Annual Workshop


6th June, 2014, 10-6pm

Queen Mary University of London

Historically, the production of knowledge of international relations tended to follow hierarchies established through a colonial and imperial political gaze that was often resisted and is now increasingly discredited. Yet the persistence of the gaze and its associated hierarchies in academic knowledge production continues to be influential. This inaugural CPD workshop invites participants to reflect on the ongoing relationship between colonial and imperial forms of power, and the production of academic knowledge in International Relations (IR).

Papers will address the broad question:  “Who writes about whom? International Relations and the Colonial Gaze”, but the workshop as a whole will provide a space for a collective conversation about how to cultivate knowledge with regard to the colonial question. Although the workshop is very heavily subscribed, those who wish to attend the workshop should a place become available should email Robbie Shilliam r.shilliam[at]

The final programme for the workshop is available here.

Post-workshop update: Thanks to everyone who attended for contributing to a really fascinating event. We will be publishing reflections and reports below.


Lisa Tilley, University of Warwick

Colonial methodology (or the binds that tie us)

After a feverish and productive workshop on methodology and the colonial gaze we undoubtedly all took home some thoughts in common which have kept us company over the weekend. Here are my most prominent reflections (imagined as a series of binds) which have stayed with me through to Monday morning (and no doubt will remain far beyond)…

On being bound by methodology/intellectual property

How are we bound by methodology? Exploring the roots of the word suggests it’s not the ‘method’ – as in the way of teaching or going, inquiry, investigation, pursuit or following after, but the ‘–ology’ – as in the branch of knowledge, science which binds us. As Kimberly Hutchings explained in her workshop contribution, it is methodology which ‘underpins the epistemic authority of the investigator’. We might say that methodology is a pursuit or following after which is made scientific, rational, legitimate, and given authority by its –ology, so its outcome is therefore ‘scientific’ and publishable under the weight of peer review. The outcome of methodology, in other words, is intellectual property. Method, on the other hand, is a pursuit or following after which is not legitimated by the –ology or the science. Community practices to resolve problems, indigenous medicinal innovations, these bring communal benefits but do not become intellectual property until translated by the ‘epistemic authority of the investigator’.

This has a material outcome. Value is added to method by the –ology. Amber Murrey-Ndewa’s research in areas of oil extraction provided the perfect analogy. Oil is extracted through the pipeline and value is added elsewhere through the refining process, just as ‘data’ is extracted from communities and refined in centres of knowledge far away into publishable products. Amber tried to counter this during her fieldwork through an innovative documentary project which involved collaborating on a film which was contributed to, produced and enjoyed within the community without being ‘extracted’ at all.

This all poses two groups of questions: One, how can we begin to break down the method and the –ology so that human practice without ‘epistemic authority’ is equally valued? Two, where is the value added in our knowledge production chains, who benefits, who loses materially, and how does this mirror patterns of exploitation in other commodity chains?

On being bound by grammar and categories

We are all aware that often arbitrary cartographic divisions inked by colonial administrators make up the borders of many postcolonial states today and that hybridity is the reality that borders oppress. Borders have been produced but they have also become productive and as researchers we are often frustrated to find ourselves reproducing them ourselves in scholarship. Mario Saraceni and Nivi Manchanda each expressed a similar frustration at being stuck in this bind of methodological nationalism and the feeling that the logic of the nation-state precludes the representation of alternative ways of being.

We also find ourselves bound by what we might call panel pathologies or the formulaic rituals of academic performance – the timed presentations, the stilted questioning, the formal replies. Beyond this we are bound by the prohibitive nature of our own conceptual jargon – jargon which seals us off and limits our interactions with the world and especially with activists. But perhaps most worryingly, our critical methods can also hinder activists in their struggles. Pragna Patel explained how she finds herself fighting multiple dominations – state, patriarchal, religious, but also epistemic – hence she made a powerful appeal to academia not to ‘sanitise and legitimise the powers we are up against’.

Much of our discussion centred on the binds which inhibit our own scholarship. Alina Sajed, for instance, expressed her frustration with the Eurocentric grammar of postcolonial epistemic tools and the difficulties of studying religious movements through the ‘secular vocabularies’ of postcolonial scholarship. Olivia Rutazibwawent further to draw attention to the complexities of carrying out research in areas of linguistic diversity where communication with non-elites becomes restricted and elites therefore become spokespeople. This has the inevitable effect of reproducing existing power relations within scholarship itself.

Suggested means of unravelling these binds included more exchange between communities and across language divides, and the quest for a greater plurality of method and practice. The mixing of artistic and poetic representations demonstrated by Denize LeDeatte became a vital lesson in plural methods for us.

On being bound by discipline/institution

When we talk about the power disparity between ourselves and those we interview, how much of this is determined by the weight of the institutions and disciplines we represent? The introduction of narrative as method in recent years has been partly about addressing power relations within research. But the mention of narrative at the workshop introduced a productive tension into the discussion, centred on an aversion to excessive navel-gazing and declarations of white privilege versus a need to recognise the paradox that ‘objective’ ‘scientific’ research first demands that we create a fictional character whose presence is assumed not to alter what’s observed. We discussed whether self-reflexivity should be expanded to deeper disciplinary and institutional reflexivity. Those disciplines which developed explicitly as servants of the colonial project (anthropology and geography especially as those facilitating the exposure of ‘human terrain’ for the purposes of control) have begun internal debates on the use and abuse of their research and the implications of being funded by particular bodies – the US military in particular. Is it time we expanded our disciplinary reflexivity and began an honest assessment of the changing patterns of our funding and the implications of our research?


Amber Murrey, University of Oxford

Decolonise everything (together)!

In the first annual colonial/postcolonial/decolonial workshop, Zeynep Gulsah Capan questioned the term decolonisation. She asked, ‘what are the assumptions implicit in our decolonisation? Is it the case that we now have pluralism in the periphery but that the centre remains colonised?’ With over one hundred years of ‘disrupting narratives’ and 450 years of the ‘coloniality of power’ what has been or is still being heard at the centre? The group articulated the limitations of the lexicon—including problems inherit with the colonial/decolonial binary—and the continued need for a decolonisation of epistemic authorisation. Part of this means decolonizing the methodology through which knowledges are created.

Mustapha Pasha emphasised the distinction between the colonial gaze and colonial practice. That is to say there is a difference between the deployment of knowledge—e.g. knowledge for the purposes of coercion, control and appropriation in colonial practice—and the instramentalisation of knowledge as a whole—e.g. the colonial gaze through which the world is known. An added challenge is the realisation that our very conceptual language—the pre-existing grammar that we live in/understand—structures everything, including our intellectual endeavours before and after methodologies are engaged. As Olivia Rutazibwa noted, we—intellectuals who do ‘research’—define what we look at before the research begins.

When we ask the question—how does the colonial gaze impact upon methodology?—we see that methodology is an aspect of the colonial gaze and that the two cannot be separated. This is part of the paradox of method identified by Lewis Gordon: ‘To evaluate method, the best methodis the suspension of method. This paradox leads to a demand for radical anti-colonial critique. But for such a reflection to be radical, it must also make even logic itself suspect.’The demand for consistency in method is evident in the basis for the production of knowledge within isolated disciplines. From here then, we need methodologies to decolonise the colonial gaze inherent in methodology. And we need to do these methodologies without privileging one approach over or above another.

Decolonisation within which structures?

Once we’ve established that the colonial gaze is bound up within methodology and constitute of methodology, we see an individual’s struggle for decolonisation only takes us so far. We can work to decolonise the structures of inequality within the particular research (i.e. between the official researcher and the people), but this does not sufficiently engage with the structures that inform the research and produce the researcher. Decolonising this (i.e. the researcher, the institution, the methodology, the gaze, the grammar) is a much larger and necessarily collective task.

This project of collective decolonisation is urgent and difficult in the neoliberalised, corporatised, privatised, NGO-ised university system. These phenomenon are global, albeit with regional and local distinctions. In The Importance of Research in a University, Mahmood Mamdani critiques the shifts in knowledge production within African universities following the implementation of World Bank and IMF neoliberal reforms (structural adjustment) in the 1980s and 1980s, as university funding and professors’ wages were cut or eliminated. ‘Academics’ increasingly turned to corporate or non-profit consultancy work to supplement incomes, or they migrated.

In her article, Love and Learning Under the World Bank, Stacy Hardy notes that, ‘from 1985 to 1990, 60,000 African intellectuals and professionals emigrated to the West’. African immigrants, for example, have the highest level of education of migrant populations in the US.

In African universities today, Mamdani notes,

intellectual life…has been reduced to bare-bones classroom activity. Extra-curricular seminars and workshops have migrated to hotels. Workshop attendance goes with transport allowances and per diem. All this is part of a larger process, the NGO-ization of the university. Academic papers have turned into corporate-style power point presentations. Academics read less and less. A chorus of buzz words have taken the place                of lively debates.

He continues,

The expansion and entrenchment of intellectual paradigms that stress quantification above all has led to a peculiar intellectual dispensation in Africa today: the dominant trend is increasingly for research to be positivist and primarily quantitative, carried out to answer questions that have been formulated outside the continent, not only in terms of location but also in terms of historical perspective. This trend either occurs directly, through the “consultancy”model, or indirectly, through research funding and other forms of intellectual disciplining…the proliferation of “short courses”on methodology that aim to teach students are ushering a new generation of native informers.

Not only are intellectuals in the academy increasingly pressured to demonstrate measurable impact by increasing their production in specific domains (i.e. in a context where publishing or reporting to NGOs is more important than teaching or other political work), but academics themselves are neoliberal subjects.

Decolonisation within whose selves and whose bodies?

Mustapha Pasha spoke of the neoliberalisation of intellectuals in institutions of higher education as demonstrated in the seemingly never-ending ability to self-manage and entrepreneuralise (yes, I did just make that a word) all facets of our research-life-teaching. This means that, for example, while I might be engaged in critical work to decolonise the theories and methodologies that I employ in my PhD thesis/dissertation, my work practicesthe pathologically unforgiving and enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit and rigorous individualism I demonstrate in these decolonisations as I sit in isolation in front of my computer screen (at huge emotional costs to myself and my family)—render me a thoroughly effective neoliberal subject.

Indeed, ‘the self without sympathetic attachments is either a fiction or a lunatic’—or, I would add, an ‘academic’.

In effect, neoliberalism has colonised both the academy and the intellectual-self. The latter is evident in the increasing ability of ‘academics’ to

  • produce more and more through overwork(defined as 50 or more hours per week; read Cha and Weeden’s article on how the rise of overwork in the last 25 years disenfranchises women labourers in particular) in a system of ‘publish and perish’,
  • commodify research and measure strictly defined impact, with impact often translating, as Robbie Shilliam aptly critiqued during the workshop, to the ability to demonstrate the value of the intellectual product for business or development (through ‘accountability-speak’) and not for the community where the research occurs,
  • manage and market the academic-self, i.e. the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, wikipedia pages, podcasts and a plethora of accounts on, and,
  • and police ourselves—formally and informally—and each other in our supra-efficient work practices. Alexandre Afonso, for example, argues that academia resembles a drug gang, with many ‘academics’ willing to make enormous temporary sacrifices in emotional labour, health, wellbeing, and labour compensation for an anticipated reward (i.e. permanent position or tenure).

So even if we decolonise the colonial gaze implicit in methodology, we need to decolonise our work practices as well as the structure of higher education. What would this knowledge creation look like? How can we work to make these necessary and interconnected projects possible?

Collective decolonisation?

In this context, the significance of collective action cannot be overstated and the burden lies on us. It requires the subsumption of our egos for collective knowledge. The questions we ask, Shilliam reminded us, are always being asked in grassroots politics

                        can we

                                                if we could

                                                            should we do

Are we—collaborators, co-creators, intellectuals, friends, comrades, people with mutual enemies—going to defer? This is the critical question. Do we distinguish between intellectual and political engagements, adopt an academic false-identity and defer in our collective inaction and disagreement? This requires that we challenge the subordination of intellectual work to other struggles.

Pasha celebrated the workshop as a conversation—not for a target or a measured impact—but as engagement and demonstration of solidarity. The workshop was a coming together of intellectuals—working against the title ‘academics’(and its authority of ‘High Priesthood’)—with the understanding that we must move beyond individual reflection to a transdisciplinary transformation.


Alina Sajed, McMaster University

Firstly, let me begin by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and the vivid debates it generated. The issue that really stuck with me was our attempt to grapple with the distinction between postcolonial and decolonial. This distinction was raised during the second session of the workshop when we debated about what kinds of methodological issues might arise when we work other-wise to the colonial gaze. It was a session where we discussed, among other things, the limits of our research vocabulary and imaginary. Robbie Shilliam mentioned how this distinction between the postcolonial and the decolonial speaks inevitably to our desire to hold on to certain strategies of deferral, which are evident in a reluctance to transcend or exceed certain categories (such as modernity), and arise in questions such as ‘do we really need/want to…’, ‘can we really…’,‘is it desirable to…’ Ultimately these questions can be seen as attempts to retain and safeguard the privilege to enounce knowledge. They also indicate the enduring hold of the colonial gaze on our research imagination, delineating what can be known and what can be made visible. The distinction between postcolonial and decolonial approaches came as a response to the idea of engaging in research and ways of producing knowledge that exceed the frame of colonialism/modernity. As Robbie very well put it, what is unique about modernity is the claim it advances about itself, namely to be a universal neutral canvass against which all knowledge and action must be measured. Scholars working within decolonial approaches such as Walter Mignolo, for example, talk about the possibility of engaging those ‘exteriorities to modernity’, understood not as spaces outside of modernity but rather as zones where other knowledges and ways of being have been coming into contact with hegemonic ones. So the distinction between postcolonial and decolonial approaches seems to be (arguably) one between deferral (that is a reluctance to exceed modernity) and engagement (with the limits and exteriorities of modernity).

This distinction also pertains to the question ‘How does the colonial gaze impact upon methodology?’, which was the core-question of the first session of the workshop. The question seems to imply we are dealing with two separate entities: the colonial gaze and methodology. But perhaps it would be more useful to conceive of methodology as shaped and produced by the colonial gaze, namely a form of knowledge and a way of investigation that is inseparable from the colonial gaze. The concern with this inseparability was that it might foreclose any conversation about the possibility of deploying current methodologies towards the production of emancipatory knowledge. This is a valid concern. However, one of the questions that remains to be engaged then is, to my mind, the complicity of current social science methodologies with colonial ways of seeing and knowing. To put it differently, perhaps an inadvertent corollary of our desire to work within the current methodological imaginary is a perpetuation of the methodological status quo by implying, firstly, that it is self-contained (meaning there is no need to reach outside of it); and secondly, that it is ‘just fine’ and only needs a bit of re-thinking and re-tweaking. So while we need to be aware both of the colonial impulse behind current methodologies and of certain merits they might hold, we also need to creatively cultivate alternatives that exceed current frameworks and that push the boundaries of our current research imagination.

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