1. Introduction: “I am where I think” (Walter Mignolo)
Today’s talk will be an extended meditation on what this statement from Walter Mignolo might mean for discussions of our conference theme. I begin by unpacking the key terms of my title and their implications for how locality might be rethought from decolonizing perspectives, using my home city, Winnipeg, and my home country, Canada, as examples. I will explain how Canada is now increasingly being described as a particular type of settler colony, in recognition of the fact that it was already settled by indigenous peoples when, like the rest of the Americas, it was first “discovered” by European adventurers. After sections on home, identity, and the politics of naming “here” as a “mobile locality” (Jenco), I turn to some literary examples of new urban imaginaries, which move beyond Saskia Sassen’s “global cities” model to challenge what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2012) has deplored as a “monoculture of the mind” (25). The Cartesian perspective on the world that enabled Eurocentric perspectives to lay sole claim to universality is now being challenged by postcolonial and indigenous perspectives that show locality in new lights. I briefly offer interpretations of indigenous Cree poet Marvin Francis’s City Treaty: a long poem, and Trinidadian-Canadian Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For: a novel, as locally-based Canadian texts that move toward enacting what Boaventura Sousa de Santos has called “an ecology of knowledges” framework
The implications of recognizing the importance of locality in shaping perception and evaluation are profound and still being worked through across the full range of disciplinary practices. We know, for example, that local languages and religious practices were banned throughout the colonies during the times of the British Empire. They were banned as well for indigenous peoples in settler colonies such as Canada. Attempts to reconnect with those half-lost traditions are in many places still in their infancy. Today, global university ranking systems and citational indexes are still skewed by the dominance of the Anglosphere and its assessment of what is interesting and important. Some localities still count more than others. Anglophone Canadians enjoy a linguistic advantage within this system but the arbiters of the system show little interest in Canadian topics or Canadian perspectives on global issues. This global higher education regime seems deeply entrenched, but its purchase on the imaginations of all those marginalized by its narrowness is waning. In the following section, I put Mignolo’s rephrasing of the Cartesian formula in dialogue with a famous question once put by Canadian theorist Northrop Frye—famous in Canada, that is, which is my point. Frye is famous globally for his work on British literature and literary theory, but not for his statements about Canada.
2. If I am where I think, where is that? “Where is here?” (Frye)
The old vocabularies are failing us. Words take on new meanings in new contexts; new words are coined to capture new understandings. In a globalizing world, we all need to be aware of multilingual possibilities, and the ways that even apparently simple words like home resonate differently in different translational contexts of experience, language, and locality. Each word carries assumptions about how we know and live in the world. To hold to a single definition in a globalizing world increasingly marks a failure of imagination: a “monoculture of the mind” (Spivak 2012: 25) in a multicultural world. To talk across our differences, few feminists still dream, with Adrienne Rich in an earlier time, of “a common language” (See Neigh); instead, our dreams are more likely to follow Suniti Namjoshi, in “building babel”—the title of an experimental novel that leaves its conclusions open to her readers. Once intended as a punishment for a disobedient world, Babel separated people into many discrete monocultures of the mind, yet that multiplicity of languages is now being reinterpreted and embraced as offering a richer and truer encounter with the world’s diversity. These changes are about more than words in themselves; they involve conflicting understandings about the ways words connect to the world, inhabit a world, and reach out to other worlds. These are debates about the ways in which overlapping and separated communities of people make meanings. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes of “zones of awkward engagement, where words mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak” (xi). Such a world constituted the treaties signed between indigenous First Nations and the British Crown in places now called Canada.
The term First Nations was adopted in the late twentieth century to stress the indigenous prior settlement of the land and prior governance arrangements for managing it. Too often those zones represented by the treaties have proved sites of epistemic violence, where only one, Eurocentric interpretation prevailed. The country now called Canada, but in a smaller geopolitical configuration, officially came into existence as a country called Canada, through the British North America Act in 1867. The Constitution was repatriated from Britain in 1982. That past led some to describe Canada’s history as marking a trajectory from colony to nation. Originally the territory of many different groups of indigenous peoples, the land was colonized by French and British fur traders and settlers who visited and gradually moved into the country up the St. Lawrence River on the east but also from the west coast after visits from explorers such as George Vancouver. In their wars with each other, and during the American War of Independence, both the French and the English formed alliances with native nations. Treaties, signed by the Crown with many of these indigenous peoples, although not always honoured, continue to form a legal basis for governance arrangements among those who signed. In response to indigenous activism, the Canadian national identity has recently moved from stressing a bicultural French/English foundation toward understanding Canada as a “treaty nation” formed by three founding groups of peoples, with indigenous nations joining the French and English as founders of the new nation that arose from their interactions.
Because of the importance of these treaties in shaping this new sense of national identity, contemporary theorists are now re-reading those treaties to retrieve previously silenced perspectives, as does Aimée Craft in Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One. Francis’s poem City Treaty may be read as the poetic equivalent of this act of historical reinterpretation. Implicit in such attempts to retrieve what Jamaican writer Erna Brodber has termed the “half that has not been told, ” is the urgent question: given contexts of epistemic violence, how might epistemic and cognitive justice be imagined?
To focus on epistemic violence is not to downplay other forms of institutional and physical violence but it is to recognize how intertwined they are. If they are to be disentangled, then epistemic issues cannot be ignored. Spivak argues that “The world needs an epistemological change that will rearrange desires” (2012:2). Such a change is needed to escape the prison-house or mental straitjackets of any single “monoculture of the mind” (25). In 1963, Guyanese novelist Wilson Harris argued the need to recognize “the offspring of a harlequin cosmos at the heart of existence” (92-93). Now, Portuguese theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos and his colleagues advocate embracing “an ecology of knowledges,” rethinking globalization from below, to create a diversality that is mediated through and out of local knowledges in relations of circulation and exchange rather than domination and exclusion. The idea of an ecology of knowledges owes much to Latin American indigenous cosmologies and the critique of European modernity provided by Latin American decolonial thinkers. In this model, diversality replaces universality. But diversality is not cultural relativism. It involves a more radical rethinking of the fundamental building blocks of contemporary thinking, starting with rejecting many of the naturalized binaries that form the common sense of both everyday and specialized disciplinary thinking: nature/culture; human/not-human; local/global. In this sense, it can be compared to theories of critical multiculturalism, which reject understandings of cultures as fixed and bounded. These theories stress how culture functions “in people’s real lives: dynamic, polyvalent, and contestable” (Mao 214).
Much postcolonial and feminist theory agrees that “the questions of where one thinks from, with whom, and for what purpose become themselves important elements of social science and humanities thinking… (Escobar 392). Attention to how situatedness matters is now part of most disciplinary practices, but what matters even more is how that attention is paid and how that practice is understood. Self-reflexivity and vigilance are now part of how many of us work in these fields. But on their own, they may not prove sufficient. Mignolo, studying modernity from a Latin American decolonial location, dislodges Descartes’ claim, “I think therefore I am,” rephrasing it from his own decolonial perspective to argue: “I am where I think” (In Lionnet & Shih 2012: location 397). Francoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih elaborate Mignolo’s rephrasing to explain how it recognizes the “intimate connection among biography (‘I am’), geography (‘where’), and knowledge (‘I think’).” Mignolo’s riddle disrupts the borders separating these disciplinary categories to suggest how entangled they are and to problematize any automatic understanding of the who, what, and how of the “I.” According to Lionnet and Shih, Mignolo exposes “the pretensions to universality of Western thought” and activates “a process of epistemic democratization, which is also a movement toward ‘pluriversality’.” Pluriversality, to be fully realized, requires transversal exchanges, movements involving intercultural dialogue “from periphery to periphery” (Dussell: fn46, p.54). This double movement linking pluriversality to transversality challenges ethnocentric assumptions about meaning and how it is made. In these ways, “I am where I think” marks a new way of thinking the local and thinking out of the local– but finding the words to convey that understanding is not easy. I take that task to be part of the challenge of this conference.
In the mid twentieth-century, Canadian critic Northrop Frye wrote: “It seems to me that the Canadian sensibility has been profoundly disturbed, not so much by our famous problem of identity, important as that is, as by a series of paradoxes in what confronts that identity. It is less perplexed by the question ‘Who am I?’ than by some such riddle as ‘Where is here? For Frye, this was a specifically Canadian question, generated out of European colonization of a foreign environment, followed by rapid technological developments that did not allow the newcomers time to acclimatize to their new home. Nor were they able to see the land’s traditional inhabitants, the indigenous peoples, as anything other than primitives. Frye writes of one of Duncan Campbell Scott’s mid 20th century poems about Canadian indigenous peoples: “In English literatures we have to go back to Anglo-Saxon times to encounter so incongruous a collision of cultures.” Postcolonial theorists reject the collision of cultures model, and the assumptions that deny the coevalness of different cultural systems. These imperialist models situated the systems devised by the indigenous cultures of the Americas in a model that assumed they were only congruent with a European past.
Nowadays, as theorists debate globalization and planetarity, offering models of deep or global history, to go back to Anglo-Saxon times seems much less of a leap. Frye’s riddle now takes on new resonance. “Where is here?” is no longer simply a national question for settler colonial Canada. It is also now a world- and time-spanning question. “Here” is a complicated chronotope. When I was younger, I was impatient with Frye’s framing of this question but now that I am older, I appreciate its complexity.
In the current era, during a time globalization theorist Ulrich Beck describes as one of “place polygamy” (Rantanen 258), the place where one thinks is not so easy to describe. Some metaphors fail us. I am fascinated by the phrase, “place polygamy,” because it encapsulates so many entangled assumptions about gender, belonging, loyalty, heterosexuality, and taboo. Outdated assumptions: of one place, one language, one home, where the relation of person to place is made analogous to a woman’s marriage (Beck came up with the phrase when seeing a woman with double national loyalties). Beck’s metaphor suggests there is something scandalous about more complex relations of belonging. Yet for many, locality may now take form as either glocality or translocality, in which alternative understandings of space and time co-exist, sometimes only concurrently, and sometimes mingling to form emergent understandings.
Contemporary Winnipeg, and contemporary Canada, are such places, places where indigenous and immigrant cultures continue to interact, and where a deep awareness of place causes poets, such as Francis, to narrate “the risky birth of muskeg metaphor” (58) erupting beneath the pavements of the city, his purpose to renegotiate civic space with contending national and global imaginaries. My university President now opens every speech by acknowledging the city’s multi-layered history: it is the traditional territory of the Anishinabe First Nations who still call the city home; the birthplace of the Red River Métis nation, and “Treaty One territory,” subject to historic agreements between the British Crown and the First Peoples. These treaties are now administered under Canada’s repatriated Constitution by the federal government. The Red River Métis are an officially recognized distinct people deriving from intermarriage between indigenous Cree and French and Scottish traders, who established their own government under the leadership of Louis Riel in what is now Manitoba, in the Red River Valley, in 1869. This initiative was put down as a rebellion by the new Canadian government in the East, and Riel was hanged. But now Riel is remembered as a hero and we celebrate a provincial holiday in his name. As a settler colony, Canada has always welcomed immigration and since the end of the Second World War has opened itself to more diverse streams of immigration. Under Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada officially embraced its identity as a multicultural nation. Winnipeg, in the physical centre of the country, welcomes many new immigrants from all over the world each year. Out of this location, a meeting place of indigenous, multicultural, transcultural, and decolonial imaginaries, the rest of this paper will develop revised models for working out of locality and through locality today.
With the rise of globalization, many are asking about how we might see the world in its entirety as our home. Spivak offers planetarity as a counter to globality. Edward Said writes of the necessity of worldliness. Others, advocate a critical cosmopolitanism (Mignolo) and replacing “methodological nationalism” with “methodological cosmopolitanism” (Beck). At the same time, still others draw attention to the rise of “global cities” (Sassen) and regional configurations such as the European Union. In the Preface to Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Kuan-Hsing Chen points to the originality at the time—1998–of problematizing “the historical formations of cultural studies in different geo-political contexts” (xv) Whereas previously academics might have assumed their contexts to “be somewhat universal or dominantly important” or on the other hand, gone “nativist, with no sense of the infiltration of global political and economic forces” (xv-xvi), the stance in this volume, he writes, was to acknowledge “coming from ‘the local’ but with a sense of the international/global” (xv) In other words, it is time to refuse the binary that sees non-Western practices “as particular to their sites of origin” and Western practices as universal, as applicable everywhere (See Wakabayashi). What happens to understandings of home in such new configurations of situatedness?
Few of us feel the need to look up “home” in a dictionary, yet if we do, we find it a fascinating topic. Raymond Williams did not include home in his Keywords in 1976. Yet it does appear in Tony Bennett et al’s New Keywords in 2005. Why does home appear as a new keyword requiring extended definition now? Bennett’s entry on home begins to suggest an answer. Home mediates relations “between rest and movement, private and public,” here and there (163). These are relations that appear to be disrupted by processes of globalization in ways that remain in dispute. They operate at the micro-levels of family and the macro-levels of broader forms of community. The Dictionary of Untranslatables , very much a book of our time, explores the tensions between what it calls the ontological Heimat (literally home) and the genealogical Vaterland (Fatherland) to worry about the ways these concepts may both enfranchise and disenfranchise national belonging, with the even more problematic unheimlich, inadequately translated into English as uncanny or unhomeliness, pointing to the instability at the heart of the homely (Cassin, Apter, Lezra, Wood). Salman Rushdie captures this ambivalence well when he points to the double meanings of Dorothy’s magic chant at the end of the Hollywood movie, The Wizard of Oz: “there is no place like home.” Home is the best of places—so there is no place that can match it. At the same time, there literally is no place like home because home does not exist as a place at all.
Spivak explains the complexity of home for her thinking by pointing to its untranslatability across languages: “The word ghar in Bengali doesn’t just mean ‘home;’ it also means ‘room’ in the way in which it doesn’t mean that in Hindi” (In Chakravorty:7).Spivak muses: “I am at home everywhere and I am not at home anywhere” (19). For her, “home is a kind of direction” (20); it is “flexible” (21), and to “have many home bases … is one of the ways in which the imagination thrives” (21). That is how I see home too. Some might dismiss this relation to home as the privilege only of the global intellectual, but I think she is gesturing toward something more profound here. Home need not be a monoculture of the mind for anyone because it is framed through direction (that is, through the mobility of relations) rather than through stasis.
Zygmunt Bauman suggests globalizing processes are rendering everyone now either a tourist or a vagabond (1998). In other words, everyone is now determined, less by their place of origin or habitation, than by how they move through places, their movements differentiated by relations of privilege or penalty. Paul Gilroy agrees that access to power is what is at stake in these changes but names a world divided between denizens and citizens: two groups of people with differing access to resources of the state. Each naming captures something of the way in which human relations to place and the ability to claim home are shifting but neither fully captures the dynamism of these changes. Bauman and Gilroy name these groups of people as defined by a singular identity through categories that fail to capture the instabilities, multiplicities, and nuances of the lives they are meant to describe.
4. Identity and Locality: how are they linked?
Why is identity so central to literary and cultural studies? And why is it is still so tied to locality and monocultures of the mind? These questions have always puzzled me. My first book looked at the fiction of Australian expatriate writer Christina Stead in an effort to understand the twentieth century stigmas and freedoms attached to expatriation. Stead lived in different parts of the world and wrote of the lives she observed there, including workers in a Paris bank, a young woman seeking marriage in New York, and guests staying in a little hotel in Switzerland. She paid a high price for her mobility at a time when authors were tightly linked to national structures of attention. Character and talk drive her books, yet the stereotypical ideas of identity cannot explain them. In my critical work, I realize I have chosen to study writers who challenge conventional notions of identity, and in my theorizing, I address questions of agency through exploring autonomy, transnational literacy, and communal negotiation. Yet I have to recognize that in the current era, questions of identity appear for many people more urgent than ever. Globalization brings both homogenization in some spheres and an increased tolerance for diversity in others. Both changes can threaten stable notions of identity and the institutional systems that still rely on them.
North-American poet-critic Charles Bernstein suggests that “No issue has dogged poetry so much in the past two decades as identity—national, social, ethnic, racial, and local.” Bernstein links identity to place: “Like the Americas, identity is always plural. And like the Americas, identity is necessarily, a priori, identity-obsessed parts, syncretic and braided, indeed, self-cannibalizing, as surely as the DNA that flows in our psyches and concatenates our mental projections” (Bernstein, “Our Americas” 67-68). Here Bernstein mixes older views of identity as “a priori,” already established, pre-given, and as composed of a series of discrete parts, with an emergent view of identity as plural, fluid, interactive, and always in transition, a view that shapes how many linguists and poets understand language today, but which remains at odds with the reality that identities may also be experienced as far less fluid in practice. In this paper, I am interested in what Bernstein calls the “mental projections” that may be created through literary and other discursive practices, and their roles in articulating ideas of home beyond monocultures of the mind.
5. Reconceiving the Local
Mignolo’s advocacy of critical border thinking and Spivak’s of planetarity both recognize the difficulty of asking Frye’s question, “where is here?”, within post-modern, post-colonial, and post-human times. Leigh Jenco suggests one way of proceeding might be to “reconceive the ‘local’ not as a cultural context that permanently conditions our understanding and argumentative claims, but as a particularized site for the circulation of knowledge” (28). I like this view. For Jenco, locality “is not some kind of permanent (albeit constantly penetrated) dwelling place that persists in shaping the entirety of its residents’ theorizations” (38). Rather, “it often stands as a concentrated site of audiences, sympathies, and standards that generate particular kinds of reflections and render them viable in local (but possibly broader) contexts” (38). Jenco is looking for a way to think outside Eurocentric categories and Western domination of the disciplines without privileging simplistic and unconvincing notions of local authenticity. By redefining locality as a site of circulating and contending discourses, Jenco complicates the binary of insider/outsider and provides more space for the co-constitution of knowledge by teams of scholars reorganized within “localized communities of knowledge”(45) functioning in genuinely reciprocal exchange with such communities elsewhere.
This was the model explored in three recent team projects in which I have been involved: “Globalization and Autonomy,” “Building Global Democracy,” and “Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange.” Each sought to create transversal relations across peripheries, either bypassing or marginalizing hegemonic centres of power. These projects confronted the difficulties explored by Jenco—specifically, that even scholars based in non-Western parts of the world have still been trained in dominant Eurocentric forms of knowledge production and evaluation. With Jenco, we conclude that “The answer lies in interrogating the assumption that we must either be engaged in reflection that culminates in general, intelligible knowledge about political life [Jenco’s area of disciplinary focus], or we are investigating local contingency” (Jenco: 51). That binary is no longer tenable. We need to explore other options. Tsing makes a similar point in Friction: an ethnography of global connection. She argues the universal/particular binary is an imperialist construction that must be abandoned if decolonization is to proceed. A Translation Studies Forum, “Universalism in Translation Studies,” raises these issues in an ongoing discussion inviting further reflections on the role and value of place in translation practices, the value of seeking a standardized language, and the adequacy of current frames for standardization. They contributors ask, as this conference asks: does place matter, and if it does, then how does it matter? And how can research, teaching, and translation practices be adapted to find more adequate answers to these questions?
Judy Wakabayashi, in her contribution to this Forum, defines the problem by asking the postcolonial question: “Why is it that non-Western practices and ideas of translation are regarded as particular to their sites of origin yet the same lens is not applied to Western practices and ideas?” (98). If we are to move beyond this unjust and inaccurate state of affairs, she argues, then “we need a meta-discourse that is attentive to site-based practices and debates and brings them together to identify genuine commonalities and differences, historicizing translation practices and thinking and recognizing specificity without reifying difference in an unproductive manner” (100-101). This is the daunting task scholars face now, both those of us working with literal translations and those of us working with reading across cultures, including writing within a globalized language such as English with all its local variations.
As an example of how difficult this is, I offer the following. My Brazil/Canada team set up panel discussion on our transnational literacies theme asking two scholars from each country to explain their site-specific critical literacy practices as teachers and researchers. We hoped through this exercise to learn more about theories and institutional practices arising from each nation and regions within it, yet most presenters chose to describe their work as fully congruent with dominant patterns in the Anglophone world, citing leading Australian, American, and British theorists as models for their work. Canadian presenters felt more comfortable citing local issues and theorists than did the majority of Brazilian colleagues, quite possibly because of the continued dominance of the Anglosphere in the higher education regime. The anecdote is a necessary reminder of how powerful the Anglo-American academy remains globally, and how difficult it is to be heard if one writes outside its norms of intelligibility.
6. If “I am where I think, where is that?”: New Urban Imaginaries
The titles of two earlier articles where I wrestled with this question show my experimentations with redefining the particular/universal binary. “Earth, world, planet: Where does the postcolonial critic stand?” thinks about expanded understandings of locality offered by three contending names for describing global space. Each name invokes a different kind of orientation to the global. “Cracking Imaginaries: Studying the global from Canadian space,” approaches similar questions from the opposite direction, a perspective stressing my local situatedness, as a Canadian reader of multicultural texts and as a follower of the debates that are arising around the Winnipeg Museum of Human Rights, which will open its doors in Fall 2014.
Saskia Sassen has drawn attention to the rise of the global city, which is assuming more importance than the nation in some contexts. Some Canadian fiction follows this lead. In Trindadian-Canadian Dionne Brand’s novel, What We All Long For, Canada is never mentioned. Toronto functions as both the setting and a character in this novel. The older generation of her multicultural cast of characters have moved to Toronto from different parts of the country and the world but their children, born in Toronto, think of Toronto as their home and the site of their desires. Each resists the pull of inherited identities and the racialized assumptions about their identity made by enforcers of dominant imaginaries, such as their parents, teachers and the media. Instead, they aspire to forge new ways of listening to the half-heard murmurings of the city and making sense of its meanings. Each feels the pull of family connections but claims the right to forge their own affiliations. Is this a post-national novel about an emerging global city or is it offering a new way of understanding locality? I argue the latter.
The novel begins: “This city hovers above the forty-third parallel; that’s illusory of course” (Brand 1), and continues in this vein, offering some certainty of placement and then immediately problematizing it. The narrator explains: “as at any crossroad there are permutations of existence. People turn into other people imperceptibly, unconsciously, right here in the grumbling [subway] train…. “ This guiding voice continues: “Lives in the city are doubled, tripled, conjugated … In this city, like everywhere, people work, they eat, they drink, they have sex, but it’s hard not to wake up here without the certainty of misapprehension” (5). This is a wonderful phrase for describing the kinds of double-binds that come with a city formed by immigration and built on unacknowledged “Ojibway land” (4): the certainty of misapprehension. In other words, the only thing you can know for certain is that your knowing is likely mistaken and others’ certainties about you are likely to be also. The “certainty of misapprehension” describes a generalized uneasiness with no clear referent.
Brand’s Toronto is a city formed, like a coral reef, by the irritants of the world. Chapter Five begins: “A yellow mote of sand dreams in the polyp’s eye; the coral needs this pain. The poet Kamau Brathwaite wrote this. It could this city’s mantra. It could escape and mingle with the amplifying city, especially on Mondays …” (53). Here a Barbadian poet adds his voice, and the tidalectic rhythms of a life shaped by the sea, to the chorus of an amplifying city many latitudes to the north. For the characters born in Toronto, Toronto is both “this mothering city” (67) and the “surrogate city” (68), descriptors that mirror their ambivalent feelings of entitlement yet not quite belonging. These second-generation Canadians see their immigrant parents as unsuccessful border crossers, workers “in the immigrant sweatshop they call this city” (212) but they themselves, the narrator claims, “are in fact, borderless” (213). After the 2002 World Cup, these young people, with parents of Vietnamese, Italian, and Caribbean origin, join the crowds celebrating and singing, “Oh, Pil-seung Korea!” (214). With the same enthusiasm, they lose themselves in Ornette Coleman’s music, “The Jungle is a Skyscraper” (228), where the point again is to stress appreciation for the dissonance in melody, and the ways in which “Every horn is alone, but they’re together, crashing” (228-229). This emergent form of postmodern community is what the artist Tuyen tries to capture in her installations, which are indebted to surrealism while being entirely her own, created in conversation with the city itself.
Winnipeg, a smaller city, does not have the resources to qualify as a global city. But it too is a city of immigrants and has the highest indigenous population in the country. Although historically indigenous peoples were confined to Reservations, “more than half of Canada’s Native population now resides in cities” (Cariou,“Foreword”: vii-viii). This is the context addressed in Marvin Francis’s long poem, City Treaty. The poem proceeds through a series of dialogues between JOE TB, “a treaty buster” “bush poet” with “one lung left,” and a Native Clown who follows him. Joe says: “you cannot shake a clown / that mask sees all” (5). Here TB can signify both tuberculosis, a disease that disproportionately plagues indigenous peoples , and treaty busting, an activist challenge to how Canada’s identity as a treaty nation has evolved and requires revision through the writing of a new arrangement, a rethinking of the treaty relation through the city. As the poet Francis explains in his proposal description for the creative Master’s thesis that became City Treaty, “The main thrust of City Treaty is that treaties are living documents that evolve along with society. Since an increasing percentage of Native people are urban, their perceptions differ from those who signed the original treaties” (1). In other words, the kinds of governance questions addressed by the treaties originally signed between the British Crown and the First Peoples of the Treaty One location where Winnipeg now stands require re-interpretation in recognition of changing understandings of time/place relations as well as the different understandings of legal jurisdiction and tradition held by the original signers.
Francis argues that the treaty “documents have become guidelines for the lives of those who have had to accept what their ancestors signed….Treaties are living proof of the power that words on paper have to influence lives” (2). Given this power of the treaties as words on paper, City Treaty invokes the example of Shakespeare’s Caliban, seizing the language to make it his own. His Joe stirs up a “native tempest” (49), combining intertexts from canonical English literature, advertising slogans, and pop culture catchphrases with words borrowed from the many native “word drummers” whose work has led the way toward “righting” the treaties, with write spelled as right to underline the point (68). In this way, the poet refuses to limit his imagination to work within a single local tradition, drawing instead on the full ecology of knowledges available to him while processing them through his own local matrix.
Francis’s proposal promises: “I want to take the reader on a paper trail into the bush and the city with a storyline that I will label walking in the bush narrative … “ This phrasing recalls the motto of Zapatista Subcommandante Marcos: “walking while asking questions.” According to Ramon Grosfoguel, “Walking while asking questions is linked to the Trojolabal understanding of democracy as “commanding while obeying” in which “those who command obey, and those who obey command” (99). Like the Zapatistas, Francis’s poem constructs “a world in which other worlds fit” (cited in Gosfoguel 99). His poem celebrates transversal, rather than linear, movement: “The form of my long poem will be like the paths in a bush, rhyzomic” (sic 2). His walking marks bush-informed routes through a city whose grid has been designed elsewhere. For Francis, the city has been imposed on the land but remains subject to the land’s imperatives. The northern-specific “muskeg metaphors” reclaim the power of language from the imperial “word cannibals” who took the land from its original inhabitants.
The poem is cynical about the history of Canada in which treaties have been signed but not honoured. He claims dismissively: “treaty language / easy translate / you will lose” (49). In other words, the winners write the history and their versions triumph. That cynicism is deepened when he asks: “how about a / mcTreatyTM / would you like some lies with that?” (6)—where the trademark symbol after mcTreaty is footnoted as “treaty manuscript.” McDonalds has become a global signifier of global capitalism and the prefix “mc” has come to signify commodification in all its forms. A “mcjob”, for example, is slang for a job at McDonalds, poorly paid and insecure. Its use here, tied to the double signification of TM, underlines the close connections between imperialism and capitalism, which in turn link the historical site on which the city was built to the contemporary city of Winnipeg. There is also an unarticulated half rhyme linking “lies” to “fries” through recalling the unspoken McDonalds formula, spoken by all servers: “Would you like some fries with that?” Through this echo, colonial lies mark an automatic betrayal of the original promise of reciprocal negotiation between equals embodied in the treaties from the indigenous perspective.
For Francis, words are both the problem and the solution. His poem retains a faith in the agency of poetry to renew those broken treaty promises. City Treaty has been received “as a streetwise anti-globalization manifesto for the indigenous world” (Cariou 140). The aesthetics of that streetwise position is performed through the interactions of Joe, the contemporary native man in the street, and the Native Clown, a mythic figure “who traditionally questions, mocks, entertains and turns the world inside out,” as Francis explains in his MA thesis Proposal (2). In the poem, refusing to explain is part of his strategy: “so you have to explain who is this clown / but I won’t / I can knot / will not will not” (7). By spelling not with a k, he suggests the double bind in which unequal cross-cultural explanations find themselves trapped, so that the only way to express agency in this situation is through refusal.
City Treaty rewrites Winnipeg just as Brand rewrites Toronto, each moving perceptions of urban community beyond monocultures of the mind. Each shares an apprehension of the fragility of contemporary city lives. Francis’s narrator Joe claims: “we all walk edges uncertain / on border slippery / between… invisible borders stronger than / barb wire / cement our paths to our edgewalking ways” (Francis 28). Brand’s characters “think they’re safe, but they know they’re not” (4). Each neighbourhood of Brand’s Toronto sits “on Ojibway land, but hardly any of them know it or care because that genealogy is willfully untraceable except in the name of the city itself” (4). In response to such willfully untraceable prior habitation, City Treaty retraces and updates a Cree genealogy for Winnipeg, and reclaims an indigenous right to relocate the original treaties within indigenous mapping systems.
City Treaty closes by invoking the names of inspirational “word drummers”, those published native writers from the United States and Canada who “hurtle / words into that English landscape like brown beer / bottles tossed from the back seat on a country / road shattering the air turtle words crawl slowly from / the broken glass…” Here, “turtle words” recall “Turtle Island,” “the term used by Anishinabe and other Indigenous peoples to describe what is geo-politically known as North America” (Craft fn 18, p. 123). “Turtle words” thus rename locality in reference to the creation stories in which a turtle emerges from a great flood, offering her back as a new home for the indigenous peoples. This mobile locality, turtle island, is alive.
Two texts constitute too small a sample to indicate a larger trend but they do raise questions about the “methodological nationalisms” (Beck) in which literary critics continue to be trained, and through which nation-based studies make their meanings. My point, however, is not to argue against working through national channels to achieve social justice goals. Quite the contrary. Nation-based institutional structures remain a citizen’s best hope for achieving such goals and for making a difference, through coalitions, on the international stage. In turn, the national imaginaries through which such institutions are formed and sustained depend upon local and regional imaginaries, and on their imbrications within contending visions of the cosmopolitical and translocated imaginaries of transworld entanglements. Revisions of the local such as those offered by Brand and Francis reveal the potential of understanding locality as a living, moving, metamorphizing space rather than a determinant place of origin.
This paper has woven together insights from decolonial, indigenous, postcolonial, and globalization theories to argue for the validity of emerging understandings of locality as a mobile and shape-shifting imaginary that interacts with other localities within a shifting global terrain. Dreams of a post-Cartesian world may be found in the work of theorists and writers from around the world. Those dreams have not yet transformed how knowledge production within the world’s universities is either produced or evaluated, but they are shifting understanding, encouraging scholars everywhere to stretch our imaginations and question inherited monocultures of the mind.
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Welcome—and welcome back—to the Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange : a SSHRC partnership development project. This is the fourth formal workshop of our team, although we have met and co-presented in other venues over the last three years. Some of you have been with us since the beginning; others are meeting for the first time. Therefore, some introductory explanation remains necessary. For some of you, this will function as a reminder; for others, it will be new. But I hope you’ll all find it helpful as we push forward into new territory. This evolving structure of expanding our partnerships is part of our mandate to build on our existing partnerships and develop new ones. Ours is an international, interedisciplinary, and intergenerational team project so we are especially pleased to be welcoming so many students today—as well as some of you who began the project as students and are now working as professors. The meetings are about information sharing as we strengthen our capacity to co-produce research
We are experimenting with a new, more open structure this year. In past sessions, our program was so packed with formal panels and presentations, we felt we had insufficient time to dig deeply, to explore our uncertainties, develop our questions, and push ourselves forward into experimentation and more difficult analytical territory. After this morning’s few formal presentations, we will move into discussion mode. Here we hope everyone will share your questions, your insights, your difficulties with the material, where you find it helpful and where you do not. Your uncertainties will be especially welcome, as they often open the places where we realize we may be speaking at cross-purposes without even realizing it. You have heard me cite Anna Tsing’s Friction, where she talks about those “zones of awkward engagement where words mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak” (xi). These zones can open up anywhere between any two people but can become more awkward when people are speaking across borders set up by disciplines, nations, regions, and languages. With imperialism and globalization, more and more people are crossing these borders and exploring the richness of these zones of engagement. Marta Dvorak and I began our book Crosstalk with the question: “How do readers negotiate meaning in contexts where norms of understanding diverge?” (1). For me, this is one of the questions transnational literacy raises for teachers of English language and literature in our times. Crosstalk focusses on Canada and its global engagements. Our team expands its scope to think about Brazil and Canada, our evolving relations to each other, and to the fields of critical, transnational, and multimodal literacies.
We have the room set up where it will be easy for us to break into small discussion groups and quickly reconvene in full group sessions. We will follow that pattern over the next few days. You will notice that we don’t have people listed as formal presenters on the program. The idea is that each of us, after this opening session, will act as discussion facilitators.
I will start with some quick history before turning the floor over to Walkyria Monte Mor to introduce our major partner, the Brazilian National Project. The Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange was funded through the SSHRC partnership development program to develop transnational literacies in contexts of English language and literature teaching in selected sites within our two countries. Further partnering support has come from the Canada Research Chairs program, our various university partners, ABECAN, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—and we thank them all. Our goals are to: 1. To strengthen transnational literacy and cross-cultural understanding within and between Brazil and Canada; 2.To work with English teachers and teachers-in-training to integrate theory and practice, developing site-specific pedagogies appropriate to global challenges; 3.To advance understanding of how globalization is impacting education (at all levels) in Canada and Brazil; 4. To advance the Brazil/Canada relationship more generally; and 5. To contribute to understanding of how to make transnational, interdisciplinary research partnerships work.
The partnership builds upon longstanding collaboration between the Centre for Globalization and Cultural Studies at the University of Manitoba (which I direct) and two units at the University of Sao Paulo: the National Curriculum Project in English (headed by Walkyria Monte Mor and Lynn Mario M.T. de Souza) –which you will hear about in a minute –and the Canadian Studies Nucleus (headed by Walkyria Monte Mor). In addition, we partner with Glendon College at York University, the University of Winnipeg, and colleagues at the State and Federal Universities of Mato Grosso do Sul, and the Federal Universities of Alagoas, Sergipe, and Minas Gerais, and APLIEMS (the Association of English Teachers of Mato Grosso do Sul) in Brazil.
Transnational literacy: Our first understandings of transnational literacy came from bringing postcolonial theorist Gayatri Spivak’s theories together with critical literacy approaches derived from dialogues with the New London School. More recently, we have begun to engage more seriously with decolonial theory engaged with rethinking the modernity/coloniality nexus. I come at these questions from a background in literary studies, working out of literature into dialogues with postcolonial cultural studies. Each of us here speaks from different disciplinary and interdisciplinary locations. We share a commitments to working across those differences with the goal of advancing decolonizing agendas in education, which can, potentially, shift the balance between the regulatory and emancipatory functions of education, moving it out of its current servitude to the hegemony of Western knowledge and the dominance of the Anglosphere within the current global higher education regime. .
Our project is built around reciprocal exchange, balancing Canadian and Brazilian perspectives, and setting up horizontal dialogues across regions within our countries, and between and across our national contexts. Our premise is that current frameworks through which internationalization is understood need to be revised in the light of the diversity of global knowledge systems and interlocking global trade relations, which have linked and continue to link more closely Canada with Brazil. We are working to set Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s model of an “ecology of knowledges” in dialogue with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s theorization of transnational literacy to rethink our classroom and research projects. For Spivak, transnational literacy requires “deep language learning,” and a special attentiveness to what she terms the precapitalist cultures of the world, best developed, she suggests, through a process of mutual interruption between the multidisciplines of comparative literature and Area Studies (2003). To speak of transnational literacies is to recognize that our lives are becoming global in ways that are changing our experience of what it means to be a national subject and live in a particular locality. Brazilians and Canadians experience and express our national (and regional) identities differently. Without acting as native informants within an imperial power structure in which the agency is skewed to privilege a dominant partner, we interrogate those structures and advocate different ways of learning to work together, and together learning “to unlearn our privilege as our loss” and “learning to learn from below.” Spivak describes the task of transnational literacy as to keep “responsibility alive in the reading and teaching of the textual” (101-102). That’s a mandate we hope to advance, through taking reading beyond the textual into new forms of media and mediation. lan Liu poses a question relevant to our work: “How shall we live knowledge in common?” In its broadest sense, exploring that question will be our task over the next few days.
What have we learned from Mandela? Hope, a willingness to listen and negotiate, a commitment to the dignity and full personhood of all, and a willingness to put the larger public good above personal interests. A reminder that democracy is an ongoing process. It needs to be exercised and defended.
Some of you may be asking: “Why is a white woman standing up there talking to us about race?” My answer is that the history of race relations impacts all of us and we all need to take responsibility for them, for what we have inherited, and what we do now.
I began my career by looking to Australia for ways to understand Canada. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I could see how class, religious, sexual, and racial oppression were linked and affected most dimensions of our everyday lives. I began to think about what it meant to live in a settler colonial society in which indigenous peoples were marginalized and stereotyped, and their history and cultural achievements denied. I looked to Australia and other colonized countries for a way of understanding that history, because we need to know our past to avoid repeating it. I turned to literature to find alternative forms of remembering and creative ways to move forward together.
My work now asks how we can learn to see difference as a positive contribution to national resiliency and global survival. National community needs to be reimagined beyond defensive and fearful reactions against others. Mandela began to show us how. Appeals to race, ethnicity, and culture often function as the excuse for exercising economic control. The British ruled their empire through a policy of divide and conquer.
I study the stories people tell about the hurtful impact racist practices and stereotypes have on their daily lives, and the creative ways they develop to address such harm. As someone who specializes in the links connecting colonialism, racism, and globalization, I will stress nine points now that may serve as openings for further discussion.
1.How we talk about race matters. I speak of people as racialized rather than belonging to a particular race. When we understand that racism is a system for managing populations and making sense of the world, it is easier to resist claims that locate racism in the individual or nature alone. Of course, individuals can internalize racist beliefs but they are encouraged or discouraged from doing so by larger societal forces, including the media, governments, and schools.
2.Race has a history. One form of racialized thinking depends on chromatism; categorization on the basis of skin colour. It can seem natural. Yet looks can be deceiving. In North America, groups now considered white were once categorized as black. The Irish and Ukrainians, for example. Quebeckers who spoke French in the mid twentieth century were told: “speak white.”
3. Race thinking sees whiteness as the norm for the fully human, so that white people are just human while people from other places are categorized according to race, or increasingly by ethnicity, culture, or civilization. One problem these terms share is seeing individual people in terms of homogeneous categories, as if all members of a group share certain tendencies. In this system, only white people retain the privilege of choosing their affiliations. Others are seen as trapped by their race. Critical whiteness studies is a field that explores this problem of white privilege.
4. Constructions of blackness today have been heavily influenced by the struggles of black people in the Americas against legislated apartheid slavery systems that exploited their labour. We need to know that history, and to address it in productive ways, but we also need to be careful about how it is used. I support the current Caricom legal initiative to seek reparations from several European states once involved in the Atlantic slave trade. Caricom recognizes the effects of that trade continue today.
But if we think the Atlantic slave trade is over, and that it’s something we can deplore from our position in a more enlightened present, then it is harder to see its continuing impact today. It is also harder to see the ways in which contemporary forms of slavery still exist. Slavery today still relies on the belief that some people are less human than others. They are disposable. Insofar as globalization encourages the exploitation and trafficking of people, it also encourages new forms of slavery. Yet these attract little attention,
5. The media encourage attention to spectacular violence. What about the “slow violence” of new forms of slavery, gradual human rights restrictions, grinding poverty, and environmental degradation?
6. Racism is produced by the decisions we make, as a community, at all levels of our coexistence. It is too easy to forget the legislated restrictions on the lives of the colonized under colonialism and to neglect forms of oppression today. Critical race philosophers call this form of forgetting, “epistemologies of ignorance.” The point here is that ignorance can be taught and rewarded.
7.Today, racial prejudice still exists but it has also migrated into discussion of culture or civilizational difference. It is not helpful to talk about a “clash of civilizations” or to respond to calls for “white men to save brown women from brown men” (Spivak).
8. Race thinking thrives in times of financial crisis, insecurity, and rapid change. New racisms are coalescing around immigration and refugee policies and leading to the creation of spaces in which human rights are suspended. Guantanamo Bay. Australia’s island spaces where refugees are incarcerated indefinitely. Hostility to immigration is on the rise globally.
9. What can we do? Apartheid was a system of legislated racism. We need to ask: what forms of legislated racism are in place today, nationally and internationally? What forms of sanctioned ignorance support these? What might Canadian forms of ethical internationalism involve?
A related post from Visionary Conversations was my talk on Culture and Creativity which may be consulted on this blog
Want to learn more about Visionary Conversations topics? After the Conversation is a home for articles, studies and links to websites that allow you to further explore University of Manitoba panel discussions.
OUR EXPERTS: Dr. Diana Brydon, Dr. Joy Chadya, Ry Moran
Some of you may be asking: “Why is a white woman standing up there talking to us about race?” My answer is that the history of race relations impacts all of us and all of need to take responsibility for them, for what we have inherited and what we do now. Tokenism in any form is part of the problem, not the solution.
I began my career by looking to Australia for ways to understand Canada. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, even as a young girl I could see how class, religious, sexual, and racial oppression were linked and affected most dimensions of our everyday lives. A little later, I began to think about what it meant to live in a settler colonial society in which indigenous peoples were marginalized and stereotyped, and their history and cultural achievements denied. I looked to Australia and the history of other colonized countries for a way of understanding that history, because we need to know our past to avoid repeating it. I turned to literature and culture to find alternative forms of remembering and creative ways to move forward together.
My work now asks how we can learn to see difference as a positive contribution to national resiliency. I believe national community needs to be reimagined beyond defensive and fearful reactions against others. Mandela began to show us how. We need to find new ways of re-negotiating community beyond the kinds of ethnically -based violence that continues today. Appeals to race and ethnicity often function as the excuse for the seizure of power or the maintenance of economic control.
Because of colonization and exploitation, racialized people need to reclaim their dignity, their personhood, and pride in their heritage. That cannot be accomplished by making scapegoats of others. Nelson Mandela understood that. He would be saddened by the violence against immigrants from other parts of Africa in South Africa today, but he would also understand how such animosities are used to keep South Africans from addressing the structural inequalities that make their country one of the most unequal in the world today. Combatting inequality in our own communities and in our global interactions requires vigilance that is alert to the changing forms of racism today.
Mandela’s vision of a fully democratic South Africa is now described by critics of the ANC’s neoliberal turn as a “dream deferred” but it remains a powerful symbol of how certain racist governance structures may be exposed and dismantled without recourse to violent revolution. We cam honour that vision and mobilize it for changing times. We can also recognize the civil society groups working within South Africa, such as Shackdwellers South Africa, that are continuing to assert their right to self-determination and democratic decision-making, often in collaboration with international partners.
We know that hierarchically-based racialized thinking has a real and negative material impact on peoples’ lives and how societies work. As a literary critic, I study the stories people tell about the very real and hurtful impact racist practices and stereotypes have on their daily lives, and the creative ways they develop to address such harm. As someone who specializes in the links connecting colonialism, racism, and globalization, I will stress several points for further discussion arising from my research.
1.How we talk about race matters. I distinguish between race and racializing processes because it helps us understand that racism is a process constantly undergoing change. Furthermore, that process is enabled by legal and governance systems, by scholarship, and by other ways of imagining who people are and whether or not they can live together. I deliberately speak of people as racialized rather than as belonging to a particular race. This matters because when we understand that racism is a system for managing populations and for understanding the world, it is easier to resist claims that locate racism in the individual or nature alone. Of course, individuals can internalize racist beliefs but they are encouraged or discouraged from doing so by larger societal forces, including the media, governments, and schools.
In fact, by ignoring certain stories and privileging others, schools can actually teach approved forms of ignorance. When I studied American literature at university, there was nothing by blacks or women on the course. For English honours students, there was nothing by people from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, or the South Pacific. There was nothing by indigenous peoples. It was hard to know where to turn to find their stories.
2.Race has a history. People did not always categorize each other in terms of the ways in which we now use race. Groups have always thought in terms of “us” and “them,” insiders and outsiders, but justifications for such divisions only took racialized forms in the modern period. It is society that slots people into races, and that kind of slotting can change over time. One particular form of racialized thinking depends on chromatism; that is categorization on the basis of skin colour. It can seem very natural. People do look different. Yet looks can be deceiving. In North America, groups now considered white were once categorized as black. The Irish and Ukrainians, for example. Quebeckers who spoke French in the mid twentieth century were told to “speak white.” Students of racism agree, then, that race is a category construction that has proved fluid throughout history. Insofar as it relies on magnifying difference between us and them, and then setting up hierarchies of value based on those distinctions, we need to be more creative in seeing the limitations of such thinking.
3. Race thinking has tended to see whiteness as the norm for the fully human, so that white people are just human while people from other places are categorized according to race, or increasingly by ethnicity, culture, or civilization. Each of these terms operates to distinguish between groups of people but according to different criteria. One problem they all share is the tendency to classify individual people in terms of large, homogeneous categories, as if all members of a particular group may be lumped together as sharing certain tendencies. In this system, only white people still retain the privilege of choosing their affiliations. Others are seen as trapped by their race. Critical whiteness studies is a field that explores this problem of continuing white privilege.
4. In North America, race is often connected to stereotypes of African peoples based on the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Constructions of blackness today have been heavily influenced by the struggles of black people in the United States, the Caribbean, and South Africa against legislated apartheid systems that diminished their humanity and severely limited their freedoms and agency.
We need to know that history, and to address it in productive ways, but we also need to be careful about how it is used. I support the current Caricom legal initiative to seek reparations from several European states once involved in that slave trade. If we associate the Atlantic slave trade with the evils of a past we have now risen above, it is harder to see its continuing impact in US, Canadian, and African societies today. It is also harder to see the ways in which contemporary forms of slavery still exist, involving more people than ever before. Slavery today may not be so obviously race-based (although it sometimes is) but it still relies on the belief that some people are less human than others. Some people are disposable. It can take age-old forms in places like Mauritania, India, and Pakistan, and newer forms, in complicity with contemporary capitalism, in places like Brazil, Eastern Europe, and North America. Insofar as globalization encourages the trafficking of people, it also encourages new forms of slavery. My point here is that race always needs to be analyzed in relation to other forms of discrimination, violence, and abuse.
5. Racism is produced by the decisions we make, as a community, at all levels of our coexistience. Derogatory stereotypes of other races persist, often because limitations have been legislated on their agency, their education, their employment, and their movements. It is easy to forget the legislated restrictions on the lives of the colonized under colonialism, including here in Canada. Critical race philosophers call this form of forgetting, “epistemologies of ignorance.” In other words, ignorance is actively encouraged, through ignoring how racist privilege is maintained and discrimination is enabled. These forms of ignorance help reify sexual, racial, and colonial hierarchies and create exclusive forms of national identities.
6.Today, racial prejudice still exists but it has also migrated into consideration as culture or civilizational difference. It is not helpful to talk about a “clash of civilizations.” Some of the tropes of racial discrimination remain in these new forms. Sometimes others are infantilized, seen as developmentally delayed, as children, or even worse, as trapped in a time bubble, dominated by their cultural traditions, which are seen as incapable of change. That form of racism persists in categorizations of Muslims today. It persists in a formula described by Gayatri Spivak as “white men saving brown women from brown men.” That formula describes the plot of many Hollywood movies and television shows, and was used to great effect in the invasion of Afghanistan.
7. Race and ethnicity-based thinking thrive in times of financial crisis, insecurity, and rapid change. New racisms are coalescing around immigration and refugee policies and leading to the creation of spaces in which human rights are suspended. Guantanamo Bay is the best known example, but Australia too has created island spaces where refugees deemed security threats may be incarcerated, without recourse, indefinitely. Hostility to immigration is on the rise globally.
8. What can we do? As a community, we need to attend to the ways in which we, as Canadians, find ourselves involved in supporting the conditions overseas that force people to flee their homes in search of a better life here and conditions locally that foster human rights abuses.. We need to work together to imagine ethical forms of internationalism through genuinely reciprocal team building with colleagues overseas. That will mean abandoning forms of charity and development work that have served us more than them in the past. What else might it involve? I invite your comments and advice. Moving beyond racism must be a communal task.
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Razack, Sherene, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani, eds. States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2010.
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Rethmann, Petra. “After the Thrill: Global Capitalism and the Search for South African Autonomy.” Globalizations. 6.3 (September 2009): 365-378.
Sullivan, Shannon and Nancy Tuana, eds. Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.
I wish to thank Dr. Carolyn Ives, Dr. Paul Martin, and Dr. Valerie Henitiuk, of the Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence, for the invitation to speak here today, and the Canada Research Chair’s program for funding to support my research. It’s a pleasure to be here.
What is the point of global awareness week? The question may seem too obvious to ask, but I ask it seriously, because it can be answered in many different ways. Most of the common answers we hear stress the need for our national economy to remain globally competitive or for our national culture to adapt to our migrant-led demographics. These are some of the drivers, certainly, that are motivating Canada’s recent turn to the global. People are asking: what is at stake for Canadians in global trends? But this may not be the best way to frame the issues. It assumes the nation exists in isolation from its global and international contexts, as if it were one potted plant among many instead part of an ecosystem, where what happens in one part of the world impacts other parts. To see the nation as singular and separate is to assume, as poet Jeff Derksen notes sardonically in his long poem Dwell, that “The fish instinctively know where the international / boundaries are” (1). Put another way, there can be no such thing as a “no peeing section” in the global swimming pool.
The implications for how we understand knowledge production are similar. For Ulrich Beck, we have inherited forms of research that rely on “methodological nationalism,” a mode of proceeding no longer suited to how the world operates today. Beck suggests replacing that focus on a single nation in isolation by learning to think through “methodological cosmopolitanism,” a mode of understanding that seeks to understand the kinds of border crossings that seem to characterize life today. Beck is not opposing the national to the cosmopolitan so much as insisting that they co-constitute each other interactively and noting that the national is only one component of the many categories that shape our subjectivities and imaginations today.
Global awareness involves many components—most fundamentally, how we situate ourselves in time and place, through media, and the interpretive strategies (including different kinds of literacies) available to us today. I am currently involved in two research teams investigating how to theorize transnational literacies, forms of meaning-making that can prove adequate to understanding our globally interconnected world in ways that can do justice to the insights of the many peoples whose values were dismissed by the modern expansion of Europeans around the globe. One partnership team, Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange: developing transnational literacies, funded by SSHRC, is explicitly devoted to working with English language teaching in ways to expand its capacity to encourage critical thinking while resituating English as just one language among many and turning it away from its imperialist legacy. The other team is global, funded from Finland. This project, Ethical Internationalism in Higher Education, studies “how epistemic difference, transnational literacy and notions of global citizenship and social responsibility are constructed in internationalization processes of higher education.” By epistemic difference, we refer to those “forms of knowledge and subjectivity historically marginalized” by academic knowledge production.
Transnational literacy, then, revalues epistemic difference, and through that revaluing changes both what we value knowing and how we learn to know. Epistemic difference is located within the globe’s many different languages, as well as in the specialized forms of discourse associated with different disciplines. According to Gayatri Spivak, transational literacy therefore requires “deep language learning” and dialogues across disciplines. It is hard to be globally aware if you are monolingual. Yet one of the trends in the internationalization of higher education is to move away from linguistic diversity. Anglophone Canadian students can take courses at universities around the world without ever needing to know the local languages where they are studying. This can be an illusory advantage.
Historically, literacy, especially literacy in English, was used to discriminate between types of knowledge and the people who generated them. While some trends in globalization perpetuate those uses of literacy; other trends create conditions in which truly transnational forms of literacy may be developed. Transnational literacy, in its fullest sense, enables us to reimagine the possibilities of our world. This matters because there can be no global social justice without global epistemic justice (Boaventura de Sousa Santos et al).
Canadian philosopher Lorraine Code suggests that globalization stretches our imaginations. That stretching takes many forms, some painful, and many pleasurable. Theorists interested in the ways in which “a people imagine and act as world-making collective agents” (Gaonkar 1) have termed this process a “social imaginary.” Social imaginaries “build upon implicit understandings that underlie and make possible common practices,” “mediating collective life,” and enabling individuals to “understand their identities and their place in the world” (Gaonkar 4). Modern social imaginaries, they suggest, take many forms beyond the national, but in one way or another, they are “based on relations among strangers” (Gaonkar 5) and they constitute a “world-forming and meaning-bestowing creative force” (6). In other words, the imagination is no longer seen as “derivative, the mere reflection of what is already there” (6). Instead, it is seen as an agential and creative force in its own right. It is the “structuring matrix” through which we are able “to conceive of the real in the first place” (7).
To conceive of the imagination in this way is important because the conceptual frameworks through which we understand the global challenges of our times carry implications for how we understand our current options, how we imagine the future, and how we envision our roles in bringing it into being. As a literary critic, I am especially interested in how this increased role for the imagination as a force in social life brings my work into closer dialogue with that of social and political thinkers. I study the simultaneous interplay of Canadian, decolonial, indigenous, global, and postcolonial imaginaries within fictional and theoretical productions. Within these spheres, the imagination confers agency. There are strong pressures in many currently dominant imaginaries that deny the human imagination agency in imagining how the world could be otherwise. It is important for us to resist such ways of seeing our potential to make change in the world because such views are not fair representations of our potential and because they deny our capacity to make a better world.
Globalization is often presented as if it were an irresistible process of capital expansion, environmental devastation, and cultural imperialism that can neither be changed or resisted. To be globally aware, we need to question such myths and test them against what is actually happening both here and in other parts of the world. Amartya Sen notes that both anti- and pro-globalization theorists often share the mistaken belief that globalization is largely the same as Westernization 124-5). This illusion ignores the long history of global interactions and exchange across many borders. As Sen puts it: “Europe would have been a lot poorer—economically, culturally, and scientifically—had it resisted the globalization of mathematics, science, and technology coming from China, India, Iran, and the Arab world, at the beginning of the second millennium” (129-130). Globalization has a longer and more complex history than is often recognized. And it has always involved choices among priorities. There was nothing predestined about it.
Sen wrote his lectures, Identity and Violence, to challenge what he called “the illusion of destiny”—the diminishing belief that people are determined by a single aspect of their identity, usually ethnicity or religion, leaving them little freedom to determine their own priorities among the many features that comprise their identities and the many communal memberships in which they participate. Despite the efforts of indigenous and postcolonial scholarship, there is still a widespread failure to appreciate the global roots of democracy and the global heritage of knowledge production. Sen reminds us it is important “to see how so-called Western science draws on a world heritage” (56). He believes that “Decolonization of the mind demands a firm departure from the temptation of solitary identities and priorities” (99). Literature and story telling more generally are human technologies developed to explore the multi-faceted character of our human identities. Tom King tells us: “The truth about stories is that’s all we are” (153). Ben Okri adds: “we live by stories, we also live in them” (quoted in King 153). And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of the danger of the single story (TED Talk). Global awareness stresses the positive side of her warning: the value of listening to other stories, including what Erna Brodber calls “the half that has never been told” (Myal)
Like all times, ours is a time of competing stories. A dominant story argues we live in unprecedented times. We live in a transitional moment. The key question to ask is what makes this transitional moment matter? What choices do we face and what are the limits constraining our choices? This is a time when many national institutions are reframing their international mandates, seeking input for charting new directions forward. These institutions include the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada – AUCC, the Canadian Association of University Teachers – CAUT, the Canadian Bureau for International Education –CBIE, and the International Council for Canadian Studies – ICCS. They are asking: what is Canada’s place within the evolving global higher education regime? How should research and teaching practices be adapted to address changing global realities?
We can learn at least two things from the tenor of these questions. Firstly: global awareness and national awareness are co-dependent. They implicate each other. Secondly: educational systems both reflect and influence these changes. These are both important lessons because they refuse some of the common sense of earlier times. We can no longer usefully oppose the local to the global. Thinkers have coined new words, such as the glocal, to stress the ways in which local and global regularly interact. Other thinkers write about the shift from stable geographies to “process geographies.” This is a complex shift. Our orientational compasses opposing West to East, North to South, are changing in tune with shifts in global power relations and imaginative stretchings. We now understand that how ideas, products, and people circulate plays a role in how place is understood. Spivak challenges older, stable imaginings of Asia in her book called Other Asias. Regional frames such as Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Atlantic studies assume more prominence when circulation becomes the focus. Investment firms are changing their understanding of what global allocations mean in a balanced portfolio, moving away from a focus on the location of a firm’s head office to incorporate attention to its global reach.
This January, our federal government launched “Canada’s International Education Strategy,” subtitled “harnessing our knowledge advantage to drive innovation and prosperity.” It classifies international education as a priority sector under Canada’s global markets action plan, and includes a chart showing the economic impact of benefits to Canada of such a strategy. This is a start. Canadians need to be persuaded of the values of redefining our interests in terms of developing our global awareness. Nonetheless, this phrasing remains an example of old thinking, telling only part of the story. We need to think harder about the strengths and weaknesses of thinking in terms of a Canadian “knowledge advantage.” It is true that the global spread of English, our proximity to the United States, and our established universities convey a genuine, if possibly short-term and short-sighted, advantage in comparison to parts of the developing world. But there is danger if the thinking behind that language use assumes we have little to learn from the rest of the world. It sounds arrogant, and if we really are arrogant, then we will not get far for long. Europe is taking a more thoughtful approach. Last December, they held a seminar called “For Mutual Gain: Euro-African co-operation in higher education.” That should be Canada’s stand too. We need to think in terms of mutual gain. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the only strategy that works in the longer term.
The International Education Association of South Africa held a Global Dialogue at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in January 2014, to ask, in part, “What, if anything, should the developing world be doing differently in their practice of Higher Education Internationalisation to be relevant globally?” Recognising that the current debate originates in the developed world, they ask about the rethinking that will be necessary to make internationalization meaningful for them, especially given the uneven levels of development of higher education systems globally. They argue the need to set inclusive new ground rules, “where all participate as equals and not as mere invitees.”
Ethical internationalism requires deeper thinking about reciprocal knowledge exchange. How might it be facilitated? What could it mean? A conference call for later this year announces the following theme: “Higher Education and its Principal Mission: Preparing Students for Life, Work, and Civic Engagement.” Global awareness involves each dimension of this mission. Today, national citizenship education must involve education for emergent ideals of global citizenship. As we make these adjustments, the very frameworks through which citizenship is understood also need to change. Citizenship involves rights and duties. Citizens have a right to education and they have a duty to inform themselves. With the rapid pace of global change, which operates both within and outside the nation, it is not obvious what we should be learning or how best we might continue to learn. Many of the solutions currently on offer are piecemeal. That is not good enough. We need to revisit some of the most basic assumptions on which such ideas rest. I come to these conclusions through my own educational experiences, and my subsequent research.
I offer my own educational trajectory to show how some things have changed but much has not. At the end of my first year of university, I asked my introductory history professor what courses I should take in my second year. He asked me what degree I was pursuing. When I said English, he said I should take all my history courses in the history of that small island. Sixteenth century English literature from England with sixteenth century English history, and so on through the centuries. They would complement each other. By the end of four years, I would be a specialist. When I said I would like to learn more about Canada, he dismissed my views. Just by living here, he suggested, I would absorb enough knowledge of Canada by a kind of osmosis. I tested his advice the next year, but found it claustrophobic. I was reading some of the same books in both history and English courses, and while the different disciplinary perspectives that emerged on these texts were interesting, I wanted a broader education. The next year I took Russian and Chinese history and have never regretted it. At that time, there were no Canadian literature courses I could take for my honours English degree. In my fourth year, a French professor offered a course, in English and French, under an interdisciplinary rubric, and I began to realize how much more I needed to learn about my own country. For my doctoral studies, once again, I decided to ignore the advice of my favourite professors, who had advised me to study in the United States. Instead, I travelled to Australia in search of a comparison to help me understand Canada. That context led me through Commonwealth, postcolonial, settler colonial, and interdisciplimary globalization studies, to the point today, where I see a consensus emerging from many different parts of the world and from every section of the university campus, that education itself needs to be decolonized. I am not suggesting you should ignore your professors, but I am saying that the questions we ask about the world and the ways we as a human community have developed to know our world, must constantly be tested against the challenges of our times and our human aspirations for a good life.
In my first year history course in 1968, we studied Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. That book remains as compelling today as it was then, yet my students are reading it differently today in the light of everything that has happened since, and their own life experiences. Civil society activists in South Africa are also reading Fanon for their own purposes. We need to develop ways to connect these different groups of readers and share their understandings. Transnational literacy involves learning to read Fanon in the context of his times and of ours. So what has changed? The 1970s saw Canadians embracing the agenda of the Symons Report on Canadian Studies, To Know Ourselves. That nation-based agenda is now being revised, from knowing ourselves within the contexts of a methodological nationalism, to knowing ourselves within shifting global and transnational contexts, looking back as well as forward through time. To know ourselves as Canadians is to know about the history that preceded settler colonialism in this country, to understand the devastation wrought by that period of ongoing colonization, and to start to address it by learning to learn from indigenous knowledges, both here and around the globe.
How we decolonize will depend on where we live and the goals we set ourselves. Mi’kmaw scholar Marie Battiste subtitles her 2013 book, Decolonizing Education, “nourishing the learning spirit.” That is the first task. In Canada, as she argues, nourishment comes from acknowledging indigenous knowledge alongside those forms of Eurocentric knowledge that have dominated the very definition of knowledge to date. Decolonization will only come from revaluing the diverse contributions of the many place-based knowledge systems created across the world. To stress their inderdependence, Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls this an ecology of knowledges approach. For me, that’s part of what global awareness means. It is learning to understand, on the one hand, how global systems of imperialism and capitalism have used education to divide the world (as John Willinsky argues), privileging some ways of knowing and denying others by actually rewarding an ignorance of them. That ignorance involved the denial of coevalness to conquered and marginalized peoples; that is, they were seen as trapped in traditions of their past and confined to a singular identity conveyed by birth, whereas only Westerners were seen as capable of growing and changing through time. To move away from such beliefs, which still drive much of the rhetoric of the war on terror, we can learn instead to re-see the world through other eyes (Andreotti and de Souza).
To re-see the world through other eyes. That is not as easy as it sounds. In a book provocatively titled, Against World Literature: on the politics of untranslatability, Emily Apter writes of her uneasiness “in the face of the entrepreneurial bulimic drive to anthologize and curricularize the world’s cultural resources,” and the “tendency to zoom over the speed bumps of untranslatability in the rush to cover ground” (3). Her metaphors are suggestive. Too often, global awareness can be confused with consuming other cultures without gaining nourishment from them for the truly learning spirit. The bulimic gorges and purges without taking time to digest. Speed bumps refocus attention from the end of the learning journey to the nature of the journey itself. In that sense, I find them similar to the metaphor of friction offered by Anna Tsing in her book Friction: an ethnography of global connection. Polite Canadians sometimes see friction as a negative thing. But Tsing argues that “the messy and surprising features of [such] encounters across difference should inform our models of cultural production” (3). To develop global awareness, she suggests we focus on “zones of awkward encounter, where words mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak” (xi).
Marta Dvorak and I worked with that focus in developing our book Crosstalk: Canadian and Global Imaginaries in Dialogue. We began our book by asking: “How do readers negotiate meaning in contexts where norms of understanding diverge? What are the fictions that shape Canadian engagements with the global and how are they changing?” (1). To answer such questions, we refused to turn away from the frictions that come with such negotiations, which we labelled crosstalk. According to Tsing, “Rubbing two sticks together produces heat and light; one stick alone is just a stick. As a metaphorical image, friction reminds us that heterogeneous and unequal encounters can lead to new arrangements of culture and power” (5). Friction can be productive if approached in the right spirit, if it enables us, as Tsing suggests, to get a proper grip of the global. If it can lead to negotiations that do not end in stalemate. I have been criticized for saying I want conversations to be productive. Some people think university should focus solely on critique. But I see critique and creation as part of one another. They function best together. Denying ourselves a productive as well as a critical role is to misconstrue how knowledge work functions.
My research with the SSHRC-funded Globalization and Autonomy project and the Ford-foundation-funded Building Global Democracy project suggests that current frameworks through which internationalization is understood need to be revised in the light of the diversity of global knowledge systems and the interlocking global trade relations, which ensure that Canadian lives are linked to garment factories in Bangladesh and mines in parts of Africa and Peru. As part of that revision, each element in the title of this talk also requires rethinking. My title suggests that students and researchers are also global actors, and that together we are involved in developing new learning cultures. The roles of students and professors are clearly distinguished within our higher education system, but in referring to us as students and researchers, I also wish to suggest that increasingly some dimensions of our roles also overlap. Students are increasingly, even at the undergraduate level, participating in research; and researchers are lifelong learners. In our dedication to learning, students and researchers share a common purpose.
As a literary scholar, I have a special interest in stories, language, and reading as a way of making sense of the world. Globalizing and decolonizing processes are changing how each of these forms of acting are understood, and how change itself can be imagined. As governments and citizens increasingly require research to be explained, shared and justified with a wider public, the Canadian academic community has become interested in the idea of the public intellectual. Edward Said has famously defined the job of this figure as speaking truth to power. To date, this has been a highly gendered role, confining its function to a contestatory relationship within an elite constituency and usually operating within a national framework. As such, the role is being rethought within decolonizing, democratic, feminist, and international contexts. Furthermore, with transnational connectivities being widened and deepened by the world wide web, migration, and travel, what we mean when we call something “public” and what we might mean by “intellectual” is also changing.
In “Beyond the Book: Reading as Public Intellectual Activity,” Daniel Coleman suggests two important revisions to the ways we conventionally think about intellectual activity and the act of reading. He suggests that “we think of public intellectualism as a set of activities rather than as a person, activities that many people already participate in” (205). This move from a focus on the individual toward collaborative and more democratic team work is beginning to change how those of us in the humanities think about our mandates. We already read work created by a global network of academics. The next step is to work more closely with them on an ongoing basis, co-creating the work as we go rather than waiting for it to be externally vetted and published. Here is Coleman’s second point: through analyzing the history of the Haudenosaunee two road wampum, with “its iconography of equity, autonomy, interrelationship, and ecological responsibility,” a form of text the arrrivant Europeans to North American did not know how to read, he argues convincingly that “we need to reconceive reading, the central activity of the humanities, in broader terms than we often do” (221). Reconceiving reading as culturally-specific forms of meaning-making is what developing transnational literacy is all about. Coleman’s specific argument is that Euro-American understandings need to learn from indigenous forms of meaning-making within Canadian contexts, but this argument is also relevant for renewing global awareness, and for challenging currently dominant narratives of globalization as driven solely by Western capitalism.
People use the term globalization as shorthand to designate many different things. For some, it’s a sign of triumphant capitalism, to be deplored or celebrated, depending on one’s values; for some it is a homogenizing force that is creating a borderless world, and for others, such as myself, it’s a more complex process in which borders are being redefined, concepts of time and space are changing, local and global are not opposed but are becoming entangled, and change seems to have sped up its pace. Globalization has not killed the nation-state, nor has it hollowed it out, as once was feared. But globalization is not the same as internationalization either. The two systems currently co-exist in simultaneously supportive and resistant relation. When we talk about global awareness, we mean more than just a knowledge of other countries beyond our own. We also mean a sensitivity to the spread of transplanetary relations connecting people in one part of the world to people elsewhere, to the kinds of transworld simultaneity and instaneity that media enable, and to a shared sense of vulnerability to global climate change and global economic crises.
Global awareness week gives us an occasion to think about the big picture questions that can get crowded out as we live our daily lives. Attention-getting details that remind us of our global involvements at the level of our everyday lives erupt from time to time. Our clothes were being manufactured in those factories that burned down in Bangladesh. Related dimensions of such entanglements are less visible. Our Canada Pension Plan is invested in the global arms trade (Nutt). Only globally-focussed research can help us discover such entanglements and only globally-informed critique and its companion, the creative, stretched imagination, can help us begin to unravel and reweave our transplanetary relations. It’s our job in the university community to follow Spivak in thinking about what it might mean “to unlearn our privilege as our loss” and to learn to learn again, though engagement with the ecology of global knowledges. Working across established borders that block such thinking is a big challenge, but we need to try if we can truly begin to answer the question of how we, as students and researchers, can better prepare ourselves for working across boundaries of culture, geography, and language in the future.
Partial Works Cited
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. (2009) “The danger of a single story.” TED.com
Apter, Emily. (2013). Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability. London & New York, Verso.
Battiste, Marie. (2013) Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit. Saskatoon: Purich.
Code, Lorraine. (1998) “How to Think Globally: Stretching the Limits of the Imagination.” Hypatia. 13.2 .
Coleman, Daniel. (2013) “Beyond the Book: Reading as Public Intellectual Activity.” In Faflak, Joel and Jason Haslam, eds. The Public Intellectual and the Culture of Hope. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 205-225.
Derksen, Jeff. (1993) Dwell. Vancouver: Talonbooks.
King, Thomas. (2003) The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: Anansi.
Nutt, Samantha. (2011) Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, and Aid. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
Santos, Boavenura de Sousa, ed. (2007) Another Knowledge is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies. London: Verso.
Sen, Amartya. (2006) Identity and Violence: the illusion of destiny. New York & London: Norton.
Spivak, Gayatri. (2008) Other Asias. Malden: Blackwell.
Tsing, Anna. (2004) Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press.
This is why it’s important that so much bad history is mobilised in discussion about universities – by governments, by Vice-Chancellors, by commentators, and perhaps worst of all by “educational innovators” who, in their calls for change, cast the past in terms that would have been unrecognisable to those who inhabited it. We call on all those who care about the past, present and future of higher education to contribute examples of such #BadEdHistory
Originally posted on Revisions Required:
It traces the temporal dimension of current talk about higher education – how certain versions of the history of education are invoked alongside interpretations of its present, and predictions for its future.
Education itself is tied up with an imagined future in that we still hold on to the dream of shaping society through controlling what people learn. The assumed power of education is that it should mitigate past systemic problems inherited in the present, while producing for us a particular version of the future – and that through education, we can choose which future that will be. We can see this in media accounts of the “failure” of education to produce the right kinds of citizens, or to eliminate social and economic problems that…
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Rien ni aucune réforme ne fera bouger les citoyens désintéressés tant que nous ne nous attacherons pas à résoudre l’inégalité grandissante et la perte de confiance qu’elle engendre. Ce n’est qu’en ramenant un peu d’humanité dans les politiques publiques que les gens recommenceront à s’intéresser à la politique.
Originally posted on Alex's Blog:
Traduction libre de Why People Have No Time For Politics, un article paru en anglais dans le Toronto Star du 17 juillet 2013.
Samara a publié récemment une autre étude montrant que les Canadiens, en particulier les jeunes, sont profondément désintéressés de la politique traditionnelle. Les citoyens sont moins nombreux à voter et à participer aux activités des partis politiques, mais aussi à écrire ou à lire sur la politique partisane, voire à en discuter entre amis. Bon nombre d’entre eux continuent de donner temps et argent pour soutenir des causes, mais la chose politique leur semble sans valeur.
Bien sûr, ce n’est pas la première étude du genre. Chaque année, on nous montre une fois de plus la chute marquée de confiance à l’égard des politiciens, du gouvernement et de nos institutions démocratiques. Chaque élection semble voir le taux de participation des électeurs s’abaisser et amène, inévitablement, son…
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