Tag Archives knowledge production

Transformative Methodologies | Listening differently, hearing more clearly: a decolonial approach to fostering dialogue between plural knowledges

Transformative Methodologies | Listening differently, hearing more clearly: a decolonial approach to fostering dialogue between plural knowledges

Recent debates on decolonising research have highlighted the importance of accounting for plural knowledges by seeking to foster a dialogue between them. Yet, a dominant modern rationalist approach informing how ...

Transformative Methodologies | On ‘being with’ and ‘holding space’ as transformative research tools in anthropology

Transformative Methodologies | On ‘being with’ and ‘holding space’ as transformative research tools in anthropology

Despite advances made in the field of anthropology to address some of its problematic practices, anthropologists still conduct research in the same ways as they always have, their comings and ...

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Questioning development: What lies ahead?

Development Studies requires “an epistemological and ontological change”, write Elisabetta Basile and Isa Baud in the introduction to the recent EADI volume ‘Building Development Studies for a New Millennium’. The planned sequel of the book will take this analysis one step further and explore viable ways to build on both the critique of development as such and the growing demand to decolonise knowledge production. During a plenary session titled ‘Questioning Development – Towards Solidarity, Decoloniality, Conviviality’ that formed part of EADI’s recent #Solidarity2021 conference, four contributors discussed the upcoming book. Christiane Kliemann summarised the discussion.

The need to critique development has become urgent as global inequalities increase and the need for the decolonisation of knowledge to redress knowledge production asymmetries becomes greater. “We have been much better at critique than at changing things”, quipped Uma Kothari during a panel session titled ‘Questioning Development – Towards Solidarity, Decoloniality, Conviviality’ of EADI’s recent #Solidarity2021 conference that she recently chaired.

Kothari is also one of the editors of a forthcoming book with the working title ‘Questioning Development Studies: Towards Decolonial, Convivial and Solidaristic Approaches’ that will be a sequel to the already-published EADI volume titled ‘Building Development Studies for a New Millennium’. During the panel session she asked four panellists who contributed to the book to discuss their own practices towards challenging the classical ‘development’ paradigm and possible ways forward. Their diverse and insightful arguments are captured below.

Integrating indigenous understandings of relationality

Yvonne Te Ruki-Rangi-O-Tangaroa Underhill-Sem, Associate Professor in Pacific Studies, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, University of Auckland, New Zealand, started the discussion with an interesting example from New Zealand, or Aotearoa, as she calls it by its Maori name, where the Maori concept of Manaakitanga has even influenced the way in which research is done in the whole country. Manaakitanga, as Underhill-Sem explained, is all around caring for the ‘Mana’ of people we relate to – ‘Mana’ itself being understood as anything we relate to, be it other people, land, or whatever is meaningful to us. “We’ve been working very closely between New Zealand Maori and Pacific scholars to begin to infuse and embed this concept in one of the major research policy platforms in Aotearoa that control the funding of research and the definition of what is excellent research”, she explained.

As a very tangible example for encouraging research based on a much broader understanding of knowledge, she referred to the Toksave Research Portal which has drawn its name from one of the languages of Papua New Guinea and started as a “process inviting a whole range of different knowledge-makers around the region and the Pacific to submit their work”, be it a poem, a thesis, or an NGO report.

Lauren Tynan, Trawlwulwuy woman from Tebrakunna country in northeast Tasmania, who is currently doing her PhD on aboriginal burning practices at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, also views the issue of decolonising knowledge and knowledge production through a lens of relationality. She aspires to hold herself accountable to all relations she has; her recent paper ‘Thesis as kin: living relationality with research’ explored how she relates to her research.

At times, this understanding can be quite challenging to the concept of research she had been initially taught, which she finds “quite a colonising way of researching”. For example, it doesn’t take into account her responsibilities as a mother of small children, which prevent her from traveling back and forth for her research: “Part of that relationality is to see that I shouldn’t feel that as a limitation but as part my responsibilities and obligations to my family and my wider family which is also my research relationship”.

Migration as constitutive dimension of human existence

Samid Suliman, Lecturer on Migration and Security in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University, Australia, brought in another important, but much-overlooked perspective. As he focuses much of his work on the relationship between migration and development, he started from the point that “mobility has been and continues to be colonised through development”, with the “entrenchment and hegemony of the nation state as the primary organising framework of human existence”. Although we are now living in a ‘hyper-mobile world’, he pointed out that the “state-centred way of understanding human mobility continues to be reproduced”, and migrants are looked at with fear and trepidation. One of his research questions therefore is: “How can we better understand migration and mobility as a constitutive dimension of human existence, rather than just an outcome of human activity?”

As one step forward, Suliman suggested to “think critically about the way in which we normalise certain assumptions and certain normative dispositions about the movement of human beings and resist the impulse to settle everyone in their place”. This would require finding new mechanisms, institutions and possibilities for convivial relations and forms of justice that go “beyond the national as the frame of reference for decision making and action on the governance of the moving of people”.

Hospitality as basic principle for societies beyond development

For Aram Ziai, Heisenberg-Professor of the German Research Foundation (DFG) for Development Policy and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kassel, Germany, it all starts with questioning the term ‘development’. He considers a simple redefinition of the term insufficient, as this could produce misunderstandings and a “beyond-criticism gambit”. If the term development continues to bear different meanings, from democratic industrial capitalisms to any type of positive social change, he said, “we are in fact obstructing the critique of development organisations by saying, ‘if something bad happened out of a development project, it was not really development’”.

He also made clear that ‘development’ cannot be seen independent of its historical context: “Development came into being as a new programme to legitimise a capitalist world order in the Global South at a time when the colonial ideology was losing credibility and a new framing of North-South relations was needed to maintain access to the raw materials of the South and the corresponding division of labour. So, development thinking was a new frame, but it was still linked to colonialism, to the idea of transforming geo-cultural differences into historical stages, so that the self is the norm, and the other is the deviant, deficient, other”.

How to move on? Less data, more stories!

All panellists agreed that big changes don’t occur overnight and that it takes everyone’s efforts in their specific places and fields to contribute to a systemic change that might still take years or even decades to gain full ground. In Suliman’s words, “We need to do all we can within our various roles and positions to push back on the research monoculture imposed from above”.

As one important step in this direction, Underhill-Sem called on the older and more advanced scholars to be much more audacious in their engagement with policy: “Are we seeing that audacity with obligation? Are we seeing active engagement in these key structural places, in terms of reviewing the way in which we do and fund research, the way in which we build ethics around research? Are we reaching in those spaces and doing the work there, or are we leaving these spaces for others to populate them?” According to Ziai, we are already moving in the right direction by “talking more and more about these issues and less and less about economic growth, productivity and other things that are increasingly questioned”.

Suliman thinks that it all boils down to the question of making ourselves known to each other in ways that don’t colonise, and in creating space for multiple meanings and exchanges between us: “I think we need to keep moving towards other ways of seeing and listening and knowing, so in short: less data, more stories.” And, Tynan observes, these stories are already there: “Wherever we are in the world there are peoples who have story and belonging to the land, it’s about knowing these stories and their full implications on ourselves as individuals and communities”.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Christiane Kliemann Communications European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI)

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

17th Development Dialogue | A call to end the ‘social distancing’ of the sciences – in the COVID-19 era and beyond

17th Development Dialogue | A call to end the ‘social distancing’ of the sciences – in the COVID-19 era and beyond

The chasm that separates the different scientific disciplines remains deep as ever despite the evident need to address pressing global problems through transdisciplinary collaboration. C. Sathyamala and Peter A.G. van ...

Knowledge is the missing link in the Dutch aid and trade agenda

Knowledge is the missing link in the Dutch aid and trade agenda

On the eve of the national elections set to take place on 17 March in the Netherlands, developmental issues are being debated and diverging solutions proposed by political parties running ...

Revisiting ethnographic sites as an ongoing knowledge production practice

Is it important for ethnographers to revisit the sites where they conduct their research once their projects have been completed? Returning to the site where I conducted my fieldwork six months later indicated that the answer is both yes and no. It makes me believe that ethnography practice is an ongoing knowledge production project, as people’s perspectives and practices are always evolving.

In January 2020, just before COVID-19 was classified a global pandemic, I made a journey to the site where I did my research six months prior. I had fruitful discussions with those I had engaged with for my research: about their definition of art as a form of activism (a main finding of my research), research as a knowledge production process where researchers and participants can work together, as well as about the dialogue between academic discourse and practices in the field.

When I conducted fieldwork for my Master’s degree at ISS in Pemenang village in Indonesia in July 2019, my ethnographic objective was to explore how a small art community called Pasir Putih navigated life after an earthquake devastated Lombok, the island on which the village is situated, in 2018. I immersed myself in the community for a month, stayed in their houses in order to observe their daily life activities, and conducted semi-structured interviews with them. I consider my study a mini-ethnography because while one month was quite short and what I did cannot be considered an exhaustive ethnography, I did more than interviewing the Pasir Putih artists. I did participant observation to investigate “the strange in the familiar” in the artist’s everyday lives—and to help me understand what’s beyond the things the research participants explicitly mentioned in the interviews.

As an organization, Pasir Putih strongly values knowledge production and knowledge-sharing activities, and so the initial agreement was that because they let me to stay with them for a month, I had to come back and share the research results with them. They often asked me, “What does the outsider think of us? About our conceptions of the arts?” Furthermore, for them it was important to have a conversation about the research that involved them as participants. As Sibawaihi, one of Pasir Putih artists, told the other people in community before I presented the research results, he believed that research would help them to reflect on their position as artists in the village community.

Pasir Putih is a small art community formed in January 2010 by five undergraduate students in Pemenang village and now comprising 13 active members, of which only two are women. Most of the research community members have a Bachelor’s degree in different fields, such as communication and education studies, and none of them have attained an art degree through formal education. They have attained their skills in art by doing. When I was in the field, the artists also contributed to the community as teachers for extracurricular art subjects in junior high schools in North Lombok. On their website, Pasir Putih define themselves as an “…organisasi nirlaba egaliter berbasis di Kecamatan Pemenang, Lombok Utara, Nusa Tenggara Barat oleh pegiat kultural, aktivis media dan seniman sejak tahun 2010” (“an egalitarian non-profit organization initiated and run by cultural and media activists and artists in Pemenang District, North Lombok since 2010”).[1]

After discussing my research with the community, they told me they felt my research encouraged them to define what it is that they do as artists. Sibawaihi mentioned that being involved in the research and hearing about the findings has made them realize that what they do as artists is important for people around them. I saw their work as ‘art as activism’, while the community used art as a way to express their value in the society around them. This idea of ‘art as activism’ was based on the theories I had engaged with during my Master’s research, and it differed from the idea the research participants had of themselves. Yet they found it an interesting observation. For them, art is what they do—not just for the village community, but also from and by the village community. They rejected the term ‘activist’ to avoid being considered superior to other people in the village.

They were also interested in how research could be seen as a part of the “documentation of knowledge” that might be useful now or in the future. They saw my research as “an archive for what we do that can be consulted in the future”. Interestingly, they were curious about what my lecturers at my university thought of art. “Did your teachers agree with our definition of art?” one asked. In other words, Pasir Putih artists were engaged in knowledge production not only during the research process, but also after that.

Oka, one of the artists who was a research participant as he initiated a film screening project to re-engage village communities after the 2018 earthquake, said that he was interested in the term ‘ethnography’. He related the methodology to what they do as community artists, such as staying in different villages to screen films. From Oka’s perspective, living in communities for several months is key to an ethnographic research methodology, because it helps the researcher to understand the research subject by regarding their daily practices as well as through daily conversations. Yet he felt that my stay should have been longer for me to be able to get a better grasp of their activities.

From my perspective, it was fascinating to have follow-up discussions with the research participants and to learn that they also benefited from (if I can use this term) the exchange of knowledge during the research project. As some of them expressed in the discussion, the findings of the research help them to reflect more on their perspectives and practices as artists/activists in the community. In addition, they saw my research as “archiving initiatives” related to what they had been doing, although the language barriers (I wrote the thesis in English) meant most of them could not access what I wrote. I saw the discussion that emerged about their art perspectives and practices among the Pemenang village community when I revisited the site as an interesting dialogue between academic research and practices in the field. Furthermore, ‘revisiting the site’ can be seen as an attempt to create more equal relations between researchers and the research participants in the field.

If I think back to the fieldwork, however, I realize that it was difficult to make the artists fully engaged in the research and vice versa. Given the time constraints, it was difficult for me to be fully involved in their projects. The data mostly came from semi-structured interviews rather than informal conversations with the artists. This means that my initial plan to create more equal relations with the participants was not fully successful. Despite that, the observations of the artists’ daily activities enriched the findings from the interviews.


[1] http://pasirputih.org/tentang-organisasi/, accessed on 27 September 2019


Image: Lize Swartz

About the author:

Daya Sudrajat is a researcher and policy advocate in inclusive education issues based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She has a strong interest in knowledge production in marginalized communities and this led her to write a thesis about art as alternative development practice in North Lombok, Indonesia. She holds a MA degree from ISS Erasmus University of Rotterdam.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Creative Development | Art and Knowledge Production: Sense, The Senses and the Struggle for Control by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú and Cathy Wilcock

Creative Development | Art and Knowledge Production: Sense, The Senses and the Struggle for Control by Aoileann Ní Mhurchú and Cathy Wilcock

What is the relationship between art and knowledge production? Does art only contribute to the aesthetics or does it have any role to play in production and even in control ...

Children as experts: rethinking how we produce knowledge by Kristen Cheney

Children as experts: rethinking how we produce knowledge by Kristen Cheney

Most research on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights is adult-led and adult-centred, not only ignoring young voices but denying diversity amongst young people. But a new project co-led ...

What can social scientists know from art and how? by Cathy Wilcock

A recent workshop hosted collaboratively by the University of Manchester and the ISS sought to determine what knowledge can be derived from artistic work by asking ‘what can social scientists know from art and how?’ The workshop aimed to start conversations between those who make art and those who engage with art in their social science research. This blog article by ISS postdoctoral researcher Cathy Wilcock includes verbal and written reflections of the workshop proceedings and outcomes.


The intersection of art and the production of knowledge recently became the topic of discussion in a workshop co-organised by Cathy Wilcock of the ISS and Aoileann Ní Mhurchú of the University of Manchester (UoM). This discussion workshop was motivated by the questions: what knowledge can we derive from artistic work (defined as the product and process of any creative activity e.g. music, dance, painting, literature)? And how should we “read” artistic work in order to gain access to/play a part in producing the knowledge that inheres within it? Also, what can art offer for knowledge production that other forms of information cannot? Such questions are accompanied by an ethical question: should we treat artistic creations as potential sources of knowledge? 

Four ways of “using” art in social science

Of course, there are centuries-old traditions of academic research on the arts, but within social science disciplines this a more recent phenomena. As these traditionally realist—and initially economy-dominated—disciplines have become more open to social constructivist ontologies, concerns with representation, fictions, and the broader “aesthetic” have surfaced.

Art is being instrumentalised in social science research in four fundamental ways. First, modes of analysis developed in the arts are being borrowed into social sciences—for example, policy documents being analysed as “texts” or “narratives”. Second, artistic works are being used as data in social science studies—for example through the analysis of novels or photographs. Third, artistic methodologies are being employed during the research process—for example by asking research participants to produce creative works such as films or photos. Finally, in the era of research impact, art is being used as a dissemination tool, allegedly as a better way of communicating research findings to non-academic audiences. 

Translating methods?

This can only be a good thing, but the motivation behind holding this workshop was an uncertainty around whether we really know what we’re doing. Can the knowledge production practices developed in, and for, the arts be easily transferred to the social sciences? There are many epistemological and ethical questions to be raised about the instrumentalisation of art for knowledge production in the social sciences. And perhaps there is also a tendency to romanticise art; there are power relations involved in who gets to create art, who gets to distribute it, curate it, appreciate it, and observe it. How can we account for this in social science research?

With this problematic in mind, we asked four artists to reflect on their creative process—and to think about how making art helps them to produce knowledge, and also what and how their artistic work says to audiences. Through this artist-led discussion we went down some interesting avenues in our exploration of what we can know from art in the social sciences. 

Openness and opening up

One striking aspect of making art and interpreting it that came up in our discussion was how exposing it is. And, tied in with this, how the “knowledge” produced by it can be open and unfixed. In Michelle Olivier’s work (main image), which speaks back to prejudiced racial relations, it is an invitation to start a dialogue, rather than a direct exposition of a point of view. In being so exposed, you confess to your ambivalence, and admit to not having all of the answers. In many ways, the process of making art is a celebration of this. We are used to being goal-orientated in social science research and to strive for precision; there is little room for mess or mistakes, whereas art is often about playing, testing, and opening possibilities.

Related to this, making art came out in our discussion as an invitation to communicate. For some of our artists, the making process often began in a private realm, but it was being made with the public realm as its ultimate destination. The way that art is consumed is often a joint experience among the audience—for example, when music is performed, it is experienced collectively. One of Florence Devereux’s works involved her washing the feet of her audience (see below). In doing so, there is a connection made between the audience and the creator through the artistic process. Manoli Moriaty, a sound artist, also collaborates with a dancers and choreographers in his work.

Symbiosis - Manoli Moraity
Manoli Moriaty – Symbiosis

In each case, the collective experience was described as adding something—and often “tension”—to the work. I think, for this reason, it seemed that the art pieces themselves “exceeded the words” used to discuss them—and this would have consequences for those reading art as data for social science. Maybe the work itself is only half the story—a remnant.

Using and transforming codes

All of the art being made by the artists in our discussion to some extent relied on and also challenged codes. It is clear that we cannot escape codes—the meaning of words, phrases, and images are products of our situated knowledge. The symbol of the tea in Michelle Olivier’s Tea Map, and the symbol of feet-washing in Florence Devereux’s work, both speak to, and are drawn from, loaded and contested codes which have been developed in cultural contexts. The ideational and material resources available to artists cannot be free of those codes, but there is some agency—derived through the creative process—to subvert, ironise, or uphold them.

FloDevereux - feet washing
Florence Devereux – Feetwashing

It seemed through our discussion that this process of challenging codes is especially effective because of the potential of art to be “beautiful” or aesthetically amazing. This came through strongly in Michelle’s discussion of her piece, which refers to a racist limerick. She explained that expressing anger can be a way of shutting people down but “beautiful” art draws you in—the beauty of the piece makes you want to engage and to try to understand more. Being drawn towards it, rather than repelled from it, invites you to challenge the codes presented. In this way, perhaps art is equipped to “interrupt” understanding—something to think about in the age of academic impact and also in broader discussions around power and resistance.

Senses and sensations

Especially when discussing Manoli Moriaty’s work on sound, and also in my reflections on songwriting, the relationship between sense and affect came through strongly. Is hearing sound, with no semantic content attached to it, a pre-rational, pre-reflective form of knowing? And what happens when that sound is accompanied by the “readable content” in lyrics, as they often are in songwriting? Cathy Wilcock’s Go Golden is one example of how songwriting can be used as a form of expression.

These are recorded reflections on this exploratory discussion and there is more work to be done to link back to the original questions about what and how art can produce knowledge for the social sciences. In particular, in exploring the implications of the four key ways in which art is being used in social sciences.


The original article can be found here

Main image: Michelle Olivier – Tea Map


CW bwAbout the author: 

Cathy Wilcock is a postdoctoral researcher at the ISS, with a background in critical development studies. In her role at ISS, she is continuing her work on political belonging in the context of forced migration. In one project, which sits within the Vital Cities and Citizens project at EUR, she is looking at citizenship practices of migrants in home and host states.

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

How do we make sure that our efforts to diversify knowledge production go beyond a window-dressing/Benetton operation? How can we move beyond merely adding some colour and other markers of ...

Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Ethical dilemmas are part and parcel of the research processes that researchers are engaged in. This article details a recent conversation between ISS students and staff in which they tried ...

Epistemic Diversity | The challenge of epistemic poverty and how to think beyond what we know by Sruti Bala

Researchers face the challenge of engaging with the topic of epistemic diversity. We know that we should consider diverse knowledges in our research, but how can this be operationalised? This blog post engages with this question and shows us that it first of all means calling into question what we hold dear—the very ground on which we stand as researchers and the means by which we distinguish knowledge from non-knowledge.


I am not sure if I can claim with any certainty that I practice epistemic diversity in my research. At first glance, following from epistêmê, the Greek word for knowledge, one could assume epistemic diversity to mean a diversity of knowledge. Sounds straightforward, for who would not seek a diversity of knowledge? Yet following Michel Foucault, the brilliant innovator of method, an episteme is not literally knowledge (connaissance)—something that is out there waiting to be known—but a historical set of relations or founding assumptions that unite, formalise, and systematise what comes to be regarded as knowledge.

An episteme tends to consist of unspoken, tacit modes of sensemaking that allow us to recognise something as knowledge, i.e. scientific, and therefore distinguish it from what is not knowledge, and call this by other names, like belief, ritual, gossip, superstition, crime. Epistemic diversity, in this Foucauldian sense, implies a diversity of ways of recognising knowledge and distinguishing it from non-knowledge. This is anything but straightforward!

What if my system of knowledge formation has taught me that knowledge must have a name, a language? Then I will try to acquire knowledge by naming the things I encounter, by making them enter an episteme through nomenclature, typology, or categorisation. If it cannot be named or ordered, then it must not be knowledge, but belonging to another realm—that of dreams or fantasies, for instance. What if my system of knowledge conceives of knowledge as something to be acquired, possessed, or accumulated? Then knowledge to which no ownership is attached will not count as knowledge. It may come to be regarded as folklore or rumour. What if the episteme I have been inserted into by way of education gives great importance to empirical verifiability or to linear progression? Then something that defies the rules of empirical verifiability and does not move in a straight line from simple to complex may come to be regarded as superstition or ritual or magic, but not as knowledge.

One might argue that epistemic diversity tends to come to our notice primarily when certain forms of knowledge production are in danger. Foucault’s conception of the episteme in The Order of Things (English translation 1970) points to such moments of rupture, and theorisations following from his, such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s notion of “epistemic violence” in her essay ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ (1988), reveal how certain types of practices and ways of life are criminalised and destroyed, not necessarily through physical violence, but through modes of knowledge production. The extinction of a language or of an art form are instances of epistemic violence. The silencing of certain aspects of history in public memory, such as the history of colonialism and resistance to slavery, is another. To some extent it feels simpler to say that we have to strive to preserve subjugated knowledge forms, because that is a charitable task, undertaken elsewhere, as it were. It is far more difficult to know how we should practice epistemic diversity within the four walls of our own edifices of research and study. It means calling into question what we hold dear, the very ground on which we stand as researchers and the means by which we distinguish knowledge from non-knowledge.

Where Spivak emphasises the issue of epistemic violence done to subjugated knowledges, the challenge I face in my research is better described as epistemic poverty, the loss that accompanies my set of epistemic assumptions and privileges. As a researcher I realise that it is important to listen to articulations radically different from the frameworks that I may be trained in, but more than good listening is required in order for those articulations and insights to translate themselves into what we might call knowledge. Just by desiring epistemic diversity, or proclaiming it, doesn’t mean it will have been accomplished.

Placing ourselves in others’ shoes

The task of epistemic diversity could perhaps begin with persistently training ourselves to recognise how certain epistemic privileges are ingrained in our disciplinary histories, and train ourselves to challenge and revise them. It is about learning to imagine the conditions of knowledge formation differently. One must be able to first imagine that something might be valuable, even if it does not appear valuable to oneself at all. One must be able to break the habitual rejection of something because it appears distant and irrelevant at face value. The absent potential of what one does not yet know can only be recognised when its possible presence can be imagined.

There is a specifically gendered and sexual politics at play when epistemic diversity becomes a matter of accumulation and possession of difference. I regularly encounter public declarations of the idea that the intimate encounter with difference, especially with minoritised, primitivised others, is full of pleasure and has the capacity to transform and redeem the dominant self. Authoritative claims, for instance, of intimacy with a certain culture on the grounds of one’s spouse or sexual partner being from that culture, are indicative of this stance. Bell Hooks brilliantly reflects the underlying desire for pleasure and their erotic connotations in popular cultural expressions and fantasies in Black Looks (1992). Under which conditions is the longing for and affective appreciation of otherness a move of acknowledgement, when is it a form of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ or primitivism, or fantasy of possessing and claiming the other?

It is my strong belief that the quest for epistemic diversity must be accompanied and guided by what Rolando Vazquez and Rosalba Icaza, following Maria Lugones, call a ‘politics of coalition building’ (Pilgrimages/peregrinajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppressions, 2003). I am acutely aware that appropriation, theft, erasure, blind spots, equivocation and over-simplification are real problems in research in the humanities and social sciences. The relationships between researcher and researched or between disciplinary formations continue to remain painfully asymmetrical when it comes to the life worlds of the Global South or of those marked as minorities. Yet we cannot overcome these asymmetries without reaching out and learning from and with each other. Epistemic diversity calls upon us to engage critically with all kinds of bodies of knowledge, even and especially if we don’t (fully) agree with them.


This article forms part of a series on Epistemic Diversity. You can read the other article in this series here

About the author: 

Sruti BalaDr Sruti Bala is Associate Professor at the Theatre Studies Department of the University of Amsterdam and Research Affiliate with the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies and Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. Her research interests are at the crossroads of theatre and performance studies, cultural analysis, post- and decolonial thinking and feminist theory.

Epistemic Diversity | “I am where I think”: research and the task of epistemic diversity by Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza

Epistemic Diversity | “I am where I think”: research and the task of epistemic diversity by Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza

Epistemic diversity in research is sorely needed in the academia. But what is epistemic diversity and why is it so important? This post—the first of a series on epistemic diversity— ...