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Decolonising the curriculum

How do we ensure that humanity and the earth can “live long and prosper through our academic work?

We are delighted to announce Dr Folúkẹ́ Adébísí was recently nominated by the University to apply for the Advance HE National Teaching Fellowship.

I chose to do a degree in law because I wanted to find a way to address the world’s greatest challenges. I confess this desire may have been inspired by watching a few too many science-fiction movies as a child! Nevertheless, the parallels are obvious, while in those movies the villain is often blatantly nefarious [Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy for instance], the threats to planetary life that we face are equally life-threatening – extreme poverty, global inequality, racial injustice and climate emergencies. It would have been impossible not to bring those motivations to my scholarship in law. I started my teaching career at the University of Lancaster in 2011. Since then, my academic practice has been driven by the need to demonstrate how various past and present societal factors affect the content of law, its relationship to society and our hope for addressing our existential threats. And so, my teaching has focused on uncovering these dynamics with and for my students. The aim is to teach legal knowledge that explains the world completely to students and which also explores educations’ liberatory potential.

It is this aim that has led me to decolonisation – a corpus of thought that seeks new ways of thinking, being and doing in the world as a means to secure flourishing futures for humanity and the earth. Consequently, my work in legal education has revolved around translating the vast theory of decolonisation into praxis for legal scholars. This has also included the design of new units and the redesign of old ones. So, in my teaching, I use philosophical, sociological, and historical analysis to explore the relationship between law, race, and a changing history of ideas on what it means to be human. To do this, I use a variety of methods and mediums, including videos, literary critique, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction work. For example, I curated a law, race, and decolonisation playlist of films. I am happy to say that my students continue to find my teaching brings them new understanding of the world. A third-year student emailed me after a class to say, “it was honestly the most memorable tutorial by far and I am glad to have attended.” I continue to receive emails from past graduates about how my teaching has helped them understand the world better. Staff across the university and at other universities have also embedded my work in their teaching. They have even used it to develop new units. For example, a compulsory undergraduate unit, ‘Decolonising the Law Curriculum’, was introduced at the University of Birmingham Law School, based on my suggestions during a talk there.

In 2017, I set up the Forever Africa Conference and Events (FACE) as a student partnership initiative that takes decolonisation beyond the classroom. Student partnerships also empower students to invest in the process of knowledge creation in the academy, ensuring engagement as well as new avenues of knowledge. FACE is an international and cross-disciplinary network of about 40 academics, students, and members of civil society organisations. FACE’s goals include: closing the attainment gap, addressing reduced student satisfaction of Black students, encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue in decolonising the curriculum, and mentoring Black students into academic careers.

I have written vastly on decolonisation, including a book that will be published by Bristol University Press in March of 2023, “Decolonisation and Legal Knowledge: Reflections on Power and Possibility”, as well as an article on Afrofuturism and legal education in which I argue that we can use science fiction to help law students imagine law differently. Apart from disseminating expertise in this way through publications, I also write a widely-read blog which includes pedagogical scholarship – Foluke’s African Skies, whose readership just passed the half a million threshold!

I hope that staff and students continue to think of new and innovative ways to redesign our work so that it redesigns our world. We must acknowledge that the hierarchisation of humanity and commodification of the earth has placed the world on the road to perdition. If we do nothing, environmental catastrophe, global poverty, state violence, massive injustice will eventually tear this world apart. So, we must ask ourselves in Higher Education, what world do we want to emerge from the work we do? How do we ensure that humanity and the earth, lives long and prospers? Is there anything in our teaching and research that can bring about worlds of freedom, real justice, balance, shared abundance, worlds woven in a new design?

University of Bristol’s NTF and CAFE nominations 22-23.

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