Dr Shose Kessi
Department of Psychology
Decolonising our universities is a political project. It means moving away from the type of knowledge production that has historically prioritised thinking and practices that legitimised apartheid and colonialism. Decolonisation foregrounds how what we have come to know as 'scientific knowledge' is fraught with the legacies of capitalism, racism, and patriarchy.
If we want to change the societies in which we live, address important issues such as violence and oppression, and improve the lives of the majority of people in the Global South, then we must produce the type of knowledge that serves the interests of the majority.
Decolonising the university means being critical of the so-called objectivity and neutrality of scientific projects, acknowledging that these are political projects that often serve the interests of those who are privileged in society. Decolonising the university is thus a commitment to centering the type of knowledge production that represents the experiences and aspirations of black people.
The work on transformation that has taken place in various parts of UCT over the past 21 years has been instrumental in bringing about change, but at a very slow pace. The change in the discourse from transformation to decolonisation has marked a new and more radical process of change that must continue. Focused and sustained change in areas such as increasing the numbers of black academic staff and postgraduate students, curriculum development, setting research agendas, revisiting decision-making and governance structures are all important parts of this process.
Mainstream psychology is often accused of maintaining and reproducing systems of oppression. The 'relevance debate' in South African psychology emerged in the 1980s, given the complicity of psychologists in creating 'scientific' knowledge about the backwardness of African people through intelligence testing and other forms of psychometric testing, as well as through the pathologisation of women and LGBT people. This raised questions around its relevance as a discipline that can serve human relationships and growth.
More politicised forms of psychology have since emerged. They challenge the fundamental assumptions of the field and include feminist psychologies, postcolonial psychology, and liberation psychology. These strands of the discipline emerged mostly from Latin American, African American, and South African contexts, and are still on the margins, but need to take centre stage.
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