Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Academic Colonialism and the Struggle for Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Taiwan

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Academic Colonialism and the Struggle for Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Taiwan

Article excerpt

This article reviews the operations of academic colonialism in subjugating the epistemological and cultural characteristics of scholars in former colonies. It focuses on Taiwan and the particularly difficult circumstances faced by Indigenous scholars in Taiwan to gain recognition of their knowledge and cultural perspectives . The article goes on to examine ways in which Indigenous academics and new institutions are acting to surmount the oppressions of academic colonialism.

How Academic Colonialism Works

Academic colonialism stands for how states occupying the centre where knowledge is produced, transmitted, and ordered, in an unfair academic divisionof-labor at the global level have successfully coerced scholars located in the peripheral states to accept their dominated relations in thoughts and ideas by standardising, institutionalising, and socialising academic disciplines (Friedman 1965; Lander 2000; Alatas 2003; Heilbron et al. 2008). In the past, the empires would utilise colonisation for waging direct control. Nowadays, when most colonies have obtain their formal independence, the former can still resort to academic dependency implanted on the minds of the academics in the latter so that indirect control is no less useful. Accordingly, Alatas (2003, 602) terms it academic neo-imperialism or academic neocolonialism.

Within this academic colonialism, scholars in the center of knowledge, such as the United State, the United Kingdom, or France,1 may enjoy the following advantages: (1) producing enormous amounts of research outputs in the forms of journal articles, academic books, or research reports, (2) transmitting thoughts and information through these media, (3) influencing scholars in other countries by promoting academic consumption, and (4) enjoying over-proportionally prestigious status domestically and internationally (Alatas, 2003, 602).

On the other hand, native scholars in knowledge-dependent states have to ask for endorsement by 'foreign monks' in areas such as research agenda-settings, definitions of research problems, applications of methods, or selections of scientific indicators. Psychologically, these scholars are not only passive or inactive. More fundamental is their deep complex of inferiority, which makes them refrain from exercising any autonomous thinking. For those who are relatively more aggressive, the best strategy is to edge themselves closer to the inner circle of the academic network (Alatas 2003. 603).

In order to guarantee that original ideas must come from the centre, measures to domesticate, if not, control the thoughts2 of peripheral scholars are necessary. First of all, a broad paradigmatic and theoretic circle is firmly drawn, so that those peripheral scholars know only how to mimic whatever originated from the centre. Then, to entrench their eventually voluntary submission, various institutional mechanisms have to be constructed, such as acceptance of papers at international conferences or articles in journals. The object is to make sure that no single dissent exit is allowed to exist. Finally, by accepting the few selective incentives provided for, these trapped in the imposed tall walls of knowledge would willingly and habitually accept whatever is offered. In the words of Smith (2006, 65) this amounts to 'paralysing fatalism.'

Since this is basically a kind of patronage, the patrons will look after the clients while the latter have to show their loyalty to the former. As academic territories are considered 'private reserves' (Gareau, 1998' 172), both the imports and the exports of knowledge have to be regulated by the latter, who are in essence cheap brokers of the first order in academia (Mignolo, 1993, 130). While they may be dignified as scholars par excellence domestically, these humble 'intellectual other,' to borrow the words of Mignolo (1993, 123), turn pale and secondary when turning around and facing those supposedly polite and yet snobbish masters. …

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