Colonial, Postcolonial and Decolonial (CPD) Working Group at BISA 2016

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The annual BISA conference was held in Edinburgh from 15-17 June 2016. The CPD Working Group sponsored the following four panels, as well as holding a well-attended business meeting and social gathering.

Our panels:

#RhodesMustFall and Other Projects for Decolonisation (Roundtable)

Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS); Olivia Rutazibwa (Portsmouth); Mark Laffey (SOAS); Kerem Nisancioglu (SOAS)

University campuses across the world have been recently seized by a series of student-led campaigns to decolonise and fight racism within the academy. Amongst others, the #RhodesMustFall campaign at UCT has resonated with the ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’ movement in the UK, and with struggles in the US to deal with racism on campus, such as the recent student protests at #Mizzou. Common campaigning goals include curriculum interrogation and reform, the better representation of non-white academics, student funding and debt. This roundtable will look at four interconnected issues which emerge for international studies.  The first is the generational shift that seems to have occurred amongst students and their attitudes to historical legacies. What does the timing and geographical spread of these movements signify? The second is the implication for syllabuses in international studies. What does it mean to decolonise the syllabus and (how) can it be done? How many students want a ‘decolonised’ syllabus? Third, we will explore the character of the ‘backlash’ against what is labelled ‘identity politics’ in the university. What is and should be the relationship between academic freedom and political values? Who gets to set the curriculum? Finally, we will explore the ways in which these movements have challenged or re-configured ideas of what universities are for in the present and future, in the context of global neoliberal reforms.  These include a reckoning with the status of students as consumers and debtors, and the increasing forced ‘disposability’ of the university workforce.

Between Emancipation and Counter-hegemony: Politics of Sovereignty as Expression of Decolonial Subjecthood (Convenor: Philipp Lottholz, Birmingham)

From the first victories of anti-colonial movements to today’s challenges to ‘Western’ political and epistemic dominance, the struggles for sovereignty, autonomy and self-determination of anti-imperial movements have both gained legitimacy and established an ambiguous legacy. This panel ventures to inquire the emancipatory potential of anti-colonial resistance against the backdrop of a critical examination of the limits that are posed to such endeavours by their embeddedness into a capitalist global political economy. Besides the imperatives and constraints produced by this order, the discussion will tackle the problem of the different scales and realms through which ‘politics of sovereignty’ operate and generate different potentials to decolonise – or unwittingly reinforce – regressive social formations. This foregrounds a critical discussion of the methodology of IR, social inquiry and ‘real world politics’, more generally: If we can assume that emancipation is possible, and that it would be a decolonial subject who drives this process, where and how can such trajectories be identified without raising doubts as to their secondary agendas and cultural relativity? A major focus of the discussion will thus be on moving beyond Eurocentric critiques of international or domestic agency and – while remaining aware of the latter – embracing the possibility of scrutinizing anti-colonial ‘politics of sovereignty’ as to its emancipatory and regressive potentials regardless of its invocation of identity markers and cultural arguments of legitimation. Contributors are encouraged to explore the topic along theoretical, methodological or empirical lines (or combinations thereof). Critical engagements with mainstream IR and international studies literatures are as welcome as are attempts to scrutinise existing work in (post-)colonial and post-Western IR scholarship. The ensuing discussion is aimed to further the synthesis between post-/decolonial literature and Marxist perspectives that emphasise the problem of ‘global’ coloniality rather than coloniality or stratification of a specific cultural or geographical belonging.

  • Shabnam Holliday (Plymouth): The legacy of subalternity in international politics: The case of Iran’s relations with Israel
  • Philipp Lottholz (Birmingham):’Masters in our own home’: Anti-imperialist nationalism and the ‘politics of sovereignty’ in Kyrgyztan
  • Maria Ketzmerick (Uni Marburg): Securitized Statebuilding? – The Camerounian Decolonization in Conflict

Discussant: Olivia Rutazibwa (Portsmouth)

Coloniality and development: reproduction, resistance and change (Convenors: Katharina Höne, Aberystwyth and Kathy Dodworth, Edinburgh)

The papers on this panel engage in readings of development settings and practices, including policy and implementation, which are informed by post-colonial and de-colonial approaches. Dependency theorists and postcolonial writers highlight the material, cultural and symbolic power of the north/south divide. Post-development writers identify development with the “universal and homolingual thrust of modernity” (Escobar 2012). Building on this work, the contributions to this panel are interested in exploring the reproduction of postcoloniality through concrete development practices and global development policies and their stereotyping and homogenizing tendencies. With the Sustainable Development Goals a new comprehensive global development agenda for 2030 that aims to end poverty in all its forms and emphasises partnership for development and multistakeholder approaches has been put in place. Before this background, the critiques offered by post-colonial and de-colonial scholars offer important critical ground for continued engagement with and interrogation of development policies and practices. Themes explored in this panel include a discussion of the global post-2015 development agenda, indigenous knowledges, representations of subjects of development, and technologies of government.

  • Kathy Dodworth (Edinburgh): ‘These people, they just sit!’ – Representational ambiguity in Tanzania
  • Katarina Kušić (Aberystwyth):Governing ‘the Local:’ Political education for ‘apathetic’ youth in Serbia
  • Katharina E. Höne (Aberystwyth): Dismissing the pluriverse? The Sustainable Development Goals and the drive towards a ‘universal and homolingual’ definition of quality education in the post-2015 development era

    Discussant: Robin Dunford (Brighton)

Historicising Whiteness in the Global Longue Duree (Convenors: Kerem Nisancioglu, SOAS and Musab Younis, Oxford)

Critical examinations of ‘race’ have done much denaturalise racist discourses, demonstrating instead the way in which racialised identities are constructed in, through and against power relations. Such examinations have extended to the field of international relations, with an increasing acknowledgement of the centrality of the role of racial thinking in international politics and the historically Eurocentric nature of the discipline. Despite this increasing acknowledgement, substantive historical and sociological engagements with the category of ‘whiteness’ have been sorely lacking in international studies.  Building on work in a range of disciplines, including critical race studies, international relations, and global and transnational history, this panel proposes to interrogate the construction of whiteness as a global form of social control. Locating the construction of whiteness in globally dispersed, yet connected and intersecting historical processes, the papers presented in this panel aim to uncover and theorise the internationality of whiteness in the historical longue duree.

  • Kerem Nisancioglu (SOAS): The Geopolitical Origins of Whiteness
  • Musab Younis (Oxford): Theorising whiteness in the colonised world during the Belle


  • Corinna Mullin (Tunis / SOAS): (Re)producing and contesting the logics of whiteness in globalised national security: racialised counter-terror violence in Tunisia and France
  • Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS): The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Debates on Ontological Security and Hierarchies in World Politics

Discussant: Joe Hoover (City)