Dr Dominic Griffiths, 22 April 2021: The whitest guy in the room: thoughts on decolonisation and paideia
From Pauline Patel on May 3rd, 2021
In this talk I will reflect on decolonisation, particularly in terms of curriculum, as a transformative, educational process. To begin I will consider an important, long-standing Western notion of education as transformative. Plato uses the term paideia in The Republic to describe how an individual progresses from their ignorant perception of reality as appearance, to the enlightened perception of reality, understood through the forms. Martin Heidegger interprets Plato as arguing that this process is a fundamental transformation of the soul, a ‘real education’ that leads a person back to their ‘essential being’. Cornel West also draws heavily on a similar existential sense of paideia when engaging with and teaching the work of W.E.B du Bois. Thus, the notion of paideia, offers diverse thinkers a rich language for describing meaningful education as being a transformative experience. Indeed, when I work with students on issues of decolonisation my hope is that I can also transform them in this sense.
Yet, I am aware that thinking about decolonised education in this way is contradictory and paradoxical. Can one teach ‘real’ decolonisation within the formal structures and edifices of the university, which are embedded in western and colonial epistemes? Is it possible to reconcile a Greco-Cartesian notion of education with the discourses of decolonisation? When we use concepts like paideia, the ‘subject’ or ‘essential being’ does this not betray a deeply, and possibly unquestioned, Western sensibility? Given these difficult questions, and my own positionality, my approach to decolonisation is not necessarily ironic, but consciously iconoclastic. The university is many things, one of which is a great, ongoing critical project of itself. Thus, I argue that it offers, despite being originally a colonial instrument, the possibility of a reckoning with coloniality.