In the summer of 2020, the Department of English and Related Literature set up a Decolonising Network to coordinate work on decolonising both the discipline of literary study as well as decolonising efforts in the department. The group is comprised of English staff and students, as well as staff and students from across the arts, humanities, and social sciences at York.
The Department of English and Related Literature at York thinks about literary study as born-interdisciplinary and born-multilingual. Ever since the department was founded in 1963, as one of the University of York’s first six departments, the department has had its roots in European, American, and African literatures.
We have also historically valued translation as a core component of literary study. The wide-ranging linguistic coverage of our undergraduate degree offers students opportunities to engage with select foreign literatures either in translation or in the original language, and thinking comparatively, across and between borders, is a crucial part of what we do. Our curricula encourage a vibrant, multilingual and global view of literature, both European and global, and our students get the chance to engage with questions of language, translation, and cultural difference from the first term of their first year, through to MA level study.
Our aim is also to stimulate discussion about the crucial—but often forgotten—role that multilingualism and translation play in decolonisation in literary study. When we talk about decolonising the discipline of English literature, are there unintended consequences for linguistic imperialism? How might we undo this? Is there a cross-period approach we might be able to employ?
Our grassroots approach to decolonisation chimes with the stance that Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh express in their work On Decoloniality, where they emphasis the importance of recognising and understanding the ‘decolonial for’—
how those who live the colonial difference think theory, theorize practice, and build, create, and enact concrete processes, struggles, and practices of resurgent and insurgent action and thought, including in the spheres of knowledge, territory-land, state, re-existences, and life itself. And, on the other hand, the question is how this praxis interrupts and cracks the modern/colonial/ capitalist/heteropolitical matrices of power, and advances other ways of being, thinking, knowing, theorizing, feeling, acting, and living for us all – the otherwise that is the decolonial for. (Walsh and Mignolo, p. 9-10)
It is these fors and froms that motivate us as we build up our decolonising network, working in the space of the generative and the reparative—“of affirmation and reaffirmation that disrupt and unsettle coloniality’s negations”, in Walsh’s phrasing—that “takes us beyond an anti stance.” We want to do more than just undo what we know, but to show how decoloniality can reshape how we know.
Check back here in future for resources on decolonising.
Dr Shazia Jagot and Dr Alexandra Kingston-Reese spoke at The English Association’s first seminar on Decolonising the Discipline, with the focus of Establishing a Decolonising Network, in September 2020. Watch the recording of their talk “Knowing Outside of English: Decolonising at York”
Decolonising the Discipline is a collaborative initiative undertaken jointly by colleagues at the English Association, the Institute of English Studies, the University of East Anglia, the Postcolonial Studies Association and University English. It aims to develop platforms for discipline-wide conversations that can foster and support collaborative action across English literature, language and creative writing.
This work is called decolonising the discipline to draw attention to the breadth of activities and stakeholders that are gathered under the banner of English Studies. We are committed to building a network of interventions, to gathering and sharing ideas, and to providing strategies and resources for collective and individual action.
Find out more information about the Decolonising the Discipline project on the English Association’s website.