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Decolonising the curriculum

Finding hope in decolonial movements

Decolonising the curriculum, and our institution as a whole, is an essential part of the University of Bristol’s civic responsibility. It is an ongoing process of learning and unlearning which requires us, as students, educators or members of the university to critically reflect on and interrogate how colonialism and its legacies are embedded within the academy’s praxis and hierarchies. Anti-racist activists and scholars have worked for centuries, and continue to work, both within and outside of institutions, to challenge racist systems, policies, and practices. Today, Gurminder Bhambra and others present a radical argument for decolonising universities, the “home of the coloniser”, including paying greater attention to anti-racist practice within universities.

Actions and calls to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ are not just concerned with curricula but rather seek to dismantle and overturn the hegemonic narratives presented to us within educational institutions. Colonial dynamics of power and domination have created hierarchies of knowledge over a long time which subsequently inform the curriculum and staff or students’ experiences. These hierarchies serve to uphold colonial legacies, where certain knowledge and perspectives are considered ‘of value’ and other perspectives, or ways of knowing, are erased. Whilst the university curriculum is often deemed to be independent, neutral or objective, it is rooted in colonial hierarchies of knowledge. So, can we fully realise a ‘decolonised curriculum’ within the ‘home of the coloniser’? Anti-racism activists and scholars have argued that whilst we may not be able to realise a fully ‘decolonised curriculum’, the process of decolonising the curriculum remains crucial to achieving change and greater freedom.

The movement to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ seeks to empower perspectives and voices that have previously been intentionally marginalised. Nevertheless, these movements are disproportionately fronted by marginalised individuals, particularly Black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) staff or students. This comes at a cost. Individuals are often not renumerated for their work, can suffer from mental or physical exhaustion or isolation from other educators. Further, movements can lose their momentum or fail to impact substantive and meaningful changes. To reduce the impact of this, anti-racist activists and scholars have looked beyond the academy to find a greater sense hope, community or action. They have proposed decolonial methods of knowledge sharing, outside of the academy, which seek to oppose hierarchies of knowledge.

“hope is essential to any political struggle for radical change when the overall social climate promotes disillusionment and despair”

bell hooks

Recommended works centred in pedagogies of freedom and empowerment

Please find some recommendations below of decolonial literature, praxis, and action both within and outside of the university. In the spirit of radical black feminist activist, writer and scholar, bell hooks, this list features works which are centred in pedagogies of freedom and empowerment. This is list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a starting point for those seeking to learn and unlearn what decolonising the curriculum can mean.

The Echo Chamber Podcast – Ep 37. Hood Scholar ft. Dr Yusef

The Echo Chamber podcast thumbnail. Features two people. One holding a megaphone and another next to a microphone.

In this episode The Echo Chamber hosts, Ez and Jade, sit down (virtually) with Dr Yusef Bakali to discuss his trajectory in academia as a teacher, researcher and scholar whose research focuses on road life. Hailing from a working-class background, Yusef talks about the difficulties of being an academic and shouldering the labels he does, as well as his real social and economic realities despite the assumption that he is now ‘very well off’ because he is a Doctor. He also addresses some of his frustrations with the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ movement within universities.

The Decolonial Atlas

World atlas, land in black and land in white. The words The Decolonial Atlas written across the middle.

The Decolonial Atlas is a growing collection of maps which, in some way, help individuals to challenge their relationships with the land, people, and state. It’s based on the premise that cartography is not as objective as we’re made to believe. The orientation of a map, its projection, the presence of political borders, which features are included or excluded, and the language used to label a map are all subject to the map-maker’s bias – whether deliberate or not. Because decolonization is a process of unlearning and rediscovering, The Decolonial Atlas is especially committed to Indigenous language revitalization through toponymy – the use of place names.

Decolonising the Arts Curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education: Zine 2

A thumbnail of the Zine cover. The title is written across the bottom half of the image Decolonising the Arts Curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education: Zine 2

Decolonising the Arts Curriculum is a UAL co-production between the Arts Student Union and Teaching, Learning and Employability Exchange. The production of this zine is part of the ongoing work to address disparities in experience and attainment for International students and students of colour. They are aimed at both students and staff, as a tool for raising awareness and opening up conversations that will allow people to take things further in their creative and pedagogic practices

Decolonising Contraception

Bright pink condom wrapper with the words decolonising contraception in black.

Decolonising Contraception is a community-based organisation created by black & people of colour (BIPOC)* working within Sexual & Reproductive Health (SRH). Their work includes podcasts, zines, and workshops around ‘The Sex Agenda’. I would argue that this collective is a model example of an organisation embedding decolonial practices to address the sexual health inequalities experienced by BIPOC communities due to colonisation.

Pedagogies of Transgression and Imagination – bell hook

Black and white photograph of bell hook

bell hooks on education. Barry Burke assesses the contribution that bell hooks has made to thinking about education and sets this within the context of her biography and work.

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