‘Collective Thought as Anti / Decolonial Practice’ Methodological Training.

Naiara Unzurrunzaga, Language Based Area Studies, University of Liverpool (2020 Cohort)

As I started my MRes programme last October, I was interested in exploring how existing Intercultural Education programmes for indigenous and other minoritized populations in Latin America, specifically in Brazil, were acting as a resistance strategy and a potential tool for decolonisation. As a former teacher myself, frustrated with my own experience on how, in my view, education systems are hugely reproducing social oppressive relations, I was interested to see how alternative initiatives of education may be addressing and challenging such logics. This was a continuation of a short project I had undertaken in the past before being offered a 1+3 NWSSDTP funding opportunity.

However, as my MRes course began, I started experiencing doubts about how I could carry out a project in real collaboration with indigenous populations which would be conducive to collective knowledge production that would take into account diverse forms of knowledge. I am very aware of my privileged position based at a Western university as well as the long violent colonial history of doing research with indigenous population, the extractivist methodologies used and how these have pushed the universalisation of Western epistemologies and knowledge. That is, the very aspects that I intended to denounce as I embark on this project with the aim to explore alternative ways of doing education. In this context, I felt that if wanted to align my work and myself with the many forms and system knowledges towards potentially creating collective knowledge, I was going to need to re-think the methodological approaches, research methods and frameworks I had been exposed to in university.

This is why I decided to enrol in the methodological training course ‘Collective Thought as Anti / Decolonial Practice: Strategies and Methodologies for Collective Knowledge Creation’ offered by El Cambalache Collective. This series of five workshops took place online from 25th October to 23rd November and was delivered by the different generators of the social collective El Cambalache. El Cambalache is a moneyless project located in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico) and is made by and for women. This collective was founded in 2015 and is based on anti-systemic and anti-capitalist values for social movements. This series of workshops focused on participatory methodologies to create inclusive, diverse forms of knowledge creation drawing on contemporary and historic examples as well as those from the lived experienced of El Cambalache itself. As this was a course delivered beyond academia, I felt it was an ideal starting point to start re-thinking the methodological approaches, research methods and frameworks exposed to in university. The fact that the course focused on strategies and methodologies for collective knowledge production drawing from their own experience of creating the collective would allow me to gain a better understanding on how to create inclusive and diverse forms of knowledges developed from the communities themselves.

The workshops were delivered online every Tuesday evening for two hours, both in Spanish and English with simultaneous translation available. In addition to that, the synchronous sessions were complemented with an online platform with weekly preparation materials, readings and pre-session thoughts for reflection. All these materials were also readily available in both Spanish and English. Themes of the sessions included: ‘Valuing Collective Creation’, ‘Intersectional, decolonial and Collective Thought and Practice as Method’, ‘Horizontality and Complexity in Collective Action and Knowledge Creation’ and ‘Incorporating Collectivity in Research and Social Change’.

Taking part in these series of workshops exceeded all my expectations.  Encountering the experiences of El Cambalache as well as the exchange of all the diverse participants, both from academic and non-academic backgrounds and positions, have marked not only key moment for the start of my PhD project but also towards the life-long process in which I commit to embark in order to learn to un-learn so that I can start to re-learn different ways of knowing. Thanks to these sessions, the exchange with participants as well as the thinking tasks set in-between sessions in which we were inviting to reflect on some very important aspects of our role as future researchers, I have become even more aware of how to continue breaking patterns that I have been socialised in and internalised both culturally and in my academic training. Doing this with a concrete social collective, has allowed me to see the theory brought into life. That is, it has given me an insight in how theory and practice as well as academia and social collectives can build bridges that are conducive to real collective knowledge production with social change in the horizon. This process is, without a doubt, full of challenges. However, finding El Cambalache as well as the participants involved in the course, have opened a new space for discussion and future collaborations as we decided to give continuations to our sessions by creating an informal online space in which we are going to continue to meet up.  

I’m very grateful to the NWSSDTP for their support to help me participate in this course. Thanks to this, as I now start thinking of ways to incorporate this into my own PhD research project, I know I have a group of like-minded researchers and social activists (within and outside academia) that I can continue to grow with.

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