In universities across the world, humanities and social sciences programs teach the narratives written by males from five countries: France, Germany, UK, USA and Italy. The question stands: why do we have such a provincial epistemic foundation?
If theory is produced in relation to a particular social or historical context and we always think in relation to problems we’ve faced (historically, socially)–then that means that the historical and social experience of 5 males is giving us the foundation to inform our understanding of the world. These countries constitute 12% of the population of the world. And because they’re males, it represents 6%. This means 6% of the social-historical context is giving the aesthetic, histography, history, sociology and philosophy to the rest of the world with the assumption is that they are universal beings.
This problem is not just in “western universities”. We are not just referring to the West as a geopolitical entity. You see this everywhere. If you enter a university in Jakarta or Delhi or anywhere else in the world, the same message is instructed and taught.
That is because this is a global structure. A structure based on an epistemology that is racist and sexist, since it inferiorizes all other epistemologies in the world. It inferiorizes the intellectual production of women—not just in the rest of the world, but even within those five countries.
This racist, sexist epistemology is also reproduced in the Western left. This structure of knowledge has been internalized everywhere, meaning it is the only lens. Western universities have the privilege of telling us what is reality, what is truth, and what is good for us. This epistemology is entangled with structures of power so deeply that it informs our vocabulary, processes, and thoughts. This means that even the tools used to combat oppression are informed by this structure. Understanding this as a system, rather than isolated policy issues, requires studying the historical imprint of colonization. Without systems thinking, it is difficult to connect our epistemic foundation to the decisions made in the political or economic arena.
It is unnatural that we continue to carry these structures that are so deeply sexist, racist, and provincial in the 21st centrury.
Notes from my time doing the Decolonial Studies program, University of Granada, Spain, 2015.