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BIPR | Decolonizing Politics
Decolonizing Politics

March 4, 2021 - 18:30

Robbie Shilliam, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, US

Event Recap

Professor Shilliam presented his most recent book: "Decolonizing Politics" which tackles how to decolonize the academic study of Political Science. As an introductory tale he spoke of a famous political theorist Aristotle, who he pointed out was also a migrant and refugee and grew up on the 'periphery', not in Athens. Nevertheless, Shilliam argues that the father of Political Science strongly believed in conserving the hierarchies between citizen and non-citizens (slaves and women) in Athens. Then Professor Shilliam asks what would happen if Aristotle discussed his theories of citizenship with Gloria Anzaldúa, a chicanx theorist of borders. She sees border culture as one of constant transformation, and formed by the outcasts of society that reached a mestizo consciousness. Anzaldúa provides a vasty different perspective to Aristotle; where democratic deliberation is the exclusive property of the (male) citizens, and not women, children, or slaves who are not considered citizens.

Using this example, Shilliam proposes three maneuvers to decolonize politics: the first is a recontextualization of political thinkers within their colonial/imperial experiences; the second is reconceptualization of the logic of their arguments based on the colonial context they lived in. The third is reimagination of political science cannons by engaging with those the periphery. Through these three steps, science moves those that have marginalized to the center of theorizing.

Professor Shilliam closed his presentation by challenging the audience to think from the margin and imagine how it could enrich research and thinking. A Q&A followed where the author was asked about his selection of pairing thinkers like Aristotle and Anzaldúa. He replied that it took imagination to search people that were talking about essentially the same thing but in a radically different manner. To conclude Prof. Shilliam was asked about ways to implement this in both syllabus and as students. He stated that for scholars it should be about having a conversation, and letting it shift from the previous expected outcome. For students, he recommended advocating for teaching material that can make sense of the world they currently inhabit as a young generation.

Full Audio:

Decolonizing Politics
International Relations Series

hosted by Professor Nina Hall

Robbie Shilliam
Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, US

Robbie Shilliam is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Shilliam researches the political and intellectual complicities of colonialism and race in the global order.

He is co-editor of the Rowman & Littlefield book series, Kilombo: International Relations and Colonial Question. Shilliam was a co-founder of the Colonial/Postcolonial/Decolonial working group of the British International Studies Association and is a long-standing active member of the Global Development section of the International Studies Association.

Over the past six years, Shilliam has co-curated with community intellectuals and elders a series of exhibitions–in Ethiopia, Jamaica and the UK–which have brought to light the histories and significance of the Rastafari movement for contemporary politics. Based on original, primary research in British imperial and postcolonial history, this work now enjoys an online presence as a teaching aid: Shilliam also works with Iniversal Development of Rastafari (IDOR) to retrieve histories of the Rastafari presence in Baltimore and Washington DC.

Currently, Shilliam is working on three strands of inquiry: firstly, a re-reading of classical political economy through its intimate relationship to Atlantic slavery, with a bearing towards contemporary controversies regarding "social conservatism"; secondly, a retrieval of Ethiopianism as a critical orientation towards global order, especially in terms of its cultivation of a tradition of anti-colonial anti-fascism from the 1930s onwards; and thirdly, South-South anti-colonial connections, especially between peoples of the African Diaspora and indigenous movements.

Shilliam is committed to building capacity in political science and international relations for postcolonial teaching and learning. To that effect, he is presently writing a book for undergraduates which reveals the colonial and postcolonial roots of the academic study of politics as well as providing alternative routes of investigation and understanding.

His latest book, Decolonizing Politics, was published by Polity Press in 2020.
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