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‘Averting the white gaze’ in Development from within an HE institution.

I’ve been keenly following the discussion threads that have sprung up following our initial conversation linked to Black Lives Matters and decolonisation of the curriculum and wanted to share my thoughts on what is happening in the academic subject and university that I am part of.


As a way of introduction, my name is Martha, I’m a lecturer in Global Development and ideas around decolonising our development curriculum have been buzzing around for some time now. Development, for the uninitiated, has classically been considered as a subject which examines how underdeveloped or less developed countries in the global South become modernised or economically developed by following a path hewn by countries such as the UK in the global North. The global challenges we face now with pandemics, poverty, inequalities and climate change have quickly proved that they aren’t the sole domain of the Global South but are global problems that occur in every country albeit with different consequences and therefore need global solutions. Decolonising the global development curriculum is well overdue which is why it has become such an important topic in this field.


From the perspective of colleagues in my department, it quickly became clear that decolonising the curriculum is but one step in a long and complicated process and what really needs to happen alongside this, is to decolonise the institution and structures that support the running of our university, as well as the curriculum. This includes, but isn’t restricted to, making our workforce more diverse as this will encourage a wider range of voices and experiences to contribute to curriculum development. Sadly, the Eurocentric bias in academic research and publications in my field means that voices from the Global South are invisible or very quiet at best.

Recent experience of developing a new postgraduate module, Global Development Management, with a team made up entirely of white academics has challenged us to provide space within the course for discussion among and between students and tutors to garner different viewpoints from both development practitioners and those who are recipients of development wherever they are geographically located. We were keenly aware of a desire and need to ‘avert the white gaze’ of development and to acknowledge our standpoint and positionality. We felt the need to acknowledge our ethnicity and experiences and how these have impacted on our choice of subject and the questions we ask. We’ve encouraged debate and alternative views where possible which is made easier as we are entirely online and so interactivity is par for the course. Furthermore, we’ve attempted to avoid Eurocentric publications and resources and have encouraged a global approach to developing a bibliography for students that goes beyond the Guardian and BBC.

Despite these actions, I remain aware that we haven’t deconstructed or decolonised the structures that create the inequalities in the first place. The fee structures which prevent international students from taking our module remain inflated, the materials are without doubt still biased towards a Eurocentric academic view of development and we still fail as an institution to attract a diverse workforce that will enable a culture change or shift.

Robtel Pailey gave a keynote talk titled ‘Decentering the white gaze of development’ during a Development Studies Association conference that was held a couple of years ago. Her paper is well worth reading and can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336195397_De-centring_the_'White_Gaze'_of_Development Also, you might be interested in this https://duckofminerva.com/2018/08/no-reading-list-is-perfectly-inclusive-heres-one-small-step-ive-learned-to-address-that.html and potentially this https://theconversation.com/what-a-new-university-in-africa-is-doing-to-decolonise-social-sciences-77181 why do we assume that our courses should only be produced in English when our subject and our students are global?!

Whilst my department has a long way to go, we are making a start and every step we take is informed by the need to avert the white gaze of development, to encourage and celebrate difference and diversity in the sources we use when developing curriculum and to engender a culture of inclusion and openness among our students and tutors.

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