Throughout the year at LSE, there are lectures by eminent scholars, academicians, journalists, entrepreneurs and other significant personas who contribute to the richness of LSE’s academic sphere. Though exams are just less than two weeks away for most students, there is still a surprisingly significant turn-out for guest lectures. (Reveals the eagerness of the students to pursue knowledge earnestly – one thing I adore about LSE!)
On Monday, 18th May, I entered a packed Old Theatre to listen to a lecture by prominent feminist scholar and Professor Emerita of Sydney University, Dr. Raewyn Connell. The lecture was organized by the Gender Institute at LSE in association with the literary journal, Feminist Theory.
What got me very interested in the lecture was the topic. The topic of Prof. Connell’s talk was, ‘Decolonising Gender’. Though not a gender student myself, I am always extremely intrigued by new research and understanding of issues related to gender, and the fact that Prof. Connell chose the term ‘gender’ instead of ‘feminism’ made me extremely intrigued as to the contents of her lecture.
Prof. Connell was introduced by Dr. Ania Plomien, an Assistant Professor of the Gender Insitute, who defined Connell’s work as a new redefinition and understanding of the theory of gender. While Prof. Connell is renowned for her work on hegemonic masculinity and southern theory, she decided to present her understanding of these theories in a simplified version for a larger audience that was not familiar with her theory of decolonising gender and what its implications are.
When we look at a field like Gender Studies, what do we see? Do we see an inclusive field of study, or is it actually restricted to just two major countries, the USA and the UK, i.e, the Global North? If a map is created of the world according to the number of publications in every major field, including gender studies, one can see that most publication centers around the Global North. Most debate comes from the Global North. The map is a one-dimensional, one-end tilting picture, where two global superpowers take up the mantle of the winners. But is this the case?
Does the prevalence of major US and UK publication undermine the fact that there is significant feminist scholarship in the other end of the world too? According to Prof. Connell, as students of gender, we need to be ‘inclusivists’. A lot of significant scholarship is not just in English- she pointed out an example of significant Portuguese feminist scholarship in Brazil, which is overlooked by a lot of scholars.
M. Lazreg, a leading feminist scholar from Algeria, published an article as early as 1990, in which she identified two struggles for feminism in Algeria:
- the struggle against patriarchy
- the struggle against the feminism represented in the Global North
Prof. Connell defined this as a colonisation of knowledge, a post-colonial, neo-liberal empire of knowledge, in which a global economy of knowledge has been shaped by the power and money of the Global North. She traced this back to the data collection days of the colonial conquistadors, who collected data from the colonies. This is a concern for Connell, who stated that since the Global North is satisfied intellectually, it presents an impoverished view of knowledge. A very good example of an indigenous knowledge project is that of Aboriginal paintings in Australia, and the gender issues in these paintings are very unlike the mainstream economy of knowledge.
In fact, even if one reads scholars like Linda Tuhiwai Smith from New Zealand, whose work, Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples is a critical analysis of the role played by Western scholarship in the process of colonization of indigenous cultures, or Ashis Nandy from India, whose work, The Intimate enemy, not only outlines the subjugation of the colony by the ruling country through superior technical and economic resources, but also showcases how rulers propagate cultural subservience of the subject people – one can see that this kind of literature showcases a rich history of gender struggles within the tradition of colonialism and after it.
There is very slow re-balancing in gender studies labour, and scale of knowledge production is not easily registered in the journals of the Global north. There is a need to think of this scholarship as a globally extended process. There is no one southern theory of gender, however. In the end, three things were outlined by Prof. Connell as needing the utmost care right now by academicians, scholars and students alike:
- the need to learn from intellectual workers in the global periphery
- the need to expand our own knowledge projects
- the need to give practical support to this untapped global knowledge economy of the south
What Prof. Connell outlined is a genuine concern for most fields of study, not just Gender studies. Academic scholarship of the powerful Global North does overshadow the ‘other’ or the South, that is forgotten in this quest for academic prominence. While the North has and is contributing significantly to academic research, we need to be all inclusive in our study, because knowledge of the North is impoverished and can be made richer by incorporating the varied views of the South, which has a very different and unique approach to the subject matter at hand.
This kind of debate brings out more and more varied points each day, and is indeed one of the reasons why LSE is one of the leading centers of social science research in the world today – because it helps students discover scholars like Raewyn Connell, who question the paradigm of modern education itself and force students to move beyond the barriers of the syllabus.