Session 4

A4 Towards Decolonial Reflexivity: A Dialogic Approach Towards Decolonizing Social Science Methodology

While there has been a long ongoing debate on decolonizing social theory, the debate on decolonizing social science methodology has just recently started. In this context, in the course of the SMUS Conferences in Botswana in 2021, Brazil in 2022 and India 2023, contributors have identified and further elaborated specific ways of thinking about decolonizing social science methodology but also raised new methodological questions, namely:

(1) The ideological view of decoloniality dismantles “positivist” epistemology and philosophy of science of the Global North and reveals power relations that result in epistemicide. The challenges of this view are (a) that – if one replaces Northern “positivist” epistemologies – then what should they be replaced with? How can this be done better? If relativism is taken seriously, then what is the difference between “fake news” and “alternative facts” and scientific knowledge? Moreover, many research questions in the social sciences require being sure about (dis)similarities between contexts, e.g. in social inequality research. (b) The debate has also shown that the ideological view of decoloniality reproduces the fallacy it wants to overcome by making monolithic assumptions of “Eurocentricsm,” “The West” and the “Global North,” thus ignoring that positivism has been outdated in Continental European philosophy of science for almost 200 years and that today, there is a variety of epistemic cultures not only in the Global South but also in the Global North (e.g., pragmatism, phenomenology, critical rationalism, critical theory, radical constructivism, relationism, postmodernism, anarchism, epistemological historism, fallibism, evolutionary epistemology, postcolonialism or empirically-grounded philosophy of science). Today, a wide range of epistemological schools exists, and many of those can be much more easily linked to Southern epistemologies than 19th century positivism. So instead of asking how to overcome Northern epistemologies, it might ask: What are the (dis)similarities between specific epistemological schools? How can they productively learn from each other, complement each other, be productively linked, refined and integrated?

(2) Epistemic reconstruction shows how scholars of the Global South are (under)represented in the international system of science. In addition, power relations created by this system of science may have produced Global North scholars acting merely as “messengers” of Northern or Western epistemology. This reconstruction reveals the dilemma that the price of being assimilated to the variants of Western modernity is (self-induced) epistemicide and lack of self-confidence – the price for reconstructing categories of thoughts from one’s local and particular tradition, in contrast, makes it hard to link to global social science discourse. So if scholars from the Global South want to be linked to global sociological discourse, how can they be stronger integrated into this discourse? How to change the mindset of scholars of the Global South to be more self-confident? Is it enough to simply differentiate between the “Global North” and the “Global South”, or when and how do we need to be more refined in distinguishing scholars’ social position, e.g. by differentiating between different countries or world regions of the Global South or by scholars’ class, gender and race?

(3) As Gabriel Faimau has argued, the dialogic approach is the most promising, as it aims at decolonial reflexivity. Decolonial reflexivity acknowledges different types of epistemologies and stresses collaboration, conversation and dialogue. From this point of view, the important questions are how to go about this. How can scholars from the Global South become more visible and communicate on eye-level with colleagues from the Global North? What avenues can we explore in order to make dialogue or conversation and epistemological humility possible? Are there practical solutions (e.g. in the way of doing and writing up research and organizing conferences) for furthering this goal? In order to achieve this goal, at least four fields of actions can be identified – the ABCD of decolonising research practice. Papers in this session should address one of these actions and discuss both challenges and possible solutions for these challenges in research practice:

(A) According to Francis B. Nyamnjoh, a first step decolonizing research practice is “asking the right questions.” Asking the right questions is about recognizing the embeddedness of social research in cultural values as well as scientific histories that shape the culture.
(B) Following Bagele Chilisa, “building cultural beliefs and values into methodology” is as important. For example, for Africa, Chilisa proposes research practice to draws on African philosophies and worldviews to inform the research design and research process.
(C) “Communicating from the local frame of reference” is as important. Mpoe Johannah Keikelame and Leslie Swartz argue that decolonising research practice “is not as much about the method, but more about the spaces that can enable the research process – and that through this process, researchers’ identities also become reshaped or transformed.” The dialogic nature of the decolonial reflexivity assumes research methods that recognize local context and empower the dynamic relationship between the researcher and researchee.
(D) Decolonizing research practice is not about getting rid of the existing methods but “diversifying the existing methods”.