Smith (2012). Colonizing Knowledges. (Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples)

Smith, L. T. (2012). Colonizing Knowledges. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Second edition, pp. 61-80). Dunedin: Otago University Press.

“This chapter argues that the form of imperialism which indigenous peoples are confronting now emerged from that period of European history known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment provided the spirit, the impetus, the confidence, and the political and economic structures that facilitated the search for new knowledges. The project of the Enlightenment is often referred to as ‘modernity’ and that project is said to have provided the stimulus for the industrial revolution, the philosophy of liberalism, the development of disciplines in the sciences and the development of public education. Imperialism underpinned and was critical to these developments.” (p 75)

“Western knowledge and science are ‘beneficiaries’ of the colonization of indigenous peoples. The knowledge gained through our colonization has been used, in turn, to colonize us in what Ngugi wa Thiong’o calls the colonization ‘of the mind’.2” (p 76)

[“Establishing the Positional Superiority of Western Knowledge” (p 76) …]

“As a system of ideas, liberalism focuses on the individual, who has the capacity to reason, on a society which promotes individual autonomy and self-interest, and on a state which has a rational rule of law which regulates a public sphere of life, but which allows individuals to pursue their economic self-interest. Once it was accepted that humans had the capacity to reason and to attain this potential through education, through a systematic form of organizing knowledge, then it became possible to debate these ideas in rational and ‘scientific’ ways.” (p 76)

“‘Discoveries’ about and from the ‘new’ world expanded and challenged ideas the West held about itself.4” (p 76)

“The imaginary line between ‘East’ and ‘West’, drawn in 1493 by a Papal Bull, allowed for the political division of the world and the struggle by competing Western states to establish what Said has referred to as a ‘flexible positional superiority’ over the known, and yet to become known, world.6” (p 77)

“The objects of research do not have a voice and do not contribute to research or science.” (p 78)

“… colonialism was not just about collection. It was also about re-arrangement, re-presentation and redistribution. … One effect of this system of redistribution was the interference caused by new species to the ecologies of their new environments and the eventual extinction of several species of bird and animal life.13” (p 79)

“… in Canada, for example, of blankets used by smallpox victims being sent into First Nation communities while the soldiers and settlers camped outside waiting for the people to die. … [page break] … social Darwinism. The concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’, used to explain the evolution of species in the natural world, was applied enthusiastically to the human world.” (p 79-80)

[Author uses sarcasm. (p 81) –oki]

“Although colonial universities saw themselves as being part of an international community and inheritors of a legacy of Western knowledge, they were also part of the historical processes of imperialism. … Attempts to ‘indigenize’ colonial academic institutions and/or individual disciplines within them have been fraught with major struggles over what counts as knowledge, as language, as literature, as curriculum and as the role of intellectuals, and over the critical function of the concept of academic freedom.21” (p 82)

[“Colonizing the Disciplines” (p 82) …]

“… anthropologists are often the academics popularly perceived by the indigenous world as the epitome of all that it is bad with academics.” (p 84)

“Concepts of ‘academic freedom’, the ‘search for truth’ and ‘democracy’ underpin the notion of independence and are vigorously defended by intellectuals. Insularity protects a discipline from the ‘outside’, enabling communities of scholars to distance themselves from others and, in the more extreme forms, to absolve themselves of responsibility for what occurs in other branches of their discipline, in the academy and in the world.” (p 85)

[“Disciplining the Colonized” (p 86) …]

[“Colonialism and ‘Native’ Intellectuals” (p 87) …]

“In New Zealand the few Maori who were trained at universities in the last part of the nineteenth century are generally viewed positively as individuals who retained a love for their culture and language and who were committed in the context of the times to the survival of indigenous people. What is problematic is that this group of men have been named by the dominant non-indigenous population as individuals who represent ‘real’ leadership. They have been idealized as the ‘saviours of the people’ and their example remains as a ‘measure’ of real leadership.” (p 88)

“Hau’ofa argues that ‘the ruling classes of the South Pacific are increasingly culturally homogeneous. They speak the same language, which is English; they share the same ideologies and the same material life styles….’48” (p 89)

“Gayatri Spivak, who writes as a post-colonial Asian/Indian intellectual working in the United States, argues that Third World intellectuals have to position themselves strategically as intellectuals within the academy, within the Third World or indigenous world, and within the Western world in which many intellectuals actually work. The problem, she argues, for Third World intellectuals remains the problem of being taken seriously.

“‘For me, the question ‘Who should speak?’ is less crucial than ‘Who will listen?’. ‘I will speak for myself as a Third World person’ is an important position for political mobilization today. But the real demand is that, when I speak from that position, I should be listened to seriously; not with that kind of benevolent imperialism….’49” (p 89)

“While criticizing indigenous people who have been educated at universities, on one hand, many indigenous communities will struggle and save to send their children to university on the other.” (p 89)

[“The ‘Authentic, Essentialist, Deeply Spiritual’ Other” (p 90) …]

“Questions of who is a ‘real indigenous’ person, what counts as a ‘real indigenous leader’, which person displays ‘real cultural values’ and the criteria used to assess the characteristics of authenticity are frequently the topic of conversation and political debate. These debates are designed to fragment and marginalize those who speak for, or in support of, indigenous issues.” (p 90)

“… essence as women was fundamentally, undeniably different …. Pedagogically, essentialism was attacked because of its assumption that, because of this essence, it was necessary to be a woman and to experience life as a woman before one could analyse or understand women’s oppression.” (p 91)

“… the imputing of a Western psychological self, which is a highly individualized notion, to group consciousness as it is centred in many colonized societies, is not a straightforward translation of the individual to the group, although this is often the only way that Westerners can come to understand what may constitute a group. … At the heart of such a view of authenticity is a belief that indigenous cultures cannot change, cannot recreate themselves and still claim to be indigenous. Nor can they be complicated, internally diverse or contradictory. Only the West has that privilege.” (p 92)

Selected References

  • 2. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (1986). Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature. James Currey: London.
  • 6. Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. Vintage Books: New York.
  • 13. Crosby, A. W. (1986). Biotic Change in Nineteenth Century New Zealand. Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, Winter.
  • 21. See, for examples of these debates in relation to indigenous issues, Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind, and Haunani Kay Trask (1993), From a Native Daughter. Common Courage Press: Maine.
  • 48. Hau’ofa, E. (1987), The New South Pacific Society: Integration and Independence. In Class and Culture in the South Pacific, eds A. Hooper, S. Britton, R. Crocombe, J. Huntsman and C. Macpherson, Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Auckland, Institute for Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.
  • 49. Spivak, G. (1990). Questions of Multiculturalism. In The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, ed. S. Harasayam. Routledge: New York.
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