Posted in Non-fiction Politics Social Justice

Decolonising change: a theory of knowledge

Decolonising change: a theory of knowledge Posted on 27 August 2014Leave a comment

Studies of resistance, opposition and protest have always been exactly that – studies of enacted antithesis. They have remained constructed into a Hegellian theory of change where the status quo meets opposition to create a synthesised new status quo (a compromise) – or white meets black to create grey. But these studies have often neglected to challenge Hegel’s theories – they have not holistically theorised on other platforms, they have not been based around other possible theories of change. After all – is there not a spectrum outside of light? Beyond black and beyond white?


In studying global civil society, I have often found myself at this juncture, wondering if civil society was ever where change was happening, or whether there was something I was missing.

James C Scott’s Weapons of the Week went some way to answering that question by showing how resistance is not always visible, and can be found in examples of non-cooperation, such as working too slowly. It displays a good example of how people can perform disagreement through everyday actions rather than only through visible and overt opposition. However, the theory of change remains the same – through resistance things can fall apart.

But perhaps this is because Scott’s view of change is limited by his own perspective – the perspective that sees that change can only happen by this performance of resistance and compromise. His vision is limited to the spectrum of light, and so he misses infra-red and ultraviolet.

What if change was not a matter of resistance but a matter of inaction? What if acceptance was a method of change for a longer run? Or that change didn’t come from directly targeting someone in power but through other forms of transformational power?

We are aware that within our own philosophies of causality, there is a certain amount of ‘randomness’ – in essence while one thing creates another, no real meaning is created why something happens exactly then. For example, we know a rock dropped over the edge of a cliff will plummet to the ground, but why that rock had to fall at that specific time when someone was passing under it is not so clear. There is a probability that can explain it, but the exact precision of ‘why then?’ is unanswerable.

Or it is unanswerable in a world where order and rationale rule our understanding rather than any other worldview. Other worldviews could re-interpret the answer in other ways. Such as within Karma theory, where the why is answered through moral rationale (i.e. one action begets another). Or through theories of witchcraft where one had enact harm to another – consciously or subconsciously.

These other worldviews have alternative views of order and time. They see change and how change happens through other methods. What can then be seen as complicity and the conservation of the status quo may not seem so for them. Therefore, other methods of guided transformation becomes necessary in order to understand.

The problem then comes down to what is and what is not accepted knowledge. In academia, it relies on specific empirical evidence, such that any form of change that does not comply with an explicit view of resistance becomes hidden. Even Scott’s analysis becomes limited by the scope of resistance to capitalist notions of efficiency and does not look at what can be considered different views of change-driven action.

For example, within a Jain worldview, change happens through acceptance of the Karma that is thrown in your path. Through acceptance and non-action, karma is shed and change for the positive possible. That does not mean there is no disagreement – but that disagreement comes from the body and not the soul. The soul can and only just is. The struggle is internalised and therefore in not visible in ‘normal’ forms of opposition.

The problem with our understanding of change is that we rely on an accepted view of Hegellian dialectics. We cannot speak the language of other forms of change, and therefore we remain unable to understand them. Similar, the enactors of transformation outside of this view also cannot speak in the language of Hegellian philosophy and therefore have become invisible to the external observer.

We are blinded by double mirrors because we cannot accept that another view on change is possible. And in learning other ways of change through translation we become incapable to explain those to others because they challenge the foundations of our academic and social theories – in other words, we do not have the language and the power to challenge those original views. So we redefine what we understand to make it more palatable, to make it comprehensible in a world which only understands a little, and the views of the Other become silenced.

It is not that the subaltern cannot speak, it is that we redefine what the subaltern says. We ignore what we cannot understand. We choose to remain ignorant and naive.

After all – if we cannot see it, can it truly exist? It’s a good question to ask when you’re next burning some skin in the sunshine (or cloud cover).

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