanding of the social world. While these developments may point to a desirable 'mainstreaming' of heterodox and critical approaches, we can still observe that the "right to research" (Appadurai) as a universalized hegemony over knowledge production remains the reserve of a minority marked by privileges linked to the history and present of colonialism. "Researching back" (Smith) appears to be a necessary but difficult process. The conference aims to discuss and learn from different approaches that strive to decolonize the field of academic research, i.e. the epistemological conceptualization and selection of research objects and research designs (Mato).

The methodological reflection of ongoing entanglements regarding hegemonic power/knowledge complexes leads to the reflection of decolonial methods and research practice. Feminist, anti-racist and decolonial scholars have focused on developing methods for power sensitive research in order to deconstruct what still appears to be a hegemonic and positivist research paradigm by putting forward concepts such as positional reflexivity, standpoint feminism, situated knowledge or critical whiteness. Analyzing everyday life practices or stories in ethno-methodological methods, reflecting on 'writing culture' (Clifford/Marcus) in cultural anthropology, focusing on counter-narratives in biographical research, conceptualizing gaps and silences in discourse analysis or addressing complexity in situational analysis are all approaches that provide useful tools for decolonial research. Furthermore, participatory research methods such as popular education (Freire) or participatory action research (Fals- Borda) open up perspectives for horizontal and collaborative research processes.

While university regulations might require researchers to follow formal guidelines for ethical research - for example, participant information sheets, informed consent, and right to withdraw at any moment -, post-/decolonial critique requires a more profound recognition of ethical issues. It urges us to account for the positionality of the researcher in relation to the field, the people investigated, and the "geopolitics of knowledge" (Mignolo) more broadly. Rather than perpetuating the obscuring stories of how we stumbled across field sites "by chance", it is necessary to bring to the forefront the ways in which researchers are "historically and socially [...] linked with the areas we study" (Gupta/Ferguson). First and foremost, a de-/postcolonial research ethics demands that we choose sides and step away from any pretense of neutrality, objectivity, and impartiality - while we still try to to reach an intersubjective understanding of the world. We thus have to ask (and answer) the highly political question of who benefits from our research. Postcolonial research ethics might even go further and say that it is not up to academics to decide on relevance, but that it should be up to the people fighting the decolonial struggles on the ground. It is not an easy feat, but - in spite of itself being predominantly Western, white, male, bourgeois, heterosexual, and able - academic research needs to be "existentially and politically committed to decolonisation" (Decoloniality Europe).

We invited contributions which engage with the following set of questions: 

  • How do the prevalent geopolitics of knowledge production shape social science research? How do they become productive - and which privileges/visibilities/capacities or marginalisations/invisibilities/ ways of silencing does this entail?
  • How do post- and decolonial perspectives challenge the Eurocentric grounding of research methods, methodologies, and ethics? What (new) empirical approaches, lenses and tools for research do these approaches offer or imply?
  • What are the implications of decentering or decolonizing methodology? What does this imply in terms of research agendas, research cooperation, case studies, academic discourse and dissemination? How does this relate to traditions of academic writing? How can new forms of expression be mobilised (e.g. story-telling, oral history, auto-ethnography, action-research)?
  • How can research designs and field access be realized without reproducing power complexes, but enable a process of "studying with" (Mato) marginalised actors and social groups?
  • How do requirements of decolonial research ethics clash with academic regulations and guidelines? Are such clashes necessary and to be welcomed; or are there innovative ways to pretend to play by the rules?
  • If the researcher abandons her*his privileges to select the problem to be analysed and leaves the decision to the decolonial social movements: who decides which social movements are decolonial and according to which criteria?
  • Is it possible for privileged researchers to unlearn their privileges and conduct research with marginalised groups in a political and ethical manner? If so, how? What are the implications for processes of research and knowledge dissemination?