Decolonial Subversions
A Basic Manifesto

Preamble:

The idea of this Manifesto was proposed by Monika Hirmer, as one of the founding editors of Decolonial Subversions, who felt that the platform needed a more radically active direction. Building on multiple conversations with founding editor Dr Romina Istratii, Monika first proposed a lengthier manifesto, which broadly reflected the motivations and values of both editors, but was profoundly influenced by Monika’s own approach to decolonisation. Thereupon, it was agreed to draft a more concise manifesto to outline the commonly shared principles that inspired Decolonial Subversions. Monika’s own manifesto has been published in a separate space dedicated to exploring the multiple directions that this platform might take (see Monika’s original Manifesto at the [link]). We welcome responses or new articulations in response to the Basic Manifesto outlined here. It is our aim to encourage a vibrant discussion around the praxis of decolonisation in the context of this platform and beyond, in line with our vision that Decolonial Subversions emerge as a collaborative, international and community-led endeavour.

Decolonisation has in recent years become increasingly popular in academic discourses, as well as in everyday parlance. While the multi-disciplinary integration of a decolonial theoretical perspective gives the impression that the reach of decolonisation has been extensive, in our experience it is often limited to philosophical discussion or lip service without its embodied praxis. In fact, the centrality of the decolonisation discourse often disguises the lack of substantive changes in attitudes, norms and structures that such a discourse should have produced. We believe that a genuine pursuit of decolonisation needs to recognise this paradox and reverse the underlying structural and normative factors that currently sustain it.

Decolonial Subversions springs from a deep concern about the increasingly cosmetic form that decolonisation has been taking and the lack of embodied commitment toward a re-envisioned world-order within mainstream scholarly discourse. While cognisant of the fact that complex hierarchies inevitably permeate institutions involved in the production and dissemination of knowledge, we also hold that different modes of creating, sharing and assessing knowledge and research exist and can inform more equitable practices that foster alternative models of academic life and engagement with the world.

Decolonial Subversions is one attempt to demonstrate that things can be done differently. To challenge and to revise currently dominant paradigms of knowledge-making, we aim to critically revisit fundamental questions such as: What is considered legitimate knowledge? How is this knowledge expressed? Who defines its criteria of legitimacy and in whose interest are they/have they been universalised? How can the production of knowledge be sensitised to the multiplicity of existing worldviews? If knowledge production needs to be de-institutionalised, how might this be achieved?

With Decolonial Subversions we hope to provide a platform for the dissemination of decolonial perspectives by implementing a model that subverts current practices of knowledge production, validation and dissemination—within academia and outside. We do so by departing from mainstream standards of communication (which privilege English as language, text as format, intellect as the locus of knowing) and removing barriers that foster asymmetries in knowledge production (such as through article processing costs, inflexible publication guidelines and obscure peer review processes).

Decolonial Subversions does not claim to present an ultimate solution to on-going colonial and ethnocentric norms, which have been identified widely by scholars internationally (see SJPR Volume 11, Editorial II for a discussion of some of this literature). While acknowledging the multiple efforts made by academics, professionals and members of the public to address the systemic, normative and institutional ‘pathologies’ raised, this platform is envisioned as a more radical and subversive response to current systems of knowledge production and legitimation. In insisting that contributors substantially resort to voices that have been historically neglected we make a conscious effort to break away from western epistemic dominance. The quality and validity of research and argumentations should not be dependent on citing western European or North American scholars, a common practice in scholarly production enforced also by journal indexing systems. Furthermore, publication norms favouring those with more experience in the politics of publication hinder researchers with less experience or exposure to these politics, perpetuating hierarchies within research. The very idea that academic credibility depends on publishing in competitive, high-impact journals is a Western European convention that discourages researchers from diverging from the highly restrictive and codified modes of making knowledge embraced by a large section of mainstream academia.

Decolonial Subversions fully commits to the decentralisation of knowledge and to serving as a platform that will be shaped by hitherto un(der)represented voices and by worldviews and modes of being non-conforming to paradigms reflecting hegemonic tendencies. While all contributions undergo a rigorous and sophisticated review process attesting their integrity, originality and meaningfulness, we expressly refrain from directing how contributors should present their perspectives and experiences. We encourage this through a novel way of reviewing articles that is premised on constructive dialogue and open exchange between reviewers and authors and by conceptualising a revolutionary managerial process that foresees the rotation of the editorial process among collaborators across the world. We are convinced that our decision not to comply with common standards of scholarly knowledge-production is essential for creating a vibrant network where decolonial knowledge can be pursued and disseminated in a substantive manner.

Below we outline some of the premises of our project, committing however to their continuous re-evaluation and improvement together with the community of project partners and supporters. While our endeavour emerges from our situated experiences as individuals and is not without limitations, we hope that this platform can resonate with others and inspire a systematic effort to depart from ‘business as usual’ and to explore new ways of communicating and sharing knowledge, ways that are centred on human experience.

The project of Decolonial Subversions:


  • Decolonial Subversions is a platform for the formulation, exchange, evaluation, implementation and dissemination of decolonial activity. Accordingly, our webpage was conceived as a dynamic combination of interaction and content. The website brings together a community of active members, including editors, team members, the editorial board, contributors, technical partners and readers. As this network grows, we anticipate our visitors to comment on and converse with the wider network of Decolonial Subversions. Publications are divided into three categories: Visual Decolonial Subversions, Acoustic Decolonial Subversions and Written Decolonial Subversions. By actively encouraging audio and visual formats we hope to make it easier for communities that do not necessarily favour written text or individuals without schooling to share their stories and knowledge, foregoing the epistemic violence that typical written, rigidly defined academic articles often impress.
  • Just as different types of knowledge are best expressed through different formats, texts also come in different styles. Contrary to the usually linear style that requires authors to present their arguments in terms of ‘data’, ‘results’ or ‘analysis’, we invite contributors to select modes of argumentation and presentation that are expressive of their own cultural domains and modes of developing and presenting knowledge.
  • Similarly as with the loss of accuracy—and, oftentimes, meaning—that generally occurs when converting multi-dimensional knowledge into one-dimensional scholarly articles, the English rendering of texts originally formulated in other languages may not do justice to the authors’ intentions and nuanced understandings. Moreover, we believe that when authors whose first language is not English are forced to write in English in order to reach a wider audience, they are subjected to a linguistic and epistemic violence insofar as certain concepts and processes of thinking do not translate in Anglophone cosmological terms, and vice versa. For this reason, we enable authors to submit their manuscripts in their mother tongues. Each text will be published in its original language, as well as in an English version. By this strategy, we hope to minimise the epistemic violence inflicted via linguistic requirements, maintain the text’s original nuance, and simultaneously ensure that the original research/text reaches and informs Anglophone audiences and scholarship in some form, even if imperfect.
  • It is evident that translation is a complex endeavour that requires profound familiarity not only with the languages in question, but also with their cultural and metaphysical contexts. As such, we understand translation to be a crucial, creative endeavour that needs to be recognised as such. Whenever authors are not themselves deeply acquainted or comfortable with English, we facilitate collaborations with skilled translators to produce an English version. We duly appreciate and recognise translators not only for their mastery over different languages, but also for their creative act of gracefully bridging different cosmological and socio-cultural realms through the process of translation
  • Moreover, by publishing contributions in languages other than English, along with their English version, we want to confront readers, who often take for granted that English is the lingua franca of knowledge production, with the experience of being exposed to materials at times incomprehensible to them. This is an attempt to counterbalance the epistemic dislocation that non-Anglophone speakers are constantly subjected to when engaging with a primarily English-oriented knowledge-system.
  • We particularly insist that contributors resort to and engage deeply with indigenous writers and thinkers outside of western Europe, North America and other industrialised societies (the so-called ‘Global North’) and pay as much attention to female voices as they do to male voices. This is pivotal to overcoming the protraction of a predominantly Western male authority in what is considered legitimate knowledge.
  • We encourage this structurally through our novel peer-review process. While peer-review is crucial to the process of learning and cross-cultural dialogue, we maintain that it needs to change drastically in order to account for the on-going biases and self-interested motivations that often direct it. While standard scholarly review-processes are anonymous, we acknowledge that at times anonymity can lead to an abuse of power and the preservation of western paradigms. Moreover, it is well-known that in highly specialised disciplines the omission of authors’ credentials does not guarantee their anonymity. Moreover, we hold that a reflexive mode of knowledge production that is transparent about the epistemological locus of the author makes it often infeasible and perhaps counterproductive to anonymise one’s work, since it is this very identity that shapes the research process and the author’s perspective on the world.
  • We thus offer two options to authors: double blind peer-review process or open review. Under the double blind peer-review each contribution is carefully reviewed by at least two specialised reviewers from different geographical regions and at different career stages. Under open review, we provide authors and reviewers with information about each other and ask reviewers to provide constructive feedback that can help the author with their learning process, as well as making their contribution accessible to a more diverse readership. In implementing this approach we have found that authors and reviewers are more likely to share constructive feedback, have a pleasant experience and establish follow-up collaborations.
  • Decolonial Subversions commits to Open Access publishing free-of-charge, whereby all content is freely accessible to readers, viewers and listeners everywhere immediately upon online publication. Historically, publications have been accessed via expensive subscriptions or pay-walls, perpetuating socio-economic and regional inequalities in access to knowledge. Increasingly, industrialised societies’ dominance in the publication of scholarly production has enforced a new publication-model that places exorbitant article-processing costs (APCs) on the authors, with multiple negative implications. We find it particularly disturbing when knowledge that builds on collaborations with communities outside of western Europe and North America (be it as informants, interviewees, through archival access or other modes), in addition to becoming a means for profit for western academia, is made inaccessible to the very populations encapsulating this knowledge due to prohibitive toll-fees. Not only has accessibility to academic knowledge been constrained to a readership that has been financially advantaged or connected with specific universities, but also such knowledge is rarely used, criticised and enhanced by the audiences to whom it is relevant.
  • A revolutionary step toward implementing a decolonial modus operandi in the process of knowledge-production is Decolonial Subversions’ rotational editorship. We envision a regular rotation of all editorial processes among our institutional partners across the world. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate a true commitment to relinquishing control over knowledge production, despite the risks this might entail.
  • To bring this initiative to fruition, we have worked with an international team of collaborators and like-minded researchers, practitioners and professionals. Together, designers, photographers, web-development partners, translators and reviewers form an international team, representing countries such as India, Ethiopia, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Hong Kong, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Italy and the UK. It is our hope to develop even more collaborations with professionals from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and other parts of the historically neglected regions in mainstream knowledge production (the so-called ‘Global South’).
  • As it was mentioned, we aim this platform as a space of exploration, interaction and learning. To create such an ambiance we have designed a look that celebrates folklore art across the world. As leitmotif of our design we have chosen handloom fabric, also due to its anticolonial significance. Colonial invaders made substantial parts of their fortunes by looting colonies of their cotton and then importing finished goods at prohibitive prices. Conversely, anticolonial protests were often organised around handloom production and weavers: Mahatma Gandhi’s influential khadi movement for example boycotted foreign cloth and promoted the hand-spinning of natural fibre cloth as a means for rural sustenance. While during colonial times protests around handloom were an integral part of the movement against the invaders, today weavers are often uniting against the exploitative relations into which they are forced by ruthless capitalism.

As suggested earlier, this platform is envisioned as a work in progress, forever open-ended, tirelessly forging spaces for voices yet to be heard and truth-domains yet to be legitimised. We do not know what directions this project will take, which disruptions it will provoke or what impact it will have. We know, however, that change is impending and we eagerly embark on the journey of Decolonial Subversions.