306 Research Portfolio Post 6: Marginalization and Activism in Academia

Our seminars throughout the semester have presented different ontological perspectives that explore what there is to know.  The readings from Go and Morris challenge past notions of “truth” with the example of sociologist, Du Bois, whose work was overlooked by an academic system favoring white scholars.[1]  The Malik article brings up the concept of “decolonizing” philosophy and questions the syllabi of subjects dominated by Western ideas.[2]  These perspectives resonate well with interpretivism and show how knowledge is socially constructed in different contexts.  Knowledge and constructions of truth can be contested and changed over time.  Historically, academic elites (Western white males) have controlled the orthodoxy within the sciences.  Because elites want to remain in control they naturally suppress heterodoxy found in alternative perspectives.  The most notable example from the reading was the heterodoxy of Du Bois that there were not in fact biological differences between blacks and whites.

Further historical reevaluations of academia reveal previously silenced voices.  While there is no “alternative” history of any academic tradition (one that includes all identities) it is possible for scholars to look to include the perspectives of minority scholars.  Some argue that historically minority scholars were not present or did not create important work.  While that argument might hold in the ancient times of Aristotle, it is unwise to turn a blind eye to the more recent achievements of minorities and women.  Scholars must recognize and acknowledge that criteria of “valuable” contributions have been shaped and maintained by those in power.  While we cannot change the path of history, professors and researchers can work proactively to integrate alternative voices into our curriculum.  That is not to say that we should take another extreme and cut out the white-man completely.  It is true that white men created the foundation of most scholarship.

Before our class discussion I did not consider the implications of simply creating new classes with alternative academic perspectives without integrating these into the core curriculum.  This “separate but equal” approach continues to marginalize communities because they are classified as “other” from the mainstream.  Looking forward, it should not remain solely the responsibility of minority scholars to bring in other perspectives.  Scholars can challenge themselves to look at existing power structures in their research.  Professor Ranganathan described her work as looking sympathetically but not uncritically at the struggles of the oppressed. In my own academic endeavors, I too hope to similarly understand meaning making but not go so far as to promoting an agenda.  I think it is interesting to unpack heterodoxies even if they do not always call for specific policy changes or revisions of history.  Though we should not directly address the question of whether it was right or wrong to include certain academic perspectives, it is valuable to evaluate marginalized perspectives because they have the potential to spark new ways of thinking or even new criteria for evaluating scholarship.

[1] Go, Julian. “The Case for Scholarly Reparations.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology  (2016).

Morris, Aldon. “From Du Bois to Black Lives Matter.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology  (2016).

[2] Malik, Kenan. “Are Soas Students Right to ‘Decolonise’ Their Minds from Western Philosophers?” The Guardian  (2017).

 

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