In search of knowledge plurality in an IR Theory curricula, by Jaqueline Ala

Despite claiming its ontological space as the global interactions of diverse agents and the outcomes such agents produce, International Relations (IR) theory has not gravitated away from its Western philosophical and historical roots. The problem is not Western theoretical approaches to IR per se, it is the myth of their universal applicability to all contexts. Moreover, this dominance it has allowed Western scholarship to determine what constitutes valid knowledge within the discipline. Although there has been substantial increase of academic literature dealing with subjugation of IR theoretical scholarship from the global South, together with arguments outlining the necessity for embracing knowledge plurality, very little of it considers how this impacts IR curricula.

This article Making the invisible, visible: challenging the knowledge structures inherent in International Relations Theory in order to create knowledge plural curricula published in the issue 1/2017 of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Volume 61 – N. 1) investigates how the knowledge structures embedded in the field of IR theory have privileged a very exclusive narrative as to what constitutes “valid knowledge”. It argues that these mechanisms operate to elevate knowledge emanating from the West over that of the South. Consequently, Western derived knowledge features almost exclusively in IR theory curricula. If our goal is to achieve knowledge plurality in an IR theory curriculum we need to challenge these exclusive Western accounts of what constitutes “valid knowledge”. Bernstein’s work on the sociology of knowledge in the field of education is used to facilitate the dissection of the knowledge structures within IR theory and how this impacts on curricula design. The article further utilizes the scholarship of Boaventura de Sousa Santos as well as philosopher Walter Mignolo in considering how knowledge structures can be challenged and re-conceived to attain more knowledge-diverse IR theory curricula.

The scholarship of the above academics assists in revealing not only the impediments to the creation of a knowledge plural curriculum but also how achieving such a curriculum can be realized. Moving from the conceptual to the practical the article offers a case study that identifies analyses and reflects on the complex range of ideas, interests, structures and decisions that must be navigated in order to develop and deliver a coherent knowledge plural International Relations (IR) theory curriculum at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). I wanted to create an International Relations Theory curriculum that was relevant to the South African and African context of my students. I discuss the incorporation of the Southern African concept of “Ubuntu” into the curricula for the purpose of expanding the ideals and utility of normative theory beyond the knowledge confines of the West as an example of this. Student feedback on this experience is presented. It indicates that the majority of students engaged positively with this innovation. However, the feedback and reflection also shows the shortcomings of the initiative and specific problem areas that need to be dealt with. Although the case study draws on my own experience as a lecturer of International Relations theory at Wits, it forms part of a growing global counter movement which demands a more globally inclusive discourse for IR.

Read the article

Matos-Ala, Jacqueline de. (2017). Making the invisible, visible: challenging the knowledge structures inherent in International Relations Theory in order to create knowledge plural curricula. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(1), e021. Epub February 01, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201700122

About the author

Jacqueline de Matos-Ala – University of Witwatersrand, Department of International Relations, Johannesburg, South Africa (jacqueline.dematosala@wits.ac.za).

Cite this note

aclessa, "In search of knowledge plurality in an IR Theory curricula, by Jaqueline Ala," in Instituto Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais, 02/02/2018, http://www.ibri-rbpi.org/?p=16276.

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