Department of Government

Decolonizing Epistemologies: Disciplines and the University in Relation to the Society and the World (NORHED II)

This project is a collaboration project on capacity building in higher education between the Department of Government, UiB and Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) at Makerere University, Uganda. The objective of the project is twofold; to build and sustain the intellectual and infrastructural capacity of the interdisciplinary MPhil/PhD programme at MISR, and to launch the MISR higher education transformation research agenda on decolonizing epistemologies. The project involves an interdisciplinary team of researchers, a post doc and PhD candidates at GOV and MISR.


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Develop epistemologies adequate to the challenge of decolonization in the present era

The NORHED II (2021-2026) project Decolonizing Epistemologies is a continuation of a long-term cooperation between the Department of Government and the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), building on the Norhed I - program and the sub- project "Building and reflecting on Interdisciplinary PhD Studies for Higher Education Transformation". Both projects are part of a larger endeavor, designed to contribute to the transformation of and capacity building in higher education. While the first phase focused on graduate education at Makerere University, in Uganda and the region, this second phase aims, in addition, to think through the relation between locality and universality, relevance and excellence, in higher education in a time of "SDG transition". The MISR program is distinguished from all other programs at Makerere and in the region by its interdisciplinary curriculum, its basis in two years of rigorous coursework, and its intellectual orientation towards training students to formulate questions for themselves and not just to answer questions posed by others. The whole of MISR, as an attempt to secure independent knowledge development, is a way of practicing the ideal of "decolonizing epistemology". However, to strengthen this practice, more explicit reasoning around its meaning as a way of organizing knowledge for "epistemological independence" is necessary.

At the end of the project we want the PhD programme at MISR to stand out as a model for PhD education highly supported by the University sector of Uganda and beyond. We intend to move from a situation (our base line) where MISR is still not properly integrated in the academic structure of Makerere University and still too dependent on donor funding, into situation of economic independence and academic excellence with international respect and influence. We want MISR to become a PhD School that is central to the PhD strategy of higher education in Uganda, a model school for East Africa and highly respected internationally, with funding from own university and other secure sources to a degree of being made sustainable.

A theoretical institutionalization with links to the broader movement of reviving respect for independent knowledge development in the "South" needs theoretical explanation to gain support. How does a university today in a country like Uganda, secure that its knowledge grows out of its own culture, contributes to its own development needs, and produce candidates that have societal respect and influence on this society? The answer is in strengthening the academic culture. Create academics that are committed to both the local and the global; that is; have the ability to develop knowledge about the local challenges to a level of generalization and of empirical quality good enough to become part of the common (global) academic community. Knowledge that shape and contribute to the academic commons, not only copies it, therefore ends up being neglected or marginalized. Due to how knowledge and power today interlink within the global it takes an extra effort to build alternatives. Our baseline is that there has to be a focus on independent theory building, and proper support. Both an organization and theoretical reflection on how to do this. To institutionalize means in this case to promote and strengthen the values underpinning this thought PhD School, theoretically develop its understanding of what it means to be cross-disciplinary, and to build up a basic research profile. This institutionalization is the basis for decolonizing epistemologies.

The general question for the project is how to develops epistemologies adequate to the challenges of decolonization in the present era. This requires a place for meta-reflection on how knowledge and power interlink and contradict, how university based/research based knowledge is shaped by societal circumstances, but also change these, how "truth" telling depends on context, but also may change this context. This dialectic, politic in knowledge and politics of knowledge, is a key topic when we want to understand how "decolonizing epistemologies" go together with and presuppose institutional change. This is the Critical Theory part of the program. Building a knowledge society on own turfs presupposes this kind of meta reflection on the social construction of knowledge.

The MISR higher education transformation research agenda on decolonizing epistemologies has a cross-cutting multi-disciplinary focus on three themes: (a) knowledge production; (b) social difference and social inclusion; and (c) national, regional and global transformation. We link the broad debate about and research on "decolonizing knowledge" with the ongoing research on the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 goals. The project build academics whose contribution to global/local linkages, will guide the SDG actions and academic reflections. The quality of the program at MISR will secure an academic voice in the policy/knowledge interface at national as well as international arenas.

Our research team study decolonizing epistemologies from several methodological standpoints, by use of varied theoretical frameworks and engage in different empirical studies. Our ongoing research range from; the consequences of incorporating societal customs and normative orders into the juridical-political sphere of the modern Eritrean state; how lessons about social life in Karamoja support the process to deconstruct colonial epistemologies; Uganda`s postcolonial lant tenure regimes and the limits of neo-liberalism and colonial epistemes in political economy; public intellectualism and contestable political imaginations of Muslim communities in Bergen and Buganda; how student leaders understand and frame the question of epistemological disobedience as aspects of decolonizing epistemologies, and how the emerging varieties of “agricultural epistemologies” constitutes an epistemological shift away from the Western (industrialized) development model.

The project is funded through the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED II) programme NORHED ll (norad.no) of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) norad.no

For more information, contact Lise Rakner (PI) or Andrea Cassatella (PI)