Rethinking Knowledge Production and Circulation in Comparative and International Education: Southern Theory, Postcolonial Perspectives, and Alternative Epistemologies

Keita Takayama, Arathi Sriprakash, and Raewyn Connell

The Southern African indigenous concept of Ubuntu is the theme of the 59th CIES annual meeting in Washington, DC. Featuring this notion that reflects the region’s particular intellectual histories and anticolonial and postcolonial struggles, the conference organizers ask us not only to consider ways to revitalize humanistic potentials of education in the current neoliberal time but more importantly to take seriously the intellectual work and theoretical insights generated in peripheral regions around decolonial struggles over knowledge. Echoing this theme, this CER special issue explores the implications for the field of comparative and international education of the current postcolonial and decolonial rethinking of social science knowledge. It takes cues from Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory (2007) and related postcolonial, decolonial, and subaltern critiques of social science knowledge production and circulation (Appadurai 2000; Alatas 2006; Bhambra 2007; Chen 2010; Reuter and Villa 2010; Go 2012; Santos 2014).

This scholarship demonstrates how mainstream institutions perpetuate the Eurocentric underpinnings of “foundational knowledge” in social science, resulting in a highly skewed and ultimately provincial knowledge of the world. It calls for a departure from social science’s historic complicity with colonial violence and subordination of alternative epistemologies — opening the possibility of making social science truly global and its process of knowledge production truly democratic. Though this “postcolonial turn” or “Southern turn” in social science is not free of disputes and criticisms (see McLennan 2013; Ray 2013; Reed 2013), its significance has been gradually recognized. This is seen in the increasing attention to the global plurality of particular disciplines (e.g., anthropology and sociology), the need to work toward “a world anthropologies framework” (Restrepo and Escobar 2005) and “global sociology” (Patel 2014), and to hitherto-marginalized theoretical insights generated by scholars and intellectuals in peripheral regions around processes of decolonization, re- colonization, and uneven global power relations (Connell 2007, 2014).

Despite this marked epistemic shift in the social sciences, this “turn” has had little influence in the field of comparative and international education. It is still typical of this field of research that societies outside the global metropole continue to be treated empirically as a testing ground for Northern theories (Takayama 2011, 2014). A particular challenge for the field is to engage in intellectual projects that interrogate the field’s own modernist and colonial foundations and, in doing so, shift what is recognized as legitimate educational knowledge, beyond a guided tour of the South (Nagaraj 2012). Though some comparative scholars pay due atten- tion to the rich international plurality of comparative educations (Mase- mann et al. 2007), and rightly identify the field’s hierarchical structure where a handful of comparative education societies (e.g., CIES) enjoy “paradigmatic” status (Manzon 2011), little has changed in the unequal knowledge relations among approximately 40 comparative and international educa- tion societies around the globe (Hickling-Hudson 2007; Takayama 2011). This global hierarchical structure is further crisscrossed by struggles over legitimate comparative knowledge and methodology within respective regional and national comparative education societies. Hence, there is an ur- gent need to understand the transnational, regional, and national nexus in the production and circulation of comparative education knowledge, to interrupt the uneven global flows of intellectual influence and the associated “epistemological diffidence” (Appadurai 2000, 4) in the field, and to explore ways to recognize “other” comparative educations as a profoundly important epistemic resource for the development of knowledge in the field.

In light of these issues, this special issue calls for papers that draw on Southern-theory, postcolonial perspectives and alternative epistemologies in rethinking how disciplinary knowledge is produced and circulated in the field of comparative and international education. In particular, we seek original papers that address issues in any part of the following agenda: (1) to problematize the state of comparative knowledge about education and the process of its production and circulation; (2) to interrogate the provincial, Eurocentric nature of “theories” widely circulated in the field; (3) to docu- ment and disrupt the interrelated hierarchical structures of knowledge production at the global, regional, and national levels; (4) to showcase intellectual work and theoretical insights produced by comparative scholars and societies working outside Eurocentric frameworks; and (5) to develop examples of scholarship, including empirical and policy work, that uses Southern Theory and alternative epistemologies to advance knowledge in comparative education.

This special issue of CER is scheduled to be published in August 2016. To be considered for publication, manuscripts should be submitted via CER’s online submission system by October 15, 2015, although earlier submission is encouraged. See the CER website for instructions in preparing and submitting manuscripts. The guest editors will read all submissions and send out for blind, external review those manuscripts deemed to be developed sufficiently to warrant such review. Please address any questions you may have about this special issue to the CER managing editors.