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The Law Teacher Special Issue on Decolonising the Law School

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Decolonising the Law School: Presences, Absences, Silences and Hope

On the 13th of September 2019, I convened at the Law School, University of Bristol, a conference titled, ‘Decolonisation and the Law School.’ The purpose of the conference was to bring together some of the vast array of work legal academics across the UK were doing with reference to decolonial thought, in particular how they were bringing this work into their teaching and their research. I have written about the conference here and here. Decolonial thought in legal education, in my opinion, gives us an opportunity to look at our law schools and re-examine what is present, what is absent, what is silent and where our hope lies.

What do we mean by ‘decolonisation’?

Decolonisation, as an epistemological term, has various schools of thought that are often socio-politically context-dependent and sometimes discipline specific. For example, Tuck and Yang’s incisive essay, written from the context of indigenous peoples in Canada, tells us very categorically that decolonisation means nothing less than the return of stolen land. Scholars often designated as post/anticolonial writers, e.g. Fanon, Said, Bhabha, Nkrumah, Spivak, often engage in temporally situated analysis of the material and immaterial aspects and effects of imperial territorial control and how this control required and requires for survival, particular knowledge articulations and ontological presumptions. The Latin American critical school, such as Maldonado-Torres, Mignolo and Escobar, speaks in terms of ‘coloniality’ – a state of global being that underpins our ways of thinking, implicates capitalism and centres Eurocentric thought. They argue that there are other ways of thinking and living that are not predicted on the destruction of bodies of knowledge and the centring and superiorization of European bodies of thought.

A colonial discipline? Law as global design

Decolonisation forces us to confront the history and effects of imperialism upon our academic practices in law. As legal academics, it is imperative that we explore what decolonisation [as briefly described above] means for us and what the possibility of decolonised law means for the relationship between law and society, the relationship between academics and their students. Decolonisation is also a reflective practice in which we as academics much constantly adapt our own pedagogies and question our own practices. For example, we can reflect on the following questions: How do we become more aware of, and directly mention, how the law came to be, in tandem with a history of legalised dispossession of land and personhood as well as an othering from humanity? How do we acknowledge how that history has influenced how law is taught, what law is taught, and what law is nowand who the law works for? Who the law does not work for? How do we teach law as the study of social order, and elucidate how racial and gendered stratifications in the social are formed and maintained? How do we show to our students, in very concrete terms, exactly how the past bleeds into the present, how we walk side by side with histories’ ghosts, how we breathe coloniality every day, how our collective history is literally present in every single thing we do?

Covid-19 and the decolonial project

Emerging data suggests that people from non-white backgrounds are most affected by the global pandemic. While there is always a temptation in these situations to pit one problem against the other – actions to manage the outcome of the pandemic against decolonial imperatives – I suggest that they are not in conflict. The impact of the pandemic has been to deepen inequality and not level it, contrary to what is often suggested. Admittedly, the virus does not discriminate, but people and structures do. And pre-existing structural divides have been exacerbated by the pandemic – the already privileged locally and globally having better outcomes. This suggests that we should rethink our global design and the knowledges upon which the current design is based. For our dreams for the world are currently too small, our visions currently too limited, our structures unwise, unsustainable and unsafe. We must let our dreams and visions do more than continually reproduce an uneven world. A world where the lots of those who must die so that others may live, have always been unfairly cast. There will probably be much more academic discourse on the confluence between the pandemic and decolonisation, nevertheless, we should remember that fairer structures prior to catastrophes would most likely result in fairer outcomes for all.

The contents of the special issue

The Editorial: Decolonising the law school – presences, absences, silences… and hope

Foluke Ifejola Adebisi

A short overview of the conference, the content and a longer look at the conference keynote

‘Law’ ‘Order’ ‘Justice’ ‘Crime’: Disrupting key concepts through the study of colonial history

J M Moore

This paper explores the delivery of a final year undergraduate module focusing on the role of law, justice, crime and punishment in Britain’s empire. The module was delivered for the first time in late 2018 at Newman University, Birmingham to a group of 13 final year undergraduates. Newman is a small university, whose students are drawn from local working-class communities. The students taking the module were predominately the first people in their family to attend university Whilst all the students on this module had been born in the UK a majority of their grandparents had been born in countries colonised by Britain.

The Ignored Heritage of Western Law: The Historical and Contemporary Role of Islam in Shaping Legal Discourse

Imranali Panjwani

This paper suggests ways in which law syllabuses can be less Eurocentric, more authentic and accurate in their exploration of law, at least from the perspective of Islam.  This means restructuring History of Law and Jurisprudence courses to account for the intellectual contribution of Muslim jurists such as Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Minority case law is not a separate jurisdiction (like shari’ah or Islamic law is perceived to be) but rather a legitimate evidentiary mechanism that can be used within national legal systems to assist the decisions and representations of judges, solicitors and barristers in immigration and asylum cases.

“Why is it my problem if they don’t take part?” The (non)role of white academics in decolonising the law school

Nick Cartwright and ‘Teleola Cartwright

This paper argues that decolonisation must be a shared project, but it must be led by the oppressed, they must have the unfettered power to decide how decolonisation is to happen.  The role of the white man in the process is to selflessly relinquish the power and privilege which he may never understand were not his to begin with and then to do nothing to stand in the way of the project.

Creating the law school as a meeting place for epistemologies: decolonising the teaching of jurisprudence and human rights

Sophie Rigney

This paper examines an attempt to decolonise the curriculum in the re-writing of a module entitled ‘Justice, Law, and Human Rights’, taught at the University of Dundee. I will reflect on the process of choosing the module topics and readings, and the successes and challenges of the course. In particular, I will consider the challenges of whether and how a non-Indigenous Australian can teach a decolonised law curriculum in Scotland. How does a teacher trained in Eurocentric and settler-colonial international law ‘live with honour according to law’, particularly when she is teaching law in the colonial centre of the UK? What should this teacher aspire to achieve in the classroom?

Dismantling the Master’s House: How Black Feminist epistemologies can be and are used in decolonial strategy

Oluwaseun Matiluko

This paper argues that the foregrounding of Black Feminist epistemology is crucial in the decolonisation of university curricula. Focusing specifically on British undergraduate law curricula this paper argues that Black British Feminist modes of thought could produce effective and long-lasting change in the way that we teach and learn about law, that could bring an end to colonial continuities. The first two sections of this paper explain what exactly is meant by “decolonisation”, “Black Feminist epistemology” and “Black British Feminism”, while the last two sections look at how a Black British Feminist decolonisation of legal curricula could take place.

Trust, courage and silence: carving out decolonial spaces in higher education through student–staff partnerships

Ahmed Raza Memon andSuhraiya Jivraj
This paper explores the process of self-empowerment through the concepts of (re-)existence/resistance from decolonial studies in combination with the black feminist critical race theory (CRT) methods of counter-narrating. We discuss the detail of racialised life both as part of surviving and through resisting institutional racism and its affective impact upon us. We argue that the necessary conditions that made it possible to do the work of self-empowerment from our intersectional and multiple positionalities across the student–staff continuum within the neoliberal university have been trust, courage and silence.

Researching colonialism and colonial legacies from a legal perspective

Nandini S. Boodia-Canoo
This paper focuses on the difficulties encountered by socio-legal researchers in approaching questions on law and history, with particular reference to choosing adequate methodologies. Drawing on her personal experience in researching colonial laws and questions on indigeneity, the author outlines established lines of thought while suggesting new ways of interpreting historical material. An argument is made for applying a legal lens to historical discourses for the unique insight that may be derived from such study.

Thanks and Conclusion

The special issue is the result of many dreams and much hidden work and love by so so many people across time and space. I do want to specifically thank the Society of Legal Scholars and the Law School at the University of Bristol who funded the conference financially and logistically; The Editorial Board of the Law Teacher for agreeing to publish it and being very supportive through the process. The contributors for doing the impossible during a pandemic. I hope you all enjoy reading it. May our impossible dreams of worlds otherwise come to pass.

Bibliography

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society 1, no. 1 (2012).

Fanon, Frantz, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Constance Farrington. The wretched of the earth. Vol. 36. New York: Grove Press, 1963

Fanon, Frantz. Black skin, white masks. Grove press, 2008

Nkrumah, Kwame, Neo-colonialism: The last stage of imperialism. (1967)

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. Vintage, 2012

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Can the subaltern speak? Reflections on the history of an idea (1988): 21-78

Wa Thiong’o, Ngugi. Decolonising the mind: The politics of language in African literature. East African Publishers, 1992

Bhabha, Homi. “Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse.” October 28 (1984): 125-133.

Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. “On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept.” Cultural studies 21, no. 2-3 (2007): 240-270

Escobar, Arturo. “Worlds and knowledges otherwise: The Latin American modernity/coloniality research program.” Cultural studies 21, no. 2-3 (2007): 179-210

Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality and modernity/rationality.” Cultural studies 21, no. 2-3 (2007): 168-178.

Me, James Baldwin and the Un-fragmenting of European Time

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Parts of this essay were first published in the Critical Legal Thinking blog as part of the ‘Our Favourite CRT’ series curated by Kojo Koram and Yvette Russell. The aim of the series was to reflect on what different Critical Race Theorists teach us about the world we live in. In the initial post, I focus specifically on Baldwin’s 1979 address at Berkeley [See: James Baldwin at Berkeley, also below]. I have always found Baldwin’s insight into the nature of the world we live in quite unsettling. And I mean this in a good way. We think of many things as settled, despite the fact that the evidence of our senses tell us that they are definitely not settled. We think of land as property, as always having been property, as always being property… now and forever more. We think of the human as an individual body. When it is obvious the human thrives most in relationships – platonic or otherwise.  Thus, both Birhane and Gordon, suggest that the human is relational. I think, however, that one of the most intractable ideas we have, one of the most difficult concepts to dislodge, is the presumed fragmentation and linearity of European time.

African Futurity as Forgotten History

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During Black History Month UK, I was asked to give a talk at an event held at the University of Bristol, called, ‘New Narratives Beyond MLK: Spotlight On the Marginalised Voice.’ The focus of the event was to spotlight people and histories beyond those that often form part of the sanitised narratives of Black History Month celebrations. My talk reflected on how absent hope of African futurity in the past and present makes such futurity itself a forgotten history. This reflection arises from my scepticism with observations of Black History Month in Higher Education where data on access, progression and content shows persistent trends of anti-Blackness. I suggest here, that the failure to end these trends signifies a particular lack of intellectual creativity as regards the personhood and possibilities of African and African-descended people. The text of the talk is reproduced below.

Red, the Blood of Angry Men or Some Reflections on #EndSars

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One of the most read articles on this blog is an essay on the origins of the Nigerian police. Its tagline is: ‘a thing can never do a thing that the thing was never designed to do.’ In it I reflect, relying on my own research and personal/professional experiences with the Nigerian Police, on how the violence of the police is a microcosmic manifestation of the violence of the state. When one considers the history from which policing and the nation sprung, it is not surprising that the people of Nigeria live in constant tension with the nation of Nigeria, as it seems that the state’s survival as it is, is dependent on the destruction of its people. Something else I have also written about.

Just Mercy or Just Justice

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In 2018, Bryan Stevenson was awarded a honorary doctorate by the University of Bristol. The day before the award, my department, the Law School, hosted a small dinner in his honour. I was blessed to be invited, and to be in his presence. If you have read his book, Just Mercy: A story of justice and redemption or heard of his work at the Equal Justice Initiative, you would be amazed at the things he has achieved. Among other things, he has won cases for over 125 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Bryan Stevenson has made an uphill climb, his life’s work.

We Were Witness to an Execution

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I started writing this post in the middle of the summer of 2020. I wanted to give myself sometime to reflect on what had actually happened across the world, especially the global reaction to the video of the killing of George Floyd. How that had led to an eruption of protests, black squares on social media, updating of institutional diversity statements, statues toppling and the removal of some frankly tasteless and unfunny ‘comedy’ episodes. Some people did ask me for an immediate reaction, which I declined either directly or obliquely. I have not watched and will not watch the video of the killing of George Floyd. Yet it was still overwhelmingly traumatic to think about, as I wrote in Time and Place.  So I needed to take some time to give my thoughts some clarity. I think I still need some time. But then Jacob Blake was shot. And here we are. Again. Again again.

International Media Coverage of Africa

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International media reporting on Africa has always been quite… ‘interesting’ [‘Interesting’ is not exactly the right word to use here, but it is difficult to find a word that perfectly encapsulates the mix of imputed expertise, death-trope-making, and naive joy that describes media coverage of Africa. If you have not yet read Binyavanga Wainaina’s article, How to Write About Africa, you really should. It often feels as if some media houses have taken the article to heart, but not in the way it was intended. Rather than use it as a guide of what not to do, it has become an instruction manual to be followed to the letter.

We Who Believe in Freedom… For Brother Chadwick

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I don’t want to write this. I really don’t want to write this. I cannot remember weeping actual tears before over the death of a person I have never met. But the announcement of earthly departure of Chadwick Boseman led to such a depth of sadness and a long day of weeping. So, I really didn’t want to write this.

In the title, I call him Brother Chadwick, not only in solidarity, but also because in age and manner, he could easily be my older brother. But I call him brother in solidarity too. When you look at the words he spoke, the film choices he made, you know he put so much thought into the legacy he was leaving behind. Much thought to every step. Every line. Every look. Every film.

FACE 2020: Summary in Videos

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FACE 2020 held from the 22nd to the 26th of June 2020 as a series of online lunchtime talks. The theme was ‘Decolonisation, Intellectual Pan-Africanism and the Future of the Multiversity: Part I.’ It was well attended with a very engaged audience throughout.

Forever Africa Conference and Events (FACE) is a Pan-African initiative brought together by staff and students at the University of Bristol. You can read more about previous conferences and the aims of FACE here and here and here and here and here. More information about the speakers in the videos below can be found here.

Below is a video/photo summary of the 2020 event.

Video: Decolonising Decolonisation Discourse

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The central thrust of the message I hoped to convey in this 8-minute talk below, is that if universities are really concerned and committed to knowledge in the service of truth and justice, then that must lead them to an inevitable commitment to decolonisation that goes beyond numbers-diversity, surface-representation and perfomative inclusion. For the neoliberal university, this may feel like an impossible ask. But it should not be. Not if universities are to really mean something to the survival of all humanity.

The video is from a panel discussion I was involved in, which held on Thursday the 12th of December, 2019. The panel was titled, Preparing critical students for the post-truth era: Key Research Questions, and was part of the 2019 SRHE [The Society for Research into Higher Education] Annual Research Conference.