Doing Research to Decolonise Research: to Start at the very Beginning.



Design Education Research


  • decolonisation; legibility, measurability; Africa-centred knowledges; strategic alliances; problem-solving

The paper proceeds from the perspective that to decolonise education one needs to start from the position of decolonising research as practice. It proceeds to argue that to attempt to enter the halls of research to decolonise it, one needs, indeed, to decolonise the pursuits of research which are the pursuits of knowledge. A central domain of this pursuit lies in the notion of Africa-centred knowledges. The paper concludes by arguing that designers sit in the cusp or at the forefront of decolonised research endeavours, as they pursue human flourishing (instead of ‘research’) and the search for practical wisdom (or phronesis) instead of knowledge.

To make this argument the paper follows this pathway:  it sets out to note that the current research state of affairs has come about by universities attempting to make research legible (following Scott’s definition and tracing his arguments around “seeing like a state” – the title of his book) and therefore measureable. This is compounded by the necessity (it seems) to make the very practice of “doing research” legible, measurable, quantifiable and ‘generalisable’. To open up potential alternatives, the paper then moves to an understanding of Africa-centred knowledges (Cooper & Morrell, 2014) in the pursuit not of what the world is but what the world needs. Having established this, the paper then suggests that research assumed the role primarily of problem definition (a pursuit of accurately describing and explaining the “isness” of the world), leaving solving of the problem to so-called lesser domains of the “applied sciences.” Yet, the paper argues, the point of research should perhaps be, as it originally was, to solve practical problems to the advancement of community (and not the advancement of knowledge, directly). To do this it posits the notion of collaborations and strategic alliances. This is connected to abductive reasoning, which leads, the paper argues, to practical wisdom, and through this, to the pursuit of human flourishing.

Having made this argument, the paper considers avenues that such a conclusion might take, and engages in ‘designed’ speculations that move beyond description and explanation, to product, process, making and, therefore, potentially flourishing.  It draws on Kasulis (Integrity and Intimacy) and then on Gardner’s notion of Multiple Intelligences and Herrmann’s Whole-brain learning. In short, the design disciplines gear their research around producing that which can solve problems. This comes about through exploring the territory, and not fixating on the map.

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