Decolonising the human geography curriculum: two units for the MSc in Society and Space in 2017-18

The significant energies towards decolonising the curriculum in higher education are making themselves felt in ever more persistent and exciting ways at the University of Bristol.

In the first instance, several reading and discussion groups focused on the coloniality of our university curriculum  have sprung up amongst student and academic groups. One, run by University of Bristol Ethnic Minorities, is active every month. This month’s readings are focused around the question: ‘what is African philosophy?’

As part of changing the curriculum of higher education and human geography, the School of Geographical Sciences, MSc in Society and Space is pleased to offer what we hope will be TWO units in the 2017-18 year: ‘Decolonising Environments: Movements Beyond Development’ and ‘Postcolonial Matters‘.

These two M-level units will be team taught by Mark Jackson, Naomi Millner, Franklin Ginn, and a new lecturer, Joe Gerlach, with interdisciplinary participation and instruction from Julia Paulsson in the Graduate School of Education.

Postcolonial Matters (GEOGM0028) is currently running in the 2016-17 academic year. Its focus is on the conceptual and political relationships between postcolonial and decolonial theory, posthumanisms, and political ontology.

The new unit, ‘Conflicted Environments’, currently under development, will focus in more grounded and perhaps less rangy, conceptual ways on the decolonising practices at play in ecologies of environmental development and post-development.

The MSc in Human Geography, Society and Space has, since its inception several decades ago, been known and respected for its commitment to teaching cutting edge theoretical, cultural, and political geographies. Part of its remit has been to explore the critical links between cultural innovation and political change. Today’s critical geographical landscape is increasingly being shaped by the influence of postcolonial and decolonial thinking, raising fresh questions of political-economic change, modernity, and development. The political responsibility of development has, around the world, become increasingly cognisant of the continuing legacies of colonialism and imperialism within its contemporary neoliberal practices and thinking. No longer is neoliberal development simply recognised to be the adoption or application of Euro-American modernity, but development is actively being re-thought, in both the Global North and the Global South, in new and challenging ways by indigenous, postcolonial, and, decolonial thinkers. Important issues have also been raised in relation to environmental sustainability and development, moving discourses of development beyond a primarily human-centric focus, as well as highlighting the ways that environmental degradation and pollution are intertwined with constructions of race and citizenship. The new unit ‘Decolonising Development’ seeks to address the increasing need within critical geographical scholarship to bridge the cultural and political imperatives to decolonise both institutions and theories of development, within the university and through its address to the practices and thinking of trans-national and globalising social movements. Within the discipline, human geographies are increasingly addressing legacies of coloniality across diverse research areas, from the Anthropocene, to mobilities, to governance, to re-thinking nationalisms, political ecologies, environmentalism, critical economies of capitalism and neo-liberalism, to the responsibilities of plural democratic imaginaries. At the heart of these intersections is the socio-political question of thinking the meaning of development more equitably, more sustainably, more democratically, and more responsibly. The unit aims to address and communicate these research energies.

Drawing on contemporary developments in a range of interdisciplinary research areas, from cultural geographies, critical political economies, critical pedagogies, political ecologies, and political geographies the unit will address the need to decolonise both development thinking and practice. Decolonising practices and critiques will be drawn from contemporary work in areas including: concepts of indigeneity, environmental governance, agro-ecology, food security and food sovereignty, trans-national social movements, anthropogenic climatic and bio-diversity change, and peace studies. Specific case-study analysis will include research in areas like: indigenous constitutional governance (ex. sumac kawsay and buen vivir); the Anthropocene; urban greening; trans-national peasant movements; permaculture; seed sharing; indigenous mapping; decolonial and critical pedagogies; decolonising higher education curricula; rural to urban trans-national social movements; the rights of nature; political experiments in micro-geo-politics; indigenous methodologies; indigenous law; plant agencies; new approaches to the commons; etc. Specific geographic foci will include case analyses drawn from research in Latin and South America (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru); South Asia (Pakistan, India); South East Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand); Australasia and southern Polynesia (Australia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Fiji); western Europe (UK, France, Spain, Netherlands, Germany), and parts of North America (NW Canada, Northern Canada, North Central United States, etc).

We welcome and encourage interested scholars and students to join us in Bristol to shape new curricula in exciting and transformative ways.

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