Blog: Coloniality and wilful hermeneutic injustice

Script for the Knowledge cafe on 'Uncomfortable truths in global development' 

Thank you, Helen Gillman, for your kind words. It is a great pleasure for me to be part of this fishbowl  as a canary - as described by Ann Hendrix-Jenkins on ‘uncomfortable truths in global development’. I think it is really important that KM4Dev is a space where we can talk about these issues – to quote Kishor Pradhan – with respect and dignity.

The #BLM movement has resonated with many of us and there are a growing number of spaces – or niches, to talk in terms of systems – where this type of discussion is taking place:

IKM Emergent (Mike Powell)

Decolonising HE (
Romina Istratii and Alex Lewis)

Convivial thinking (Lata Narayanaswamy and Julia Schöneberg)

If you have examples of others, please put them in the chat or get in touch.

Very recently, I have written a book chapter with two colleagues from the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group in Wageningen University, namely Nyamwaya Munthali and Peter Shapland on ‘A systemic approach to decolonization of knowledge: implications for scholars of development studies’ and I think it had two innovative aspects: it focused on the systemic aspects of the problem: how change is difficult to bring about because it is embedded in the landscape and institutions; and it also focused on action and activism: what can scholars do to address these issues. I’m very happy to share this chapter if anyone is interested, drop me a line.

For me, based on my research for that chapter, two concepts stood out as making it easier to discuss uncomfortable truths. I also had to laugh at myself for trying to define to complex concepts during a lightening talk but here goes:

Coloniality refers to entrenched power dynamics and patterns of knowledge creation and use which have emerged from power relations of colonial domination. I think this is really important because when we look around us, we sometimes forget that the institutions and behaviour that we take for granted are rooted in history. One example: academic publishing – as was discussed by Bruce Boyes in the Decolonization of knowledge café – which is dominated by the USA and UK.

Wilful hermeneutic injustice
Epistemic injustice can be divided into two concepts: testimonial injustice – which particularly says what  local people and women say is not believed or not listened to – and hermeneutic injustice ‘where a social disadvantaged group is blocked from access to knowledge’. This later concept also includes wilful hermeneutic injustice when hermeneutic injustice is done on purpose – and scholars are arguing that this is the result of ‘ethically bad knowledge practices.’

These are the two concepts which I wanted to highlight as potentially useful for these discussions.

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