Overview of Proposal


In 1996 Cowen (1996) predicted that the international economy in late-modernity would be the “crucial definer of the purposes, efficiency and effectiveness of the educational system, its content and its structures and even of its pedagogic modes” (161). Fifteen years later, his foresight can be clearly observed in national and international educational policy (e.g. Bologna Process and Lisbon Strategies) and in the wider literature on higher education. The neoliberal market imperatives of employability, mobility and competitiveness in such policies command the need for fast internationalization. In this process, economic imaginaries are fused with civic missions towards international communities based on notions of global citizenship, diversity and social responsibility, which are often conceptualized in narrowly instrumental terms (Matthews and Sidhu, 2005; Rhoads and Szelényi, 2010). Drawing on postcolonial theory, this research aims to combine analyses of culture and political economy to offer a fresh critique of such imaginaries. This is done in order to reimagine education for global citizenship, diversity and social responsibility in higher education beyond ethno-cultural nationalisms, patriotisms, parochialisms, multi-monoculturalisms, and neoliberal variants of global subjectivities.

This research addresses immediate concerns that current economic/financial/policy crises have intensified the drivers towards exploitative and profit-seeking unethical internationalization, while curtailing the resources and commitment towards sites for potentially ethical alternatives (Khoo, 2011). It asserts a commitment to recasting the university as a civic space (Biesta, 2007) of exposure to the world concerned with questions about our living together, where “our radical equality as political subjects is recognized” (Simons and Masschelein, 2009: 11). This affirmation entails two ethical institutional responsibilities for universities (Andreotti, 2009). First, it highlights the imperative to address the mismatches between two important scenarios: that of rapid technological development, and that of inadequate human social-ethical responses to economic, cultural and environmental crises leading to increasing inequalities and new eruptions of violence (Slaughter, 2004). Second, it stresses the university’s responsibility to “pluralize the future by pluralizing knowledge in the present [in order to produce ] a better, more honest and wider range of options – material, ideational and normative – for human beings and societies to choose from” (Nandy 2000: 122)

This project examines how epistemic difference, transnational literacy and notions of global citizenship and social responsibility are constructed in internationalization processes of higher education, including official policies as well as the perceptions of faculty, students and managers engaged with internationalization processes. In this study, we use the term ‘epistemic difference’ to refer to legitimate forms of knowledge and subjectivity historically marginalized by oppositions created in academic contexts and academic knowledge production (Mignolo, 2002). Transnational literacy (Spivak, 1999; Brydon, 2004) is defined as a combination of knowledge about ‘glocal’ (Bauman 1998) flows and the ability to engage with otherness in hybrid epistemological spaces shaped by center/periphery relationships. The term ‘global citizenship’ is used to refer to supra-territorial forms of subjectivity that highlight interdependence (Dower, 2003; Peters, Britton, and Blee, 2007; Abdi and Schults, 2008;2010), ecological fragility (Krogman and Foote, 2010), cultural hybridity (Bhabha, 1994; Stevenson, 2005), complex flows of knowledge and power (Willinsky,1998; Andreotti, 2006; Rizvi, 2007; Todd, 2009), as well as implications and responsibilities related to unequal distributions of wealth and labor in local and global spheres (Spivak 2002; Andreotti, 2007;2011; Khoo, 2011).

This mixed methods research project (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010; Biesta, 2010) utilizes policy discourse analysis, as well as quantitative and qualitative methods to map trends in values, predispositions and attitudes related to internationalization processes involving international staff/student institutional relations, curriculum design and international collaborations in the participating universities. The project’s main focus will be on the value attributed to staff, students and knowledge originated in places outside of the circuit of advanced higher education marketization (i.e. Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand).

Research Questions


This international mixed methods research project addresses 4 research questions related to internationalization processes of higher education:

1. How is epistemic difference perceived in internationalization policies and initiatives in participating universities?

2. How is difference constructed and what value is attributed to it in terms of capacity for relevant knowledge production in institutional relations: between international and local faculty, international and local students, faculty and students, curriculum design, indigenous/aboriginal students, as well as international partnerships (e.g. the value attributed to allegedly global and local/national/indigenous knowledge systems)?

3. How is the role of the university, faculty and graduates perceived in terms of global citizenship ideals?

4. What kinds of educational policies and processes have the potential to resist and disrupt hegemonic patterns of knowledge production that restrict possibilities for ethical relationalities and solidarities in local and global academic spaces?

We build on previous research concerned with the effects of ethnocentrism and of deficit views of diversity in higher education initiatives related to curriculum internationalization (Kelly 2000; Tarc 2009), international student and staff ‘transnational identity capital’ (Kim, 2010) study abroad and volunteering schemes (Zemach-Bersin 2007, Cook 2008), international development partnerships (Kaapor, 2008; McEwan, 2009), and HE strategies to promote global citizenship and social responsibility (Jeffress,2008; Pashby, 2008; Andreotti, Jeferess, Rowe, Tarc and Taylor, 2010; Andreotti and Souza, 2011). This literature affirms that policies, partnerships and curriculum design are largely framed by neoliberal market imperatives that construct epistemic difference as a value only when it is domesticated and corporatized (Kelly, 2000). Therefore, internationalization policies, development partnerships and global citizenship or social responsibility initiatives tend to reproduce ideals of exceptionalism, entitlement and (market) expansionism.

We aim to identify and examine datasets and contexts that contest or confirm this thesis in the co-horts of the (20) participating universities. Some of the partner universities have specific programmes that explicitly attempt to promote ethical internationalization practices in curriculum design, pedagogy and international development partnerships (e.g. Centre for Development Education Research, University of London and Centre for the Study of Global Citizenship, University of Alberta). Additionally, we have also planned study visits to universities focusing on models of ethical international partnerships and epistemological pluralism at the interface between indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge systems (Jones, 2008; Rendon, 2008, Andreotti, Ahenakew and Cooper, 2011).

In order to connect the questions and secure methodological cross-referencing, the constructs of ‘epistemic difference’ (ED), ‘transnational literacy’ (TL) and ‘global citizenship and social responsibility’ (GCSR) will be used to generate steering questions in relation to each line of inquiry (see examples in 'overview of methodology'). Case studies will be developed in order to inform innovative practices.

Theoretical orientation

Postcolonial and decolonial theories (see for example Said, 1978; Bhabha, 1994; Quijano 1997; Spivak, 1999; Chakrabarty, 2000; Mignolo,2002,) offer a useful framework for understanding both the problems and opportunities for creative resistance generated by the imperatives of academic capitalism. Their critique of the geo- and body- politics of knowledge production expose the connections between structural and cultural analyses of inequalities (McEwan, 2009), the problematic association between the production and dissemination of knowledge and the unequal distribution of wealth and labor (Spivak, 1999), and the continuing division of the world (Willinsky 1998, Popkewitz, 2009, Andreotti, 2011) between ‘us as superior, developed, civilized, future oriented, donors, global knowledge producers and rights dispensers’ and ‘them as inferior, underdeveloped, uncivilized, living in the past and aid, knowledge and rights recipients’. Both bodies of theory assert that, despite the end of classic imperialism, knowledge generated by those who have directly or indirectly benefitted from colonial processes, is still perceived to be the knowledge of most value and of global/universal relevance while knowledge originating from formerly(or currently) colonized social groups is conceived as ‘culture’ (i.e. values, traditions and beliefs) with restricted local value (if any).

Drawing on this literature, several authors have continuously called for a pluralization of knowledges in higher education (see for example Rizvi, 2007, Lavia, 2007; 2010; Andreotti, 2009; Hoppers, 2009; Hickling-Hudson, 2011). Echoing this call for the pluralization of knowledges in universities, Souza Santos (2001, 2007) proposes helpful metaphors for addressing the epistemic blindness created by the arrogance of hegemonic forms of ethnocentrism in academia. He refers to the key legacy of this epistemic universalization as ‘abyssal thinking’ defined as a system consisting of visible and invisible distinctions established through a logic that defines social reality as either on ‘this side of the abyssal line’ or on ‘the other side of the abyssal line’ He explains:

The division is such that ‘the other side of the line’ vanishes as reality becomes nonexistent, and is indeed produced as non-existent. Nonexistent means not existing in any relevant or comprehensible way of being. Whatever is produced as nonexistent is radically excluded because it lies beyond the realm of what the accepted conception of inclusion considers to be its other. What most fundamentally characterizes abyssal thinking is thus the impossibility of the co-presence of the two sides of the line. To the extent that it prevails, this side of the line only prevails by exhausting the field of relevant reality. Beyond it, there is only nonexistence, invisibility, non−dialectical absence (Souza Santos 2007:2).
The denial of co-presence is translated into a hegemonic contact that “converts simultaneity with non-contemporaneity [making up] pasts to make room for a single homogeneous future” (3) . The project of a homogeneous future justifies the violence and appropriation carried out in its name. Thus, one part of humanity (considered sub-human), on the other side of the abyssal line, is sacrificed in order to affirm the universality of the part of humanity on this side of the line (Souza Santos 2007).

Therefore, Souza Santos (2007) argues that the struggle for global social justice is inseparable from the struggle for global cognitive justice and that both struggles require ‘post-abyssal thinking’ (5). This implies that political resistance must be “premised upon epistemological resistance” (10), which calls not for ‘more alternatives’ but for an “alternative thinking about alternatives [which requires] the symbolic amplification of signs, clues, and latent tendencies that, however inchoate and fragmented point to new constellations of meaning as regards both to the understanding and the transformation of the world” (10). Souza Santos suggests that, from this side of the abyssal line, recognition of cultural diversity does not necessarily translate into recognition of epistemological diversity. Therefore, he proposes that the recognition of epistemological diversity entails a provisional renouncing of any general epistemology:
Throughout the world, not only are there very diverse forms of knowledge of matter, society, life and spirit, but also many and very diverse concepts of what counts as knowledge and the criteria that may be used to validate it. In the transitional period we are entering, in which abyssal versions of totality and unity of knowledge still resist, we probably need a residual general epistemological requirement to move along: a general epistemology of the impossibility of a general epistemology (Souza Santos 2007:12).
Souza Santos argues that the limits and value of knowledges should be attributed according to the notion of ‘knowledge-as-intervention-in-reality’ and not ‘knowledge as-a-representation-of-reality’ (Souza Santos 2007:13). He proposes that “the credibility of cognitive construction [be] measured by the type of intervention in the world that it affords or prevents” (ibid). He suggests a break with the notion of linear time that constructs the denial of co-presence in order to open the possibility of radical co-presence through egalitarian simultaneity. This drive towards egalitarian simultaneity is based on an idea of incompleteness: “since no single type of knowledge can account for all possible interventions in the world, all of them are incomplete in different ways [hence] each knowledge is both insufficient and inter-dependent on other knowledges” (Souza Santos 2007:17). In this project we explore the existing possibilities of steering HE internationalization processes towards more ethically oriented internationalisms grounded on the principle of ‘egalitarian simultaneity’.

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