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Decolonizing Anthropology

Decolonizing Anthropology is a new series on Savage Minds edited by Carole McGranahan and Uzma Z. Rizvi. Welcome.

Just about 25 years ago Faye Harrison poignantly asked if “an authentic anthropology can emerge from the critical intellectual traditions and counter-hegemonic struggles of Third World peoples? Can a genuine study of humankind arise from dialogues, debates, and reconciliation amongst various non-Western and Western intellectuals — both those with formal credentials and those with other socially meaningful and appreciated qualifications?” (1991:1). In launching this series, we acknowledge the key role that Black anthropologists have played in thinking through how and why to decolonize anthropology, from the 1987 Association of Black Anthropologists’ roundtable at the AAAs that preceded the 1991 volume on Decolonizing Anthropology edited by Faye Harrison, to the World Anthropologies Network, to Jafari Sinclaire Allen and Ryan Cecil Jobson’s essay out this very month in Current Anthropology on “The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the Eighties.”

Decolonizing Anthropology Harrison

These questions continue to haunt anthropology and all those striving to bring some resolution to these issues. It has become increasingly important to also recognize the ways in which those questions have changed, and how the separation between Western and NonWestern is less about locality and geography, but rather an epistemic question related to the colonial histories of anthropology. Decolonization then has multiple facets to its approach: it is philosophical, methodological, and praxis-oriented, particularly within the fields of anthropology. Here at Savage Minds, we have decided to take these questions on again in a different public, and work through a series of dialogues, debates and possibly even reconciliation. Continue reading

Decolonizing Anthropology: A Conversation with Faye V. Harrison, Part I

On March 3, 2016, three anthropologists at the University of Colorado–Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca C. Williams–sat down with Faye V. Harrison, distinguished professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to talk about decolonizing anthropology then and now. We share now a lightly edited transcript of our videotaped conversation: this is Part I of the conversation; Part II is here.

Faye Harrison
Faye V. Harrison, editor of Decolonizing Anthropology (1991)

KAIFA ROLAND. Thank you all for coming. I’m Kaifa Roland here with Carole McGranahan and Bianca Williams. We’re all anthropologists at the University of Colorado, and we are thrilled to welcome our distinguished cultural anthropologist for 2015-16, Dr. Faye Harrison, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. We’re going to have a conversation on looking back at Decolonizing Anthropology and then moving toward the future, but who knows where things will take this. I will let Carole start us off.

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. Faye, thank you so much for being here. In the discipline of anthropology, you can’t utter the words “decolonizing anthropology” without immediately thinking of your book Decolonizing Anthropology which came out in 1991, and was so ahead of its time. However, right now the idea to decolonize anthropology, or even decolonize the academy in some ways feels really of the current moment, that this is something new. And yet 25 years ago, you and a group of colleagues put this volume together. For anyone who actually reads the fine print, you can see that the book came out of the first invited session for the Association of Black Anthropologists in 1987. So I think where we wanted to start was with that moment, both with the volume, but also the session, and to ask, how did the idea and the impetus for this come about and even the term to “decolonize” in that moment, which just hadn’t really been used in that way, so could you can share with us a little more back from the day?

FAYE HARRISON. Well, in the late 80s the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA) was a site where I think some very exciting things were happening. At that time the ABA had gone through many crises, it didn’t have the membership, it didn’t have the visibility that it has now with an established journal: Transforming Anthropology, with a lot of things going for it, a track record. So in the late 80s, Angela Gilliam and I, we were having conversations, we were organizing sessions. I was in a network of people who made sure that the ABA had a presence at the AAA, and on its conference program. We had just officially joined as a section, a recognized section, in the AAA, and that gave us at that time I think one invited session. And so Angela and I—I can’t remember if I came up with the idea, or if she did, but it was definitely, you know, at that moment, a dialogue, a collaboration—so we decided that we would organize a session on decolonizing anthropology. Continue reading

Decolonizing Anthropology: A Conversation with Faye V. Harrison, Part II

On March 3, 2016, three anthropologists at the University of Colorado–Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca C. Williams–sat down with Faye V. Harrison, distinguished professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to talk about decolonizing anthropology then and now. We share now a lightly edited transcript of our videotaped conversation: this is Part II of the conversation; Part I is here.

Left to right: Kaifa Roland, Faye Harrison, Bianca Williams, Carole McGranahan
Left to right: Kaifa Roland, Faye Harrison, Bianca Williams, Carole McGranahan

 

KAIFA ROLAND: [Continuing the conversation from Part I]…..Carole, I think you had a question related to that, to who the community of anthropologists are.

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. Sure, what I’m most prompted by here is in some ways a two-part question. The first part is that anthropology has for a long time been responsive to what’s happening on the ground. We tell our students that when you go to the field, your project’s going to change, because you need to see what’s going on in the moment and what matters to the people. So there’s the way that we’ve become responsive in terms of both the objects and the subjects of our research, and then there’s the way structurally we’ve become responsive to what’s happening on the ground in the discipline. To what you’re talking about now, Faye, that the AAA and other institutions have been trying, maybe lip-service at times, but at other times some real, hard, blood, sweat and tears effort to try and institute some changes. You are someone who has tried to create changes in the discipline beyond the AAA. You are one of the few American anthropologists, as we sit here all of us are anthropologists in the US, but you are the president of the IUAES, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, a name which doesn’t roll off the tongue easily—

FAYE HARRISON. It doesn’t, but you did wonderfully! [Laughs]

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. But you’re someone who is right now at a point in your career where you’re going around and talking to anthropologists in lots of different countries. What do we need to be learning from that in this decolonizing moment?

FAYE HARRISON. Well, one thing that you brought up earlier, is that you know, in that essay that conceptually frames the Decolonizing Anthropology volume, I had a sense that we need to be talking to and taking seriously with intellectuals, not just anthropologists, from the Global South. At that time, many politically conscious and active folk of color sometimes also used “third world” metaphorically to mean us. We are in the belly of the beast; we are third world. We know, what, twenty generations removed sometimes, that some of our ancestors did come from what today or then would have been the third world, what today we call the Global South. So we articulated and imagined that solidarity, and that comparability with our counterparts in other parts of the world. I had a sense that we need to be more inclusive, because anthropology should not be the western study of the rest of the world, which is basically what its history has been. It should be more of democratized conversation, with everyone having a chance to make a contribution. Continue reading

Healing “the Break”: A DiaspoRican Project of Return

By: Melissa Rosario

Decolonization has always been a fraught term for me. As a third generation Puerto Rican from the burbs of NYC who has studied anthropology and the politics of/at “home” for over a decade, this is probably not surprising. In today’s world, members of US Congress propose “solutions” to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis in the form of financial oversight, wage cuts and increased exploitation and privatization of natural resources. Within this context, to speak of decolonization feels futuristic at best, oblivious at worst. And yet, the practices I associate with the decolonial—shifting, unlearning and reclaiming—are more important than ever.

This piece is a riff on a “social project of return”[i] that I have been scheming on as of late. It began as a dream of helping to foster alternative economies in Puerto Rico. Right now, I’m calling it the Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action (CEPA) to signal its dual mission of building eco-social futures in Puerto Rico while fostering purposeful island/diaspora encounters at home. It is primarily a version of my teaching life—a curriculum for transformative justice that I have been developing on the margins of academia—integrated with my deepest political aspirations. CEPA will be a cooperatively run experiment in local self-reliance that bridges the divides that have (almost) broken me: diaspora-island/expert-community/study-practice. My hope is that by building a base for diaspora based Puerto Ricans and allies to live and work with others who have stayed, we can build a translocal approach to transforming island’s economic system. Continue reading

On Decolonising Anthropology

By Zodwa Radebe

Decolonisation can be understood as the process that decolonises what was colonised; not what was used to colonise. Therefore, it is absurd to think that anthropology can be used as a tool to decolonise because it was used to colonise. We need to unthink anthropology and imagine something like decolonised ethnic studies, which Maldonado-Torres explains as: “studies of and from the lived experience of the damned, that are able not only to offer positivistic analysis and corrected facts about certain communities but can also offer a radical critique of the sciences.” (2009:127)

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A Decolonial Turn in Anthropology? A View from the Pacific

By: Lisa Uperesa

Over the past two decades, non-White and non-Western scholars have posed serious challenges to the politics of knowledge production in anthropology and the academy more widely. In the wake of critiques of Orientalism, the articulation of indigenous methodologies, and the exploration of indigenous epistemologies, not to mention critiques of whiteness and white privilege, we might assume a new, more inclusive time in anthropology has begun. But has it? Drawing on my experience as a scholar trained in anthropology, as well as a decade of experience as a member and four years as board member including one as chair of an international anthropological scholarly organization, in this essay I explore the continuing dynamics of marginalization of indigenous Pacific scholars in and through the claiming of scholarship and scholarly organizations and anthropology itself as white public space.

My time at University of Hawaiʽi-Mānoa has taught me many things about being a Pacific academic trained in anthropology, living, working, and researching in our linked communities. In particular, it has reinforced to me the importance of positionality and the way it shapes our research process and writing. In my work with Samoan communities, I have noted that non-Samoan researchers who work with Samoan communities are not bound by cultural protocols of respect, acknowledgement of hierarchy, and gendered expectations that I had struggled with throughout my graduate research, and remain part of my work as a researcher. They are not bound by community expectations and eventual opinion not only shaping how the work would be communicated to the public, but also in expectations of service to the wider community from one’s position within the university. As I wrote about in our earlier volume on Indigenous Research in/of Oceania (2010), this “weight” of expectation can be particularly fraught for our junior scholars, but remains unacknowledged labor not captured in CVs, contract reviews, or tenure dossiers. Some colleagues are unencumbered by expectations for care work, community work, and service work that are part of the reality for racialized minority and indigenous scholars. In addition to this care and service work, the legitimacy of minority and indigenous scholars’ research is often questioned because it does not fit neatly within canonized frameworks, or is suspect because it does not sustain the fiction of objectivity. All of these are serious structural problems in academia. This is not to say that we should be unencumbered, but rather all researchers in our communities should feel encumbered and act accordingly. Continue reading

Tools for Dismantling the Master’s House

By Daniel M. Goldstein

“The master’s tools,” Audre Lorde (1984) famously said, “will never dismantle the master’s house.” Her statement was a provocation to Western feminists to question their own racism and homophobia, to examine the “terror and loathing of any difference that lives” inside each of us. “What does it mean,” she asked, “when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”

Zodwa Radebe expresses a similar sentiment, using similar language, in her recent Savage Minds post, in which she dismisses the possibility of decolonizing anthropology. Radebe states that “it is absurd to think that anthropology can be used as a tool to decolonise because it was used to colonise.”

All of which raises the question: What are these “tools”? What can they be used to make, or to unmake? And by whom?

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Decolonizing Anthropology Textbook Covers

By: Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall and Jennifer Esperanza

As young anthropology students in the 90s we heard Dr. Faye Harrison call: decolonizing anthropology is about “working to free the study of human kind from the prevailing forces of global inequality, and dehumanization…” As professionals, one way that we—anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Esperanza and design anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall—have chosen to decolonize anthropology is to critically (re)examine the North American introductory anthropology textbook.

As Dr. Joyce Hammond and team discussed in their analysis of 47 introductory anthropology textbooks published between 2001 and 2007, the images chosen for the covers are largely comprised of people of color, specifically non-Western and/or Indigenous people. Our examination of textbook covers in subsequent years shows little change, which means that textbook images continue to infer that to study culture is to study a non-“white, middle class, capitalist-based” Other (Figure 1).

Fig 1 anthro_exoticism

Figure 1: Group of covers resulting from Google Search “anthropology textbooks” Continue reading

Introducing the Public Anthropology Institute

By: Faye V. Harrison, Carole McGranahan, Matilda Ostow, Melissa Rosario, Paul Stoller, Gina Athena Ulysse and Maria Vesperi

The massacre in Orlando was just two days before we sat together around a seminar table in an idyllic New England college town. A massacre of forty-nine people out dancing, celebrating life in a gay nightclub called Pulse. They were mostly young, queer, and Latinx. Gone. Already stories had turned to focus on the killer’s motivations. Was this primarily homophobic homegrown terrorism or the machinations of the Islamic State? We were meeting at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to discuss the creation of the Public Anthropology Institute (PAI) and contemplate ways to use our scholarly knowledge of cultural difference for greater service globally. Given the disheartening public debate in this moment reminiscent of Dickens’ best and worst of times, we were convinced that this work is necessary in the face of such violence and hate.

Creating PAI at Wesleyan University, June 2016
Creating PAI at Wesleyan University, June 2016

For too long anthropologists have retreated into the minutia of arcane disciplinary debate even when our knowledge can make a difference. It can be intellectually stimulating and important to turn inward, but conversations among ourselves cannot be the only ones we have. We also need to create work with a larger impact and a longer reach. As scholars who have studied across the global south and thought deeply about geopolitics, poverty, social and economic inequality, racism, homophobia, sexism and climate change, we believe it is time to reconnect with the obligation to produce knowledge that makes the world a better place. As the stakes get higher, anthropological perspectives can make critical, unexpected connections and offer direction beyond the logic of dominant assumptions. Continue reading

Reclaiming Detroit: Decolonizing Archaeology in the Postindustrial City

By Krysta Ryzewski

Detroit moves quickly; issues of scale and pace in a city of this size pose major challenge to contemporary archaeological practice. I’m not sure what a decolonizing archaeology should look like here, but it’s happening nonetheless. It is grassroots. It connects with communities. It shares the skills we have as social scientists with people, places, and collections. The goals are simple – to tell stories that matter, to empower memory, to increase participation, and, hopefully, to spur action against destructive forces of erasure and exclusion. We don’t have the luxury of time and protracted theoretical deliberation on our side; this work is done in a climate of rapid late capitalist development and privatization, where most of places we encounter are at the mercy of irreversible decay from ruination or demolition by developers.
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Teaching Decolonizing Methodologies

By Paige West

For about a decade I have been teaching a graduate seminar in anthropology at Columbia University called “Decolonizing Methodology” which takes Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s groundbreaking book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples as its starting point and also draws on other key texts focused on research methodologies specifically (Denzin et. al. 2008; Kovach 2010). In the course we tend to start with Smith’s work and then use her careful analysis to guide us in taking apart the various traditional methodologies that anthropologists tend to rely on in their research and the various theoretical frames that are of-the-moment within the field. This means that the course moves back and forth between “decolonizing methodology” and “decolonizing theory”.

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Journey between Two Languages

By Asmeret Ghebreigziabiher Mehari

As a non-native learner and speaker of Amharic, English, and Swahili, I have taken several journeys between these languages and my mother tongue, Tigrinya. Considering geopolitical domination and subordination, the passages between Amharic and Tigrinya or Swahili and Tigrinya are fewer than between English and Tigrinya. However, all crossings have similar purposes: to improve my comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills of these languages. In writing this post, I have taken a journey that merges Tigrinya and English in the service of two critical questions: 1) what role would a journey between two languages play in the process of thinking and writing about decolonizing archaeology?  2) What would the traveler feel and experience?

This journey took a few days to begin answering these two questions, but the first two days make the foundation of this and any future journeys.

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Epistemologies of Equilibrium Must Fall: Thinking beyond the many turns in Anthropology

By Nokuthula Hlabangane

“Modernity will never again, up to the present, ask existentially or philosophically for the right to dominate the periphery. Rather, the right to domination will be imposed as the nature of things and will underpin all modern philosophy.” (emphasis in original; Dussel, 2014: 32-33)

To divorce anthropology from the overall project of modernity would be disingenuous. Anthropology is an integral part of the arsenal that effected the us/them hierarchical dichotomy, the negative repercussions of which continue to haunt the geo-politics of our time. There is thus no question as to the need to decolonise the discipline. The question remains whether it is at all possible to decolonise the discipline, which some argue is more mired in coloniality than not. Exceptionalising anthropology as the unique colonising force in the human sciences misses the point. The sight of the colonising project of the human sciences, and the sciences in general, should not be lost even as we count the tally of the destruction that anthropology singularly wrought.  To be sure, we, in Africa who purport an Africanist, decolonial outlook, are viscerally aware of this destruction. We, who were trained in the discipline learnt, along the way, to come to it with gaping wounds, understanding fully well our untenable position as participants in a discipline that continues to cause so much pain, mainly because of its inability to engage in deep introspection. Our perhaps unrealistic hope is that we are awakened from the complicit role that we inevitably play by standing by its prescripts.

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What does it mean to decolonize anthropology in Canada?

By Zoe Todd

I have an ambivalent relationship to Anthropology. And an even more ambivalent relationship to the idea of decolonizing it.

I work in Canada. I am from Treaty Six Territory in central Alberta, from a city that bears the nehiyawewin (Plains Cree, Y Dialect) name amiskwaciwâskahikan. I am Métis on my dad’s side of my family, with roots that stretch back to Métis communities throughout present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. I offer this introduction so that you can place who I am, who I am related to, and which territories I am bound to through movement, stories and time. I do so in order to ensure that readers and interlocutors can locate my knowledge in its own complex relationality to the places that I and my ancestors come from and moved through. I also provide this information to foreground the focus of my piece, which is a meditation on the visceral decolonization of the academy – and anthropology—here in Canada.

I had planned to write a post about the challenges of bringing Black and Indigenous scholarship into the classroom and into our published work in Canada, a country convinced of its moral standing and human rights excellence, yet which is regularly and wilfully blind to its vexing colonial violence. But a young nehiyaw (Cree) man, twenty-two year old Colten Boushie from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed on a prairie farm in Saskatchewan last week after he and his friends sought help for a flat tire. And everything I think about this weekend as I write this post keeps coming back to this horrific death, and the inter-related realities of Black and Indigenous death at the hands of police and settlers, and the erasure of Black and Indigenous scholarship here in the lands within which we teach anthropology across Canada (and across the border in the United States). And I keep thinking about the logics and structures of academia as ‘white public space’ (Brodkin et al 2011) which produce narratives that normalize and even obscure the life and death of racialized peoples in favour of an undeniably white canon that resuscitates and re-animates white bodies into our classrooms ad nauseum (as Sara Ahmed so succinctly describes here). Continue reading

Decolonization as Care

By Uzma Z. Rizvi

What happens to our praxis once we start from a place of acknowledging difference in our persons, our histories, our bodies, and our aesthetics? This text starts from a standpoint of curiosity, consideration, and mindfulness as we explore how, who and what we are, inform structures we create. The moment and place of knowing requires a certain slowness to enter into our thoughts, movements, and research, allowing for nuance and precision, for care and humility, and for an aesthetic of difference to incubate our praxis. Once we allow our work to breathe, to reflect, to sense difference, it transforms structures around it or structures created through it.[1] The act of research becomes praxis through which critical awareness of one’s own condition and the condition of others comes into high relief. One aspect of this praxis includes bodies co-producing the work. There are intricate processes that situate us between theory and practice as praxis, which must begin to take into account the many ways in which we are identified, the modes of address, our different bodies, and varied epistemologies.

Intersectionality allows us to occupy that praxis and standpoint critically.[2] It takes into account systems of oppression within the world that hold marginalized people in place (often at an inferior position) in multiple ways. It is not a new idea to acknowledge that our vectors of identity (race, class, ethnicity/gender/body, et cetera) inform how we experience and consider the world, but what is significant in intersectionality is that that place holding happens in different ways at different times and for different reasons. On the flip side, it also means that privilege manifests itself in similarly multifaceted forms. If, due to your body experience, you have never had to question how the world looks at your race/class/ethnicity/gender/body, or if that has never impacted the way the world identifies your research or work, you should know that that is a privileged experience. And that privilege or lack thereof, informs you and your praxis.

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