Epistemologies of the University & Institutional Histories

Much of my scholarship also seeks to analyze higher education itself as an object of knowledge and site of knowledge production. To this end, I am most interested in thinking about decolonial and antiracist modes of conceiving the university and its associated learning practices and methodologies. 

In recent years, a seemingly new, interdisciplinary field called “Critical University Studies” has emerged. Scholars in this subfield such as Christopher NewfieldJeffrey Williams, and Marc Bousquet have tended to focus on critiquing the contemporary higher education landscape using economics and labor as a primary lens to do so. In particular, they emphasize the corporatization of the university under the rise of neoliberalism. While helpful in providing recent context around the university’s state of “austerity,” I suggest that (self-identified) “Critical University Studies” scholarship does not often rigorously attend to or center issues of race, gender, coloniality, and intersectionality—which are at the heart of my interests. 

As such, in my own research on the university, I am committed to integrating much earlier scholarship that is not typically placed under the banner of “Critical University Studies,” yet still tackles important questions around structural issues within academia. My scholarship in this area therefore draws substantially on scholarship in women of color feminisms, race and intersectionality, and indigenous and decolonial studiesas those fields pertain to higher education itself. 

As Jay Timothy DolmageLinda Tuhiwai Smith, la paperson, Craig Steven WilderSylvia Wynter, and June Jordan contend, we cannot unravel knowledge production in the university from legacies of settler-colonial disposession and transatlantic slavery, as well as newer technologies of anti-Blackness, land theft, and environmental degradation under neo/liberal racial capitalism. Many universities were established via land grants that seized and reallocated Indigenous land (la paperson). Many universities also directly and indirectly profited from the slave trade and via chattel slave labor (Wilder). Furthermore, many universities have long-standing investments in eugenics and other research that forwards anti-Blackness, sexism, Eurocentrism, and ableism. Indeed, as Wynter, Smith, and paperson suggest, legacies of enlightenment-era and modern values on some sort of pursuit of objective knowledge through scientific and social-scientific research in this way have historically helped to justify and legitimate this sort of research. 

Given all this, my research draws on and is inspired by studies that question and push back against  traditional academic methods and modes of research, while also suggesting new and radical possibilities for conceptualizing research. Black feminist and women of color theorists like Denise Ferreira da Silva, Barbara Christian, Wynter, and the contributors to Gutiérrez y Muhs et al’s edited collection Presumed Incompetent interrogate—implicitly and explicitly—what is and is not labeled as “academic” knowledge, or even knowledge at all. At the same time, this scholarship performs a critique of institutional knowledge production through their transdisciplinary stances and innovative ways of writing. For instance, Sara Ahmed blends ethnography, autoethnography, and phenomenology; Alexis Pauline Gumbs imagines linkages across space and time through what she calls a palimpsestic approach; la paperson meshes cyborg theory, black radical feminism, film theory, and decolonial/indigenous studies; Smith combines historical data with a self-reflexive approach. These modes of scholarship interrogate and deconstruct assumed structures of knowledge in both form and content, and imagine new ways of being and thinking in the university.


Selected References
  • Ahmed, Sara. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) 
  • Bousquet, Marc. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (2008) 
  • Brier, Stephen and Michael Fabricant. Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education (2016) 
  • Chatterjee, Piya and Sunaina Maira, eds. The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (2014) 
  • Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory” (1987) 
  • da Silva, Denise Ferreira. “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Toward the End of the World” (2014) 
  • Dolmage, Jay Timothy. Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education (2017) 
  • DuBois, W.E.B. “The Propaganda of History,” Black Reconstruction in America (1935) 
  • Duggan, Lisa. The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (2003) 
  • Ferguson, Roderick. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012)
  • Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella et al., eds. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012) 
  • Jordan, June. “Black Studies: Bringing Back the Person” (1969)
  • Kelley, Robin D.G. “Black Study, Black Struggle” and responses (2016) 
  • Melamed, Jodi. Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (2011)
  • Mignolo, Walter. “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom” (2009) 
  • Mohanty, Chandra T. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003) 
  • Moten, Fred and Stefano Harney. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013) 
  • Munoz, Susana. Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists (2015)
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. “On the Abolition of the English Department” (1972) 
  • Newfield, Christopher. The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (2016) 
  • paperson, LA (K. Wayne Yang). A Third University is Possible (2017)  
  • Price, Margaret. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life (2011)
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2012, 2nd ed.) 
  • TallBear, Kim. “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry Research” (2014) 26. 
  • Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning (2011)
  • Wilder, Craig Steven. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (2013) 
  • Wynter, Sylvia. “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings: Un/silencing the ‘Demonic Ground’ of Caliban’s ‘Woman’” (1990); “‘No Humans Involved’: An Open Letter to My Colleagues” (1994)

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar