Fermented Ph.D. Dump: Hegemonic Philosophy and Educational Curricula that Reproduces Sameness

in Education2 months ago

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A Tactical Recap

Dump I

In the previous post, or Ph.D. Dump I linked above, I introduced what I call three situating questions and value-neutral philosophy. If you want the full version, please read the post. But a short recap: value-neutral philosophy is, in short, a philosophy that proclaims to be done from a value-neutral or "objective" perspective. I argue, however, that such a position is in fact non-existent and following authors like Grosfoguel a very specific point of view. That point of view is one of a white-dominant western worldview. But this worldview, in proclaiming value-neutrality, tries to hide itself as a point of view or perspective.

I introduce what I call three situating questions to kind of tease out the fact that these philosophies are done from a point of view, or place, i.e., locality; it is being done for someone and by someone, and it is done in a certain way and in a certain time period/epoch. The three questions, in relation to the what question, can be: from where is philosophy defined?, by and for who is philosophy defined?, and how is philosophy defined?.

Introduction: Hegemonic Philosophy and Educational Curricula that Reproduces Sameness

Decolonisation as Democratisation is a recent South African book edited by Kumalo (2021). It contains various essays in which two main topics, in my reading of it, are covered with local (South African) and Global insights. The two main topics that I found most illuminating were: the pervasive nature of hegemonic philosophy, and the perpetuation and reproduction of sameness in most educational curricula all over the world. I am not going to go into too much detail, but hegemonic philosophy is a philosophy that claims to be better than others and more "proper". That is, it is a philosophy practiced as if it is the "correct one". Who is the arbiter of this? Well, the hegemonic philosophy itself obviously! So one starts to see the problem hidden in the claim of hegemonic philosophy: it is self-proclaiming, ruling, and governing over all the others.

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Educational curricula are based on the dominant (i.e., hegemonic) philosophy of the day. It is impossible to hear dissident and opposing views whilst there is a dominant system in place. Take, for example, our current hyper-capitalist economic system. In very rare instances will critique of capitalism be taught to economic students because that is not how the system works. Also, in a democratic society, one will not learn about different systems of governing. (That is not to say that it will always be like this. There are obviously instances where this is not the case.) What happens is then that the dominant voices cancel out differing voices. And the curricula thus reproduce a sameness because different voices are pushed to the side, silenced, and marginalized.

Hegemonic Philosophy and the Invisibilization of Whiteness

Grosfoguel (2017:89) and Kumalo (2021:2, 17) both write about the process of making whiteness invisible. In a footnote, Kumalo (2021:17) writes:

This institution, the 'westernised University', was imagined and designed with the white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-aged and patriarchal man in mind.

Grosfoguel (2017:89), in his turn, writes when "whiteness" is succesfully hidden that we:

We are dealing, then, with a philosophy in which the epistemic subject has no sexuality, gender, ethnicity, race, class, spirituality, language, or epistemic location within power relations.

A word of warning: One should caution to now make the leap that these authors want to state that whiteness is inherently bad. That would be a blatant form of reverse racism.

Whiteness is, however, the ruling "party" at the moment, and from the enlightenment up to now with neo-colonialism that is still rampant, whiteness as a culture or position has tried to make itself invisible. That is, and in more detail, whiteness in claiming to be the ruling and dominant class subsequently universalized itself. In fact, most western philosophy and science actively tried to universalize themselves. White colonizers spoke as if their civilization was in fact the highest form on a metaphorical evolutionary ladder and that most other civilization was not there yet or that they might never get there.

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And this is where the problem of hiding one's own position lies: it turns one into an abstracted nothing. Again, see the quote above by Grosfoguel (2017:89). One loses one's humanity, that what makes us human, namely, emotions, race, culture, language, are all erased in the search for universality.

And in a funny turn of events, all the movements across the world to make, for example, blackness more visible, make whiteness even more invisible. It cements the hegemonic rule it has over what happens in society. But this cannot happen when the curricula teaches pluralism and difference, and when other voices are not marginalized, oppressed, occluded, and pushed to the side.

Educational Curricula that Reproduces Sameness

In a lot of South African universities after the # fees and rhodes must fall movements and protests, African philosophy and similar courses were added to the dominant curriculum. The problem with merely adding things to the curriculum is that it does not question the status quo (see, for example, the discussion in Kumalo (2021:55)). It keeps the problematic status quo in place which excluded, occluded, and marginalized, for example, African philosophy in the first place. Even though the curriculum is adapted by addition (i.e., adding more and more and not getting rid), it still excludes rather than includes (see, for example, the discussion in Kumalo (2021:120)). Most striking is the fact that again the other is made more visible, whilst the status quo is again made less visible. The status quo is not questioned. Even more to the point, the hegemonic philosophy is not "desuperiorized" (see, for example, the discussion in Kumalo (2021:130-131)).

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Again, this is the crux of the problem: whilst excluding, occluding, marginalizing, and pushing to the side different voices that oppose and differ from the status quo, one perpetuates and reproduces sameness. That is, the curriculum accepts the status quo without questioning it. Without opposing views, the same is reproduced. In a system that does not promote pluralism, change will be frowned upon and voices will be shut out. And hegemonic rule reigns. White male scholars, for example, subsequently produce texts proclaiming to speak on behalf of everyone, i.e., a universalized voice speaking objectively. Again, a word of warning: it is not that white male scholars should be silenced, it is merely that if, for example, a western white male scholar writes as an authority figure on, say, Ubuntu, an African lived philosophy, when problems start to arise. Also, it is when the scholar starts to write as if his own position is the "only correct" one that he reproduces sameness by demonizing the other.

Postscriptum, or An Attempted Summary

In one of the myriad talks given by Walter Mignolo which is post on YouTube, he says something in the following line: It is not that western civilization is falling, is merely that western civilization is not the dominant one anymore. (This is not a direct quote, nor can I remember in which lecture he said it, thus the lack of direct quote and source.)

Various things have changed for the better, but the status quo of yesteryear is still in place. African philosopher Tsenay Serequeberhan calls the current African situation a neo-colonial one. The colonizer has left, but the colonized are still being colonized by their own minds and the current globalized world that keeps most previously colonized in a similar position.

Our modern world is slow to change in the form of the transition of power. Many people still live in relatively poor situations and a lot of university and school curricula are still based on western ruled hegemonic philosophy and education. The addition of, for example, African philosophy in South African universities that are based on the European model of universities, accepts the problematic status quo. The curriculum still excludes even though "attempts at diversification" were made.

Summaries are difficult. I hope you could learn something from this philosophy Ph.D. dump! Please comment your ideas and perspectives on this matter. All of the photographs are my own, and the ideas promoted are my own unless stated otherwise. Happy learning, stay safe, and see you in the next Ph.D. dump!

Sources for Further Reading

Kumalo, S.H., 2021. Decolonisation as democratisation global insights into the South African experience. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Grosfoguel, R., 2017. Decolonizing Western Universalisms: Decolonial Pluri-versalism from Aime Cesaire to the Zapatistas. In Towards a Just Curriculum Theory (pp. 147-164). Routledge.

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It is interesting that South Africa maybe is losing the European influences and starting to bring its own personality in the education!
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Indeed! But progress is slow. I am actually currently sitting in a seminar as of writing this in which we are discussing just this: our educational system is broken but this "brokenness" has been normalized.

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