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Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos visits the School of Education

F‌rom left to right: Professor Erik Lithander (PVC Global Engagement), Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos & Professor Leon Tikly

15 July 2019

We had the enormous pleasure of welcoming Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos to the School of Education last week.

Professor Santos is a leading scholar in the area of decolonisation. The issue of decolonisation is being widely discussed and championed by students and faculty from across the University including in the School of Education (SoE). The events held during the week of Prof Santos’s visit were organised in conjunction with the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching, the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, the Institute for Advanced Studies and the FSSL International Development research group. Although his work spans many areas in the social sciences, some of the concepts that he has developed including the idea of epistemologies of the South and of the pluriversity have been widely taken up by people involved in struggles to decolonise the curriculum around the world from Rhodes to Harvard to Birkbeck and now at Bristol. You can see his profile and his impressive list of publications in the area here

Prof Santos was involved in three high profile events during his stay. On Tuesday 9 July he gave a very well attended public lecture in the reception room of the Wills Memorial Building on the theme of Epistemic Justice and the Future of the Democratic University. Professor Erik Lithander (PVC Global Engagement), introduced Prof Santos and offered a vote of thanks. Boaventura’s talk spanned the interconnections between fighting for the idea of a public university and efforts to decolonise. The lecture was followed by a drinks reception.

On Wednesday 10 July, Prof Santos gave the second keynote of his visit as part of a one day seminar in the SoE. This exciting event on the theme of decolonising the university provided an opportunity to showcase ongoing work in this area from across the disciplines. You can find the programme for the day here. The event included two ‘provocations’ – in the morning Dr Richard Stone gave a talk about the historic connections between the City of Bristol and the University with the slave trade whilst in the afternoon, local writer and poet Dr Edson Burton read a specially commissioned poem entitled The Alien Comes Home. We were joined in the afternoon by key figures from the University including Prof Tansy Jessop (Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education), Prof Alvin Birdi (Director of Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching), Prof Tariq Modood (Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship), Robiu Salisu (Student Inclusion Officer) and Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (Student Union representative). The panel sparked lively debate about challenges and priorities for decolonising the University of Bristol. The day concluded with Prof Santos’s talk, entitled Decolonising the university: a global, combined and internally highly differentiated historical process.

The event on day three of Prof Santos’ visit was a doctoral roundtable attended by more than 20 doctoral students working in an area related to decolonisation from across the University. It became very apparent that there is a lot of exceptional work being undertaken by our doctoral students in this area and it was a great opportunity for participants to quiz Boaventura on subjects ranging from LGBTQ issues in Zimbabwe to the wellbeing of women in a postcolonial university in Nigeria to the rights of communities to water in Chile and the effects of neoliberalism on education systems! It was also a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other.

Altogether the three events tapped into and generated a lot of interest and interdisciplinary debate in the important area of decolonisation. We would like to thank Boaventura for giving so generously of his time and for the intellectual energy, commitment and passion that informs his work. Thanks also to all of the participants in the events for making them so lively and thought provoking. A very special thanks to Sarah Cox, Emma Rossiter, Zibah Nwako and Leanne Cameron for all their hard work in organising the event on behalf of the school, our partners and the wider university community.

Prof Leon Tikly‌‌

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