St Paul st Gallery AUT


There is no autonomous subject of knowledge; all knowledge has a relational dimension and a materiality. Who is the subject of knowledge, and how is s/he enabled in her everydayness? Who can be a critical border thinker, and how? Who can afford to be in a border position and a position of resistance, and what is the sexual and political economy that authorizes this privilege? Finally, the researcher too is a subject of desire, and this too needs to be acknowledged. – Arturo Escobar

Knowledge is embedded in practice, language and culture, it cannot be decontextualised. As philosopher Carl Mika writes, the Māori term ako, most commonly defined as teaching and learning “emphasises that the self and other are one, and and because of that collapse of the world with the learner or teacher, knowledge, thought and language are emphasised as relations (whanaunga).”[1] This world view, shared by many and also articulated above by Arturo Escobar, foregrounds relationality and context.

Knowledge is also power: “every conquest is, in the first instance, a conquest of knowledge.”[2] The production of knowledge is governed by access and identity. This raises questions of who holds knowledge, and what attitudes and methods of protection, promotion, sharing and dissemination surround knowledges? Knowledge and its study in epistemology has favoured the world view developed through the Western epistemological lens, whereby it “aspires to be a universal theory of knowledge, therefore generally abstracts knowledge out of context, via favouring an idea of neutrality,” which is essentially based in Whiteness. [3] Typically, as Whiteness, it does not recognise itself as a viewpoint embedded in specific languages and cultural practices. Philosopher Linda Martín Alcoff identifies three types of epistemological ignorance: Lorraine Code’s argument that “ignorance follows from the general fact of our situatedness as knowers,” Sandra Harding’s relation of “ignorance to specific aspects of group identities,” and Charles Mills’s “structural analysis of the ways in which oppressive systems produce ignorance” as an effect.[4] Bearing this in mind, acknowledging our own situatedness and access privileges is a shared responsibility, albeit one in which those who have epistemic advantage have more work to do to. As lawyer Moana Jackson has said, “if knowledge is power then we need to be clear about whose knowledge we are using or defining...”[5]


  • Let’s talk about Whiteness
  • Embodied knowledge: “Body is the central space in which knowing is embedded.” (Meyer, 2014,10).
  • ‘Ecology of knowledges’: “As an ecology of knowledges, post-abyssal thinking is premised upon the idea of the epistemological diversity of the world, the recognition of the existence of a plurality of knowledges beyond scientific knowledge. This implies renouncing 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.” (de Sousa Santos 2007, 16-17)
  • Ontologies

Questions to consider:

What is knowledge?

What is the relationship between knowledge, knowing and understanding?

How did I come to know?

What makes us think the way we think?

What do we need to know? What situation are we in?

What knowledge is relevant to inquiry?

What knowledge do I have access to?


1 Carl Mika, Indigenous Education and the Metaphysics of Presence: A Worlded Philosophy, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, p.61

2 Vinay Lal, ‘Foreword’ to the Dissenting Knowledges Pamphlet Series, in Claude Alvares, A Farewell to the Eurocentric Imagination, Penang, Malaysia: Multiversity & Citizens International, 2011, 8 Accessed 3 July 2016.

3 Notes from a lecture given by Linda Martín Alcoff for the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, 17 July 2017, Barcelona.

4 Linda Martín Alcoff, ‘Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types’ in Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, eds Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007, 40.

5 Moana Jackson, “He Manawa Whenua” In He Manawa Conference Proceedings: Inaugural Issue, edited by Leonie Pihema, Herearoha Skipper and Jilian Tipene, 62. Hamilton: Te Kotahi Research Institute, University of Waikato, 2015. Accessed 5 April 2018

6 Some of these questions above come from Linda Martín Alcoff. “Meta-lucidity is theability to see weaknesses of dominant ways of knowing. Understanding our judging practices: How did I come to know? What makes us think the way we think?” Notes from a lecture given for the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, 17 July 2017, Barcelona.