Session 3

Decolonizing Methodologies and Epistemologies: Discourse Analysis and Sociology of Knowledge

In the mid-1990s, Stuart Hall proposed to analyze discourses as knowledge processes: “Discourses are ways of referring to or constructing knowledge about a particular topic of practice: a cluster (or formation) of ideas, images and practices, which provide ways of talking about, forms of knowledge and conduct associated with, a particular topic, social activity or institutional site in society” (Hall 1997a: 4). A few years later, in her influential work on “Decolonizing methods”, Linda Tuhiwai Smith pointed out that in the context of a necessary “decolonization of methods”, the question of knowledge becomes of central importance. She argued that we should focus on questions “about the roles that knowledge, knowledge production, knowledge hierarchies and knowledge institutions play in social transformation” (Smith 2012: XII), and that we should look for methodologies suited to that purpose. Taking Hall’s and Smith’s arguments together, discourse research integrating “discourse”, “knowledge” and “power/knowledge” seems to provide research with a concept that allows for such inquiries. The planned session therefore asks about the suitability of discourse-related as well as sociology of knowledge-related perspectives for the tasks of a contemporary and future decolonized social research that focuses on knowledge in social relations and the politics of knowledge – in Foucault’s words: the power/knowledge regimes – in the North/South relationship. In particular, the potentials of the Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD) and other (related) perspectives in discourse research will be explored. Submitted proposals should therefore discuss from a methodological perspective the possibilities, pitfalls, limits and extensions of such approaches with regard to core questions of decolonization of methods. This might include discussing the need for and challenge of hermeneutic procedures, interpretation and translation of data. It might also include examinations of the (current state of the) conceptual apparatus that has been developed primarily based on ‘northern hemisphere’ views on the discursive construction of reality in and between rather diverse social arenas and more or less ‘public’ spheres. Proposals may also address questions of the challenges and limits of the concepts of knowledge or discourse that arise from the post- and decolonial condition. The session welcomes papers on conceptual and methodological questions as well as presentations from empirical work relating to its purpose.




1.Application of Triangulation in Discourse Analysis (Case Study: Sustainable Development in Iran Development Plans)

Samaneh Niazkhani  (University of Tehran, Iran)

One of the challenges of qualitative research versus quantitative research is proving its validity and reliability. Discourse analysis should be considered as a complete package, i.e., a set of theoretical and methodological foundations that have been seriously discussed during the transition from positivist to post-positivist approaches. The founders of this method suggest that a combination of different discourse perspectives and non-discourse should be used and their proposal to formulate this integrated framework is to use a single approach to discourse analysis and use other discourse or non-discourse approaches to compensate for theoretical shortcomings in analysing the phenomenon. To achieve this, it is necessary to use various methods, theories, and comparisons. This is the use of the technique known as triangulation. In fact, the basic principle of triangulation is the application of appropriate strategies and various methods to find dominant discourse in a particular field, with the aim of confirming the findings by converging different perspectives. Accordingly, this article seeks to introduce the specific application of the concept of triangulation in the sustainable development discourse analysis approach in Iran’s development programs. Thus, the research documents and data, which include the texts of materials and notes of the fifth and sixth development plans, by purposeful sampling method, following the views of environmental discourse and analysis from the non-discourse perspective of Scott Campbell, along with meta-analysis results of similar research, were analysed. A review of the contents of these plans confirm that the conservation and environmentalism of discourses dominated by the Fifth Development Plan and again the conservation and Law enforcement discourses dominated by the Sixth Development Plan; And an eclectic nature has overtaken to the discourse of sustainable development country’s development plans.


2.Using methodologies to forge new visions of interculturality

Emilian Franco  (Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany)

Dominic Busch  (Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany)

Elisabeth Fessler  (Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany)

Avoiding epistemic violence in the research process leads to a completely new and different understanding of research in general. This paper illustrates such a transformation of an entire discipline at the example of research on intercultural communication and interculturality. What Calafell (2020) calls the critical performative turn in this field had been prepared even before this for over a quarter of a century: According to Calafell, discourse-based methods have failed in overcoming epistemic violence, which is why they should now be replaced by performatively oriented methods. Studies on interculturality and intercultural communication have contributed to this orientation over that past couple of years by testing methods from the fields of post-qualitative research, autoethnographic approaches, participatory approaches, and arts-based approaches. This paper introduces to central and exemplary works from these paradigms on interculturality. A critical review of their epistemological, ontological, and axiological assumptions shows that majority of the studies found tie their empirical results back to existing cultural theories, searching for, finding, and interpreting them against their background. Thus, an interplay of theories and methods becomes visible, which has always been inherent to interpretative research, yet. But how can research produce something new under these premises of circularity? This analysis shows that theories and methods here are brought together in a way that primarily allows for the identification of visions about socially desirable ideal forms of interculturality. With the aim of avoiding epistemic violence, research on interculturality is thus transformed into a showcase for visions of intercultural coexistence.


3.With Digital Discourses to Decolonial Analyses? Critical Reflections on a Discourse Analysis of the ‘Benin Bronzes’ in Newspapers from Nigeria, Great Britain and Germany

Isabel Eiser  (University Hamburg, Deutschland)

In this session at the SMUS conference I will present a critical reflection of the research process of my PhD project entitled “Becoming an Emblem. From Colonial Propaganda to Decolonial Movement. A Discourse Analysis the ‘Benin Bronzes’”. The so-called ‘Benin bronzes’ were not only a tool of colonial oppression and expression of power and hegemony, but they also became an emblem for decolonial and pan-African movements and the restitution debate. On basis of a presentation of a structural analysis of the Nigerian and British newspaper discourse and an analysis of the accessible knowledge stocks in Nigeria and Great Britain, I intend to illustrate how the methodological approach of a digital discourse analysis with newspapers as material basis can lead to a ‘decolonial’ approach that produces knowledge that goes beyond a reproduction of a merely European discourse. The concept of decoloniality and the appropriation of decolonial concepts by European scholars will be critically reflected upon, too. The Corona pandemic and the limited access to archival records – especially when it comes to records from the African Continent – once again emphasizes the need for digital and open access to certain knowledge stocks. Consequently, this paper will also discuss the possibilities and limits of digital data and tools of Digital Humanities to emphasize this methodological decolonization. The incomplete material basis for the analysis due to uneven accessibility to knowledge stocks from Europe and Africa unveils new challenges in methodological practice due to the lack of comparable data. These limitations, challenges, and chances of these methodological practices as well as the experiences gained with analogue and digital newspaper archives with focus on the (non-) accessibility of archival records from Nigeria, Great Britain and Germany as well as the production of knowledge on basis of the access to these archival records will be presented in this paper.


4.Sponsored or agential ‘autogestants’? A critical discourse analysis of urban informal settlements in Zimbabwe

Langtone Maunganidze  (Midlands State University)

Globally urban spaces have historically been centres of struggles and transformation. Although studies on the historical dialectic between the social and spatial are not new, there has not been much similar attention paid to the Zimbabwean context particularly in the post-colonial period. Drawing from Henry Lefebvre’s (1991) autogestion thesis, I examine the extent to which urban architecture and spaces have been capitalized by individuals and groups as a survival ‘resource’ for coping with the urban poly-crises. The multi-dimensional and multi-scalar model of sociospatial transformation processes of the urban environment and the plasticity of the actors call for a combination of research methodologies that incorporate an exploration of agency and new possibilities. Guided by a critical anthropologist perspective, I use critical discourse analysis, to consider how the ‘anarchistic’ politics engulfing the emergence of urban and peri-urban informal settlements have become a mediating agent for both political and capital accumulation. Notwithstanding the ethical and methodological challenges associated with investigating potentially hidden populations such as informal settlers, their ‘sponsors’ and collaborators, overall, the paper argues that over the years the production and appropriation of alternative urban spaces in Zimbabwean cities in general and in particular the capital city, Harare, has been symptomatic of a sponsored autogestion rather than an agential response to the housing crisis.


5.Modern Times? Or entangled spaces of modernity. Discourses of modernization and self-perceptions of Kenyan middle-class members

Jochen Kibel  (TU Berlin, Germany)

Eva Korte  (TU Berlin, Germany)

Eurocentric discourses of modernization have been criticized by post-colonial scholars for more than three decades (Hall 1996, Chakrabarty 2000, Boatcă 2013, Castro Varela/Dhawan/Randeria 2016, Patel 2018). Against this backdrop it seems irritating to follow current debates on the rise of the so called global middle class(es) (OECD, Kharas 2010). To a large extent these discourses affirm the (outdated) notions of western modernization theory. Expectations of democratization, liberalization, and urbanization as well as the preoccupations with ecological threads that might come with an assumed consumerism follow a linear thinking of social development, in which the older middle classes of the global north are seen as a blueprint for societal change in the global south (Massey 2005). These vast assumptions are not only grounded on weak empirical fundaments but also criticized by scholars that critically engage with the myths and realities of global middle classes (Melber 2016). Instead of analysing whether these assumptions are justified or not, with this paper we want to argue for a different way of thinking about the global middle classes as they emerge in Kenya. As James Ferguson showed in the context of the Zambian Copperbelt region, although “expectations of modernity” have obviously been proven wrong, nevertheless „Modernization Theory had become a local tongue.“ (Ferguson 1999: 84). Therefore, we want to raise the question, whether and how global discourses of modernization become meaningful within the individual self-perceptions of middle-class members in Nairobi. We engage with the method of Interpretative Subjectivation Analysis (Bosančić 2019) to ask for different modes of subjectivation in the realm of societal change. By following the spatial relations of Kenyan middle-class members, we are emphasizing their global entanglements between Berlin (Germany) and Nairobi (Kenya) in order to avoid methodological nationalism (Patel 2018) and to overcome temporal evolutionism. The twofold concern we are pursuing with this is (1st) to draw a link between Interpretative Subjectivation Analysis and sociology of space (Löw 2008) and (2nd) to loosen the link between timely descriptions (such as development, modernization, progress) of societal change. Societal change can be profitably thought of and described in spatial terms that sensitize for the complex entanglements between places of identity and the spaces of everyday life. Global mobility and middle-class housing appear then as distinct sets of spatial entanglements rather than imagined temporal sequences of “development”, “modernization”, “progress”.


6.Political Struggles, Contested Narratives and Knowledge Production about the Eritrean State

Biniam Misgun  (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

Narratives about Eritrea has been so dramatically polarised, with radically opposing discourses firmly held by multiple actors and stakeholders. “Experts” and scholarship on Eritrea are not different in this regard. Even data, including ones generated by international bodies, about the country are points of contention. These data sets are heavily politicized and contested. Multiple competing data sets do exist, further complicating the competing narratives about the social, economic, and political situations in Eritrea. While those opposing the government paint an entirely bleak picture of the country, the claims from inside the country, and segment of Eritrean diaspora, completely contradicts these. This paper seeks to interrogate these through the prism of struggle over the control of production and distribution of discourse in political struggle. Though it is tempting to frame these as dialectics of Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism, these conflicts and contestations represent power struggle over control over narratives production and circulation both at the national and global level. The findings suggest the following: One, the Eritrean state is actively engaged in a struggle with international organisation considered to be data banks of the world over the control of discourses about it; and this is positioned as a struggle for decoloniality, self-definition and to navigate perceived or real hostile geopolitical currents in the Horn of Africa. Two, Eritrean political actors engage in a production of single narrative; and these have to be presented in black and white, which otherwise would dilute their political expediency. Three, “experts’ knowledge” about the country is very much politicised and enmeshed in the political struggle for the Eritrean body politics. Finally, the whole encounter in Eritrean case forces us to question what are conventionally treated as apolitical data and knowledge produced, legitimated, and circulated by multilateral institutions, which are deemed as conduits of global data.