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Sinfree Makoni and Katherine A. Masters

Decolonial scholars are guided by alternative ways of thinking about language and communication that have existed for millennia but have gone unnoticed in scholarship. An approach to communication underwritten by the decolonial approach must be grounded in concepts that expand the repertoires of social emancipation that can constitute alternatives to neoliberalism through emancipatory scripts or social emancipation tropes. There are recent pockets of research in communication studies already working within or advocating decolonial, but such engagement with decoloniality within communication still lies at the fringes of the discipline, even though decolonial approaches can add rich lines of analysis to communication studies. The decolonial turn has the main goal of not only moving beyond, but also inviting relationality with the Western epistemological tradition, putting the Western canon into dialogue with non-Western epistemologies, and decolonizing the assumption of one single epistemic tradition from which to arrive at truth or universality. The decolonization of knowledge is active scholarship (praxis) that seriously considers subaltern racial, ethnic, gendered, and sexual spaces and bodies from the Global South to stop indigenous and subaltern epistemicide. To clarify, decolonial scholars of language and communication do not propose a decolonial universal truth against a modern/colonial one, nor do they adopt varying epistemologies and ontologies into theirs. Instead, they have the goal of building understanding across geopolitical relations. A non-ethnocentric decolonization of communication, then, would require engaging with the processes and products of globalization as entry points into acknowledging the communicative integrity of all positions held by humans within these processes.


The need to de-Westernize and decolonize communication and media studies is based on criticisms on a dominant elitist “Western” axiology and epistemology of universal validity, leaving aside indigenous and localized philosophical traditions originating in non-Western settings. Scholars of the Global South continue to question a dominant inherent Eurocentric bias that was—and continuous to be—underlying many Anglo-American and European research projects. Scholars warn against a persistent influence of foreign-imposed concepts such as modernity and development, as well as universal assumptions regarding the use of certain categories and ontologies to deconstruct and understand the media around the globe. While the West is understood more as a center of power than as a fixed geographical entity, de-Westernization asks for a revision of the power relations in global academic knowledge production and dissemination. The most prominent call for de-Westernizing media studies goes back to Curran and Park who, in the early 2000s, encouraged a Western academic community to revise and re-evaluate their theories, epistemologies, methods, and empirical research approaches, especially in research targeting the Global South. In a similar way, the call for decolonization asks to investigate and question continuing colonial power imbalances, power dependencies, and colonial legacies. It challenges the uncritical adoption of research epistemologies and methods of former colonial powers in solving local problems, as they fail to explain the complexities of non-Western societies and communities, asking for practicing “decolonial epistemic disobedience.” Contrary to de-Westernization aimed at a Western research community, scholars from the Global South have struggled for decades for international recognition of their voices and intellectual contributions to a global academic community. Their ideas draw on post-colonialism, subaltern studies, or a critical-reflective sociology. Different efforts have been made to address the global imbalance in media studies knowledge generation. However, neither replacing theories with indigenous concepts alone nor being relegated to cases studies that deliver raw data will gain ground in favor of countries of the Global South, as research efforts need to incorporate both local realities and wider contextualization, or the call for a research with a region, not just about or from it. More successful are cooperative South-South efforts, as the thriving scholar networks in Latin America, Africa, or Asia demonstrate. The de-Westernization and decolonization project is ongoing. Where inequalities appear most pressing are in resource access and allocation, in conference participation, or in publishing opportunities. In this sense, journalism and media studies curricula still reflect largely an Anglophone centrism and a lack of understanding of local issues and expectations. Here, more reflective de-Westernizing approaches can help to lessen the gaps. However, as de-Westernization relies on vague geographical categorizations, the term cannot be the final path to re-balance the academic knowledge exchange between powerful and less powerful actors.