Haji Mohamed Idris

Claude Alvares

Gustavo Esteva

Anwar Fazal

Ashis Nandy

Vinay Lal

Shilpa Jain

Website created by:
Vinay Lal, Associate Professor of History, UCLA, USA

All material on this site is coyrighted:
Vinay Lal, 2005.

Authors of individual pieces hold the copyrightto their own pieces. However, all material may be reproduced freely, without
permission, though it is requested
that proper acknowledgment be made to the author(s) of the pieces being



Preamble to a De-colonialized* Curriculum for a People-centered Anthropology

Fred Y.L. Chiu

What's wrong with university education -- and its curricula -- all over the world? First and foremost, it is de-humanizing and demoralizing both to those charged with imparting it to others and to those subjugated to it. In Penang, during the Multiversity conference, Vimbai Chivaura from Zimbabwe told us that that kind of education made the students lose confidence in themselves and even resulted in self-hatred. Jorge Ishizawa from Peru said that such a system makes people lose respect - for themselves, as well as for the place where they live and to which they belong.

Under and within such an institutional setup, especially among those in the South who 'have adopted, lock , stock and barrel, the curricula and syllabi found in the western academy', can anthropology with its history of 'bloody and shameless complicity with imperialism' be salvaged and reformed? Can it be transformed into a discipline that empowers the common people and their everyday life practices, a pedagogy for empathy and becoming, and a practice of emancipation and subversion? These questions should have been bothering any anthropological knowledge practitioner who has a conscience or refuses to keep on burying her/his head in the cold sand under the shadow of cartelized western academic conglomerates.

After WWII, these power centers had fostered many subsidiaries, which niched themselves globally, even in the remotest corners of the Third World. Only recent have some people become aware of this post-imperial 'cultural project' of recolonialization! The "White man's burden" was partially unloaded onto the shoulders of the local surrogates and franchisees of the colonizer -- the national elites qua overseas trained-return-scholars, the accultured/encultured semi-cooked-salvages, the Muchachos. Bound by colonialized habits of thinking as well as social practices, such an academic "discipline" of "national Anthropology" began to haunt the young minds and discipline their bodies! Half-a-century after Frantz Fanon's death we have finally learned that if we are to become emancipated, it is imperative that the colonialized ghost in every one of us be exocised, and we not remain satisfied by the mere physical expulsion of the colonizers.

In 1979, when the New Zealand anthropologist Judith Macdonald was on her way to Tikopia, she was stranded in the island of Santa Cruz some hundreds of miles away. She introduced herself as an anthropologist and made known to everyone there that she had intended to go to Tikopia. Having nothing to do, she interviewed a male nurse from Tikopia who works in the hospital and is well known as an expert on traditional child birth practices. They had been talking for a little more than an hour, when the "informant " finished the conversation by saying, 'at least, that's what Raymond [Firth, a renowned anthropologist] said.' What a vivid revelation! The codified "masterpiece" of one of the forefathers in Europo-anthropology should have snatched the "captive mind" of the native world, and to such an extent!

Decades after Raddiffe-Brown published his masterpiece on the Andaman Islanders, they had all but been forgotten by the modern world. Suddenly, after the Tsumani hit, the Associated Press reported as follows:

'Stone Age Culture Survive Tsunami Waves'
By Neelesh Misra
Associated Press
Posted January 5 2005, 9:05 AM EST

PORT BLAIR, India -- Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter.
He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.
It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia: They want to be left alone. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tribesmen have learned nature's sights, sounds and smells in order to survive.

Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26. "They can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense which we don't possess," said Ashish Roy, a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world.

Not sure how to make sense of the native's local system of knowledge, some Europo-Ecologists and Europo-Anthropologists have taken this "sixth sense" as new terrain to be studied, as well as to advocate a renewed interest in the Islanders and their cultures! The agenda? Every "discovery" is viewed as addressing the existing void, and is rapidly appropriated to the West's know-how arsenal.

These cases, combined together, also showcase the unbelievable degree of "recognition" of "Western Knowledge" on the part of the "natives". On the contrary, there is the absolute lack of knowledge, as well as of acknowledgement, on the part of the West vis-à-vis the knowledge systems of the non-West. However, for the natives who "know them well", their "recognition" turns out to be to their greatest disadvantage! Still more sickening is the fact that the West, which was totally ignorant of the "others", should have been able to make use of its lack of knowledge as its source of power and self-justification, sanctioning its cruelty and brutality. It is absolutely unthinkable, for in such cases it is the most provincial which provincializes the multiple and the unknown. If 'knowledges' (small case, plural) are to save humanity from greedy and ignorance, the most provincial knowledge must invariably be self-defeated in the long run. For all the "others" are not the same and no entity which were conveniently designated/categorized/framed/identified could be homogenized into a single "other", which was but to be used as an object/token against which to enable constructing an unified "self". To put it in yet another way: to salvage humanity and to pry open possibilities from the confined partial knowledge of the provincial, we must render its political assumption explicit, and to deconstruct it and open it to multiple/dispersed gazes. Our provincial understandings of the world can no longer equip humanity to sail through all the unsensed dangers which, like the Tsunami, lie ahead in the path of our common future.
In practice, to liberate the bounded rationality and the concomitant self-limited capacity to conceive - i.e., the legacies of colonialized senses and sensitivity - we must mark the unmarked: mark what the west was hardselling as Europo-science, Europo-botany, Europo-anthropology, Europo-musicology, Europo-history, Europo-medicine….so forth and so on. At the same time, those multiple knowledge systems which were provincialzed by the west and labeled as ethno-this or ethno-that have to be emancipated from the yoke placed around them and be unmarked.

Strategically speaking, and in epistemological terms, each and every one of these de-marked knowledge systems has to be brought back to its syntactical level and liberated from being suppressed (by the West) unto things piecemeal and at the vocabulary level. Its language should be reinstalled back as understandable 'signs', freed from impoverishment by transformation into sheer recognizable 'signals'. And it is only by taking elements in a knowledge system as 'signs" in discourse that things human (humane) can be understood (as contextualized knowledge, to be comprehend and discoursed), not merely to be recognized as isolated signals (for conditioning manipulations/controls). As a tactic to avoid systemicizing, and consequently impoverishing knowledges, it is the only way to counter the overlived West-fundamentalism!
How is it possible to feel the need to counter West-fundamentalism? And where's that sensitivity to come from? As a Chicago-trained "Europo-Anthropologist", I must admitted that I acquired eyesight from hundreds of students, workers, aborigines, social-movement practitioners and fellow knowledge activists whom I worked with over the years away from the U.S. Their words and deeds were my eye-openers. I was made to de-europeanize myself as a person and to de-westernize my craft as a knowledge worker and give up my "attitude".
Educated and informed by the lived experiences and life choices of these strategic actors and fierce negotiators, the Cathedrals I visited during my tour through European countries shocked me as nothing but pile-ups of things inhumane over centuries. Wearied with world-famous masterpieces in monumental palaces and "imperial" museums, I had but to escape to the minor chambers of "Exotic" (read African) exhibitions to catch up with a human breeze and recuperate my sanity. After all that, I suddenly understood how the past and the other were fetishized under a imperial project of self-encouragement, and how important lootings and looters play their roles in constituting a statehood and enthrone an empire.

I never forget when I drove close to the Reichstag in East Berlin in the middle of the night, how ghostly this non-human-sized pile of concrete had haunted and disgusted me ever since. Yet, now it was 're-furbished' and 'white-washed' to house the "giest" of a new Germany. Can they also whitewash Hitler's famous fire in this Bundestag on February 27, 1933, and excuse the resolution there passed concerning the abrogation of all civil rights the very next day?
What all does the above-said amount to? The space to articulate popular critique arising from an endogenous contact needs regeneration. Open-ended dissenting voices and anecdotal reflexive moments were but things heuristic and pedagogical, synedochically speaking. Lo and behold! A people-centered non-europoanthropology had long been in the making. For one, I am personally convinced and committed to such an anthropology, in which the practitioner first seeks to transform him/herself. In the process of 'becoming', he/she learns to know that being "Cultural (colour) blind" is but the concomitant of his/her blindness to peoples' livelihood and everyday practices. His/her failure to empathize is but a form of deafness toward subaltern utterancess and their life stories, songs and sighs.

Our "Professional" depression and boredom resulted but from our failure to celebrate multiplicity, diversity, creativity…or to enjoy togetherness, to be appreciative to social connectedness as well as contestations. Once across these thresholds of becoming one can expect to embark on his/her journey through the open field, to walk out a path for a genuine anthropology which is a-systemic, a-stateist, a-ethnic, and at the same time non-essentialistic and non-foundational!
Why has it to be so, and why might a decolonialized curriculum help to do the trick? As Ashis Nandy has remarked, wherever civilization goes, it takes with it syphilis. For this reason alone, he has confessed to a secret admiration for the gumption of those who extract the civilizer's cost. I have nothing more to add but, not so secretly, wish to affirm that wherever domination goes, it takes with it seeds of emancipation -- whenever Europo-anthropology goes, it breeds people-centered anthropologies.

Laroui, Abdallah (1987) Islam et modernité, Paris: Éditions la Découverte.

Michaud, Gerard. 1981. "Caste, confession et societe en Syrie: Ibn Khaldoun au chevet du 'Progessisme Arabe'", Peuples Mediterraneens 16 : 119-30.

At a Glance:
Mulitversity Related

Recapturing Worlds:
The Original Multiversity

Penang 2002: The First Conference on the Deconstruction
of Knowledge

Dissenting Knowledges Pamphlet Series (ed. Vinay Lal)

Radical Essentials Pamphlet Series (ed. Yusef Progler)

Penang 2004: The Second Conference on Redesigning Social Science Curricula

Special issue of Humanscape on Multiversity (April 2005)

Special issue of Third World Resurgence (2005) on Multiversity

The Dissenter's Library
Essays, Articles, Papers
Kamirithu: The Newsletter of Multiversity
Readers in the Disciplines