A Decolonial Academy? Addressing the Oxymoron: How a Series of Performative Art-Science Creative Encounters Might Serve as a Toolbox of Ideas



Design Education Strategy


  • art-science, place, performativity, decolonial, transdisciplinary, pluriversity


Disciplinary practitioners are challenged to respond urgently and positively to calls to decolonize the academy. There is an expectation that the learning experience as well as the curriculum content needs to be fundamentally reshaped in response to the socio-political-economic realities of this century. To add to the complexity, as daily newscasts confirm, outside the ivory towers there is a growing sense that all is not well with the world, and that there is a need for radical social change.

So what toolbox of possibilities is there to draw on as we set out to collectively re-imagine the future, as we attempt to envisage the oxymoron – the Decolonial Academy? As de Sousa Santos phrases it, how do we address ‘the paradox of urgency and civilizational change’ and at the same time make a hope-filled ‘wager on another possible world’.

Writing from an Autoethnographic perspective, we describe an ongoing cross-disciplinary project that has seen artists, scientists, students and academics, community activists and disciplinary practitioners engaging with one another in a series of place-focused off-campus encounters. In these various configurations of the ‘un-like-minded’ have set out to see the world through one another’s eyes and address vexing problems.

 We have made use of both arts-based and scientific methodologies – whatever best allows us to explore, think, share, and express our ideas and solutions. We do not meet in plush conferencing surrounds - our locations are intentionally discomforting. In the course of the encounters we have been exposed to a multiplicity of unsettling realities but we have also rekindled our embodied connections with the real world, away from the ivory towers, and established new and vibrant networks with one another and across disciplinary divides.

In the paper we position the art-science-place encounters within a performative-research paradigm, as situated practices integrally connected to socio-cultural contexts and to place, and we map them against the literature. We maintain that this immersive embodied approach provides a positive and flexible model for participatory engagement, one that shifts the ownership of knowledge away from the ‘disciplinary knowers’ and places it in the hands of the entire collective of explorer-participants. We suggest that the approaches that we espouse in the encounters are transferable, and we hope that they will be of use to colleagues in the creative disciplines, as we all set out to ‘wager on another possible world’.

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