What do you mean by “gesturing” towards decolonial futures?
Because our current, everyday existence continues to be underwritten by violent and unsustainable processes, we do not claim to be “decolonized” nor do we claim to know in advance what a decolonized world should look and feel like. Thus, we ‘gesture’ towards decolonial futures, rather than offering normative definitions of decolonization, or putting forth prescriptive blueprints for action. As part of this gesturing work, we emphasize the need to develop sensitivities to common circularities and short-circuits that arise within decolonial efforts, and to identify opportunities and openings for responsible, context-specific collective experiments with imagining and engaging different possibilities for existence, without guarantees about the outcome. These experiments are undertaken with a sense of humility that recognizes we will make mistakes along the way, and that embraces the resulting learning while also remaining cognizant of who pays the price of our learning and its pace. Thus, as opposed to orienting ourselves toward a predetermined future outcome and from there crafting our relationships, we instead orient ourselves toward weaving good relationships in the present that can in turn enable different futures to emerge.
What is your understanding of colonialism and of decolonization?
Our understanding of colonialism is informed and inspired by Indigenous and other forms of decolonial analyses and practices that affirm that our current global problems are not related to a lack of knowledge, but rather to an inherently violent modern-colonial habit of being. Three clusters of illusions drive this habit of being: illusions related to separation (from land, other beings, and each other) and superiority – i.e. denial of entanglement; illusions related to human centeredness, merit and innocence – i.e. denial of systemic violence and complicity in harm; and illusions related to linear progress and the possibility of continuity – i.e. denial of the limits of the planet. Thus, we understand that our current world is not sustainable, that it is already not liveable for many, and that other worlds are possible. However, our approach to decolonization emphasizes that it is not an event, nor is it a formula; it is a complex, ongoing process that offers no assurances. This process will require not only disillusionment with these three clusters of illusions, but also disinvestment from the pleasures, promises, entitlements, and desires that they offer. Further, it will entail the activation of other senses and sensibilities that have been numbed through colonization. Thus, this process has not just intellectual but also relational and affective dimensions, and it is shifts in these dimensions that will lead to the transformation of the ecological and economic dimensions.
Are you saying we should go back to the past, or to basics or to living from the land?
Sometimes, in response to a recognition of the violence and unsustainability of the currently dominant modern-colonial system, people seek immediate alternatives; often this takes the form of engaging in linear notions of history and looking “back” in that timeline for answers. One common effect of these efforts is that they place non-Western ways of knowing and being as if they are “behind” the modern West in terms of evolutionary human progress, even when the intent is to celebrate or recentre the non-West in the process. This is a form of colonial romanticism, which has been common in discourses of conservation for centuries. More generally, this approach of “returning to a simpler time” often seeks an escape from the present that refuses to confront the full extent and complexity of the challenges we face. Our approach in general is not one of seeking or offering prescriptive solutions (which includes the solutions of “going back to the past/basics”), but rather one that asks how we can develop the stamina, humility, and capacities that would be required in order to honour and uphold our responsibility for collective well-being in the context of an inherently violent and unsustainable system that is dying. While it is important to think about what has been lost or forgotten in the effort to universalize the modern-colonial habit of being, we do not assume that if we simply “remembered” that we would have ready-made alternatives or solutions to problems created by the modern-colonial system. Rather, we seek to understand how we arrived at the present, how we might interrupt desires for continuity of the current system, what we can learn from the mistakes of that system (so as not to repeat them), and how we might pluralize possible futures. Thus, we do not think any one “alternative” system or approach has the answers.
Are you saying Indigenous groups or racialized groups, or children, or young people or elders or other oppressed people have the answers? Are you saying Indigenous groups or racialized groups, or children, or young people or elders or other oppressed people don’t have the answers?
In response to systematic efforts to delegitimize the knowledges and practices of marginalized populations, there is sometimes a tendency to reverse the relationship and centre the knowledges and practices of those peoples, placing them in the space of epistemic privilege. Our approach is somewhat different, in that we seek to understand the process through which certain peoples are perceived to have the answers, and others are perceived to be recipients of these answers, as well as the process through which answers are perceived to be singular and universal in the first place. From here, instead of simply reversing who occupies the position of epistemic privilege, we emphasize the possibility of reframing our relationship to knowledge as one oriented by partiality and context-specific relevance that embraces the need for an “ecology of knowledges and ignorances” (Santos, 2007) in which all knowledges are appreciated for the possibilities they enabled (the indispensability), and in which their limitations or foreclosures are also recognized (their insufficiency). That said, we also emphasize that many of the problems we face come from the centering of a particular way of knowing and that this way of knowing will be insufficient for addressing the problems that it created. Thus, apart from acknowledging the internal integrity of all ways of knowing, we emphasize that previously marginalized knowledge systems offer important insights for enabling the possibility of greater collective well-being, while also recognizing the risk of reproducing problematic patterns of engagement (e.g. appropriation, selective interpretation, romanticization). Thus, we describe our approach to these marginalized knowledge systems is one of “reverence” for their gifts, without idealization. This requires that we encounter different knowledges on their own terms – opening ourselves up to being taught by difference (without knowing in advance what the outcomes might be) rather than learning from difference (in ways that reproduce colonial patterns through which we project pre-existing ideas or selectively consume difference in ways that affirm our existing orientations and desires).
Are you saying that it’s a waste of time to pursue reforms within the existing system?
Sometimes people perceive that because we are deeply engaged in questions and experiments that are oriented by a beyond reform approach that we ignore ethical and political demands within the existing system. However, we take a “both/and more” approach, rather than “either/or.” This means that we are attendant to and seek to mitigate the ongoing violences of our immediate contexts, while also recognizing that these are often symptoms of a larger set of systemic problems that we will not be able to resolve from within the same system. Thus, we seek to reduce harm in the present by engaging with the limits of what is possible within existing institutions, without being invested in the continuity of these institutions or the possibility of their reform. Rather than seeking to narrow the work of decolonization, we understand that it is happening in many different dimensions, all of which offer something important, and all of which are insufficient – which is another reason why we are not interested in “converting people” to our approach. This also means that we engage in collaborations or parallel work with people who are invested system reform but who are interested in beyond reform approaches, so that we can learn from each others’ experiences.
Isn’t it impossible to create a different future if we don’t imagine it beforehand?
If we try to imagine the future from where we stand, we will probably reproduce more of the same. But beyond the limits of our imaginations, we also recognize the limits of the dominant (modern-colonial) approach to time and change that presumes the future emerges from rational, teleological planning through which linear progress is achieved. This dominant approach tends to position certain people as leaders and others as followers, and seeks to control and order the world rather than to be of it, and with each other. While we recognize that there is a certain extent of planning, especially in the immediate term, that is important and necessary for survival in the current system, in the long-term we take a more relational and emergent approach of “walking alongside each other in the eye of a storm.” This is a “storm” between the ways of knowing and being that are dying, and those that are being born. On one side, there is the work of offering palliative care to assist with a dying world (“hospicing”). On the other side, there is the work of assisting with the birth of something new, undefined and potentially, but not necessarily wiser (“midwifery”). In the middle, in the eye of the storm, we need to keep balance-in-movement, moving with the storm: if we walk too fast, we will get caught in the vortex; if we walk too slow, we will also get caught. In the hospicing process, we learn to process the lessons of the repeated mistakes of the current system so that only different mistakes will be made in the future. In assisting with midwifery, we learn to remove the blockages that prevent new possibilities from emerging. And in walking together, we learn to emphasize the quality of our relationships, rather than our final destination.
Couldn’t someone make the same critique of your collective as you make of others?
Definitely! We frame our work as partial (rather than universal), experimental (rather than prescriptive), and self-reflexive/self-critical (rather than self-congratulatory), because we recognize that what we propose is incredibly difficult (perhaps even impossible), that we are never done learning, and that the minute we think we have ‘figured it out’ is generally when we fall back into harmful patterns and colonial desires. We try to remember that grappling with the challenges, common circularities, and failures involved is central to the process (rather than a distraction from it). Generally it is easier for people (including us!) to say that we are doing something, or that we believe in something, than it is to actually ‘do’ it. Finally, we note that it is virtually impossible to counter colonialism in all dimensions of our existence, given that doing so would not only be materially impossible but would also render us unintelligible within existing frames of reference. Thus, rather than seeking a position of purity, we see our own contradictions and incoherence as an inevitable part of this work, while still taking responsibility for our continued complicity and for our inevitable mistakes in the process. We try to be generously critical, or radically tender with ourselves as much as we do with others.
Is your perspective based on research or opinions?
It is common to refute critiques of colonialism on the basis of the claim that these critiques are simply “opinions” – in comparison to presumptively objective research and universal truths. In fact, there are entire fields and sub-fields of study that focus, in part, on documenting the history and continuity of colonial relations as well as resistance to those relations, including Indigenous, postcolonial, modernity/coloniality, and settler colonial studies. As part of their notions of scholarly rigor, these areas of study take seriously the lived experiences of peoples who have been subjugated by a colonial system, and the internal validity of marginalized knowledge systems. Part of our perspective is informed by this work. At the same time, there are multiple different implications that can be drawn from this research, and our approach represents just one of these. Thus, rather than assert the “correctness” of our approach or the universality of our diagnosis and proposed response – i.e. our theory of change – we are more interested in inviting people to trace where different theories of change come from, what they assume, what they enable, and what they foreclose. We also seek to balance providing substantiated arguments about our conclusions while also recognizing that colonization is not primarily an intellectual problem that can be addressed with more information, but rather a set of affective investments that seek the continuity of a modern-colonial mode of existence and thereby invalidate other possibilities for existence. If this is the case, then providing more “proof” of continued colonization may do little to interrupt its reproduction, as people who do not want to face their complicity and investment in harm can simply look away.
Why is the language so complicated? Why is this so academic? Isn’t this also a form of colonization?
We recognize that the choice of language and approach can either invite or alienate people, and thus much our work centers around questions of articulation and intelligibility. Many of us have learned a great deal from academic critiques, and we want to honour that, while at the same time honouring multiple forms of knowledge production and modes of translation. We are oriented by considerations of how our different interventions can mobilize different possibilities, rather than by a commitment to represent “the truth”, to scale things up or to make the most compelling argument to convince lots of people. Thus, we continuously work to develop different modes of engagement that attend to both what is needed in a particular space, and what we can offer. That said, much of the work we have engaged thus far is indeed oriented toward those who are fairly embedded within the modern-colonial habit of being, but have come to recognize its limits. In this sense, for instance, we use reason to get to the limits of reason – and note that something else is needed after that point. This is in part why we tend to work in multiple registers, which generally includes a combination of scholarly-informed critiques but also embodied exercises, metaphors and creative social cartographies. Further, we continue to work on developing different kinds of interventions and articulations, including those geared toward non-dominant communities in ways that are sensitive to the need to interrupt colonial dynamics of language and learning, and that recognize and affirm different notions of responsibility and different forms of rigour.
What do you want people to believe in?
We often get this question, because many critical approaches to education tend to be oriented by the imperative to convince or compel people to agree with a particular intellectual position. The idea behind these traditional critical approaches is to encourage people to develop specific convictions, which will in turn dictate their behaviour and relationships, and compel them to convince others to do the same. Our approach is somewhat different in that we do not advocate a single theory of change but rather invite engagements with multiple different theories premised on the depth and rigor of intellectual engagement, and breadth and integrity of the learning process itself, including in its non-intellectual (especially relational and affective) dimensions. We invite learners to identify the (often-harmful) desires allocated by modernity, but we cannot and do not seek to coerce them “rearrange their desires” (Spivak, 2004) toward a particular direction or predetermined outcome. This is not to say that we have no normative stance – our normative position is that the dominant modern-colonial system is violent and unsustainable, so we need learn the lessons from past mistakes and prepare ourselves to receive new possibilities that are emerging. However, we describe this as a non-normative normativity, because we do not assert that everyone should agree with this diagnosis, or follow our propositions for how to respond. Thus, for instance, people do not have to agree with our approach in order to learn from our workshops; but generally only if people are interested in going deeper into the “beyond reform” approach do they decide to join our collective.
How can you scale this up to get more people behind you?
Because we view our work as experimental, and because we take a “non-normative” approach to transformation, we are not oriented by the imperative for recruitment or the desire to reach a “critical mass.” In fact, we find that our small-scale approach enables us to respond and adapt dexterously to what we are learning from ourselves and others, and to go deep regarding a particular approach, rather than trying to gather more people under a broad umbrella. Further, given that the work we do is often disruptive, disorienting, and uncomfortable, and given that in our consumerist society people are often looking for affirmation, convenience, and choice, the learning process can be quite frustrating and disappointing if people feel they have been coerced or compelled into it. Thus, we can only offer an invitation to engage this work, which is generally taken up by those who are looking for it (see: https://decolonialfutures.net/broccoliseedagreement/)
What do you mean when you say that you “lovingly don’t care about what I think”?
In order for us to respect and uphold the integrity of the learning process, we cannot be invested in cultivating a particular outcome at the level of individual responses. We seek to host the space for difficult conversations as well as embodied experiences, and to help people cultivate the ability to host themselves in their full complexity. We are not here to tell people how to think or what to do, since we respect the specificities of different contexts, and believe in the importance of people making their own context-specific decisions, and then taking responsibility for those decisions and the outcomes. Further, because much of our work emphasizes that decolonization will require shifts not only at the intellectual level but also at the affective and relational levels, we do not emphasize “changing minds”; instead, we invite people to expand their intellectual, affective, and relational dispositions in order to “dig deeper” (into more nuanced analyses) and “relate wider” (to widen the range of sensibilities and forms of relationship we are capable of). For instance, rather than ask people what they think about a particular text, we ask people to reflect on what they are learning from their affective responses to that text or from the overall pedagogical process, and how these responses enable or foreclose different possibilities for relationship to emerge.
Will it ever be possible for us to imagine otherwise?Are you saying that we have to wait until things get really bad for them to change? What can we do now?
It may be that it will only be possible for us to imagine (and live) otherwise when we no longer have the option of maintaining the current (violent and unsustainable) system that underwrites our livelihoods (this has already happened for many people). However, in the meantime, we can prepare for this moment by learning from the limits, mistakes, and the gifts of the current system; by developing the stamina and resilience to face uncertainty, complexity, and failure without relationships falling apart. It is also important to learn from the successes and failures of efforts to try something different that, while not offering “solutions,” can nonetheless help us understand common circularities, traps, and possibilities of imagining and enacting otherwise.
In other words, there is much that can be done, and needs to be done and learned before our systemic contexts reach their breaking point. Nobody knows exactly how far that breaking point is, but given our complete immersion and dependance on the system’s continuity (we ARE the system), it is very likely that we will unconsciously carry-over many of the same historically sanctioned desires, attachments and entitlements that got us to where we are now, if our desires for quick change overrun our capacities to face-up to our complicity in harm. Unpacking that (composting our individual and collective shit) is undoubtedly a task that can keep us busy for a long time until other windows of opportunity emerge, and also beyond that point. Considering what having one’s mind colonized entails – among other things the idea that we have already transcended our predicament, that we are somehow “already decolonized” by the virtue of our “resistance”, – if we think that we already know how to do things differently, than there is a very high probability that we are merely repeating (in a different guise) the same harmful patterns that we claim to be trying to undo.
How is the psychoanalysis you use in your work different from Western psychoanalysis?
In Western psychoanalysis, at least in the majority of interpretations that draw on the legacy of Freud and his successors (the Jungian lineage is somewhat different in this regard), the self is understood merely as the individuated self – “a skin encapsulated ego”, as Alan Watts put it. Although this self (or the “I”) is considered to be comprised of both conscious (ego) and unconscious parts (superego, id) it is not seen as entangled (or even a part of) anything or anyone else that exists outside a single person’s bodily limits. In many non-Western ontologies the self is seen as much more complex and multilayered, and the layer of the individuated self represents only one of the many other layers of the self, many of which extend beyond the single body form and also beyond the confines of a singular lifetime.
Perhaps it is easiest to explain the difference between these two approaches through two different interpretations of the term “individuum”, which literally means someone, or something that is indivisible and inseparable. In Western psychoanalysis, as well as in common use, the word individuum came to denote a person that is by the boundaries of her body separate from that which surrounds her and is as such “internally” indivisible (there is only one “I”), but “externally” separate, divided from the world. In many non-Western (especially Indigenous) ontologies the individuum is seen as above all “externally” inseparable, indivisible from everything (and everyone) that surrounds her(including the land and the cosmos). The meaning of the term is more or less inverted. Especially, if we consider that this multi-layered, entangled self is not necessarily seen as an internally indivisible, homogenous or coherent “I”, but rather as an assemblage of different “passengers” – personas that inhabit the person’s “bus”. The metaphor of the bus in our pedagogical language acts as a stand-in for the notion of the single “I”. For a more nuanced discussion of this subject, see “the Bus” cartography and the text “Multi-layered selves” on the website.