2021 Special Focus - Universalism or Particularism: Knowledge and Power in the Process of Decolonization Revisited

The special focus of the 2021 conference will be the question about the need, methods, and scope of decolonization of knowledge. A few years ago, the social movement “Rhodes Must Fall” shook universities across the globe. The movement was precipitated by a call by students at the University of Cape Town to remove a statue of British colonial leader Cecil Rhodes from the campus. In 2017, a number of statues of Confederate leaders were removed from the campus of the University of Texas, Austin following protests.

In many countries, students and academics have demanded to rethink the relationships of power formed by colonialism and neocolonialism. In addition, it has been argued that the time has come to reflect more on alternative thinking, to take into account a broader pluralism of perspectives, worldviews, ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies. Slogans such as "decolonize the university," "liberate my degree," and "my curriculum does not have to be white" have taken hold.

All of this poses a fundamental question about the unity of knowledge. Is it universal or particular? It also raises questions about the content of the curriculum and the purpose of education.

Reflection on the status of knowledge in the context of power relations is obviously not new. The seminal works of Michael Foucault from the '60s and '70s brought this issue to the center of academic interest and laid the foundations for the multi-threaded intellectual currently portrayed by the collective name of postmodernism in the '80s. The next chapter of intellectual reflection on this issue arguably stemmed from social practices promoted by the ideas of multiculturalism.

Today, it is worth returning to this topic. For several years we have been witnessing the intensification of demands for the decolonization of knowledge. However, in contrast to traditional phenomena associated with decolonization, this time such demands have not stayed in the periphery; they are present in the center. As a response, many important academic centers of the global north have decided to systematically determine to what extent the success of these institutions has been directly related to colonial domination and exploitation. For the first time, these institutions are beginning to take seriously the question of what to do to make this knowledge helpful in creating a more pluralistic picture of the world, and how to maintain universalism while at the same time being open for particularisms.

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