ESSE 2021

From 08/30/2021 to 09/03/2021

Lyon - France

Plenary Speaker Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann is Professor of Postcolonial Literature at the University of Lille and a Junior Fellow at the Institut Universitaire de France. Her teaching and research are focused on contemporary Irish, South African, Zimbabwean and Nigerian literature, decolonial praxis and theory, and, increasingly, decolonial pedagogies. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on postcolonial novels, prison writing, and the politics of aesthetics. She has also co-edited several journal issues, is the editor of a collection of essays on Irish prisons (The Carceral Network in Ireland: History, Agency and Resistance, Palgrave, 2020) and the author of a monograph (A Poetics of Dissensus: Confronting Violence in Contemporary Prose Writing from the North of Ireland, Peter Lang, 2014). She is at present working on two book projects: a monograph on forms of care in world literature and another on decolonial pedagogies.

Plenary lecture: Epistemic disobedience and the faculty: decolonial pedagogies for a sustainable future

As we lurch towards irrevocable and devastating climate and biodiversity catastrophe, as high school students take to the streets for the future, and as we deal with the impact of a global health pandemic, the purpose and scope of education and educators is clearly up for discussion. How might we help to develop a sustainable future through the development of meaningful pedagogies?
The aim of this paper is to consider the faculty as an educational space and, in more abstract terms, following Aníbal Quijano, as the capacity or ability to do, to effect meaningful change as teachers and students. My own positionality as a postcolonial studies scholar leads me to reflect on the kinds of decolonial pedagogies (decolonial in content and in form) which could be explored in order to respond to the present urgency. These pedagogies would, in the literature classroom, expose and interrogate the “combined and uneven development” (Warwick Research Collective) across the globe based on the destructive twins of colonialism and capitalism, and also sketch out possible contours of sustainable change.
These decolonial pedagogies call for what Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh call “epistemic disobedience”. This would involve a significant shift in both the content and the terms of the conversations we have in the faculty: breaking the teacher/student hierarchy (Rancière), radically rethinking why and how and what should be evaluated (for what end, since the end is in sight?), focusing on exposing the fallacy of universality that brought us colonial/modernity, and actively striving towards a “pluriversity” (Mignolo & Walsh) which is necessarily uncomfortable. The gatekeeping of sub-disciplines (literature, “civilisation”, linguistics etc.) and the unique prism of Eurocentrism are failing our faculties.
And yet, as thinkers, we surely have the faculty to reject these straightjackets which preserve a precarious status quo and to embrace holistic managed learning strategies. I will make a case for the necessity of espousing these radical changes which I have been inspired to pursue largely thanks to decolonial criticism, and will proffer (tentative) examples of how this might be accomplished at undergraduate and graduate level in the context of literature seminars. I will also address the paradoxes and limits of doing so from within Europe. To provoke systemic change and to foster sustainable ways of living on our planet we urgently need to overcome the epistemological prisons of Eurocentric “universalism.”