by João Pedro Braga, Kristin Dilani, and Carles Paré Ogg
The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired vigorous debate on the forms and legacies of colonialism in today’s world. Within the economics discipline, it has motivated an examination of inadequacies in understanding structural inequalities, and as a result, how they are reproduced. It is therefore important that we, as economists and citizens, take an active role in decolonising economics. But what does it mean to decolonise economics? How can students take part in this process?
Many may know the meaning of and understand the need for decolonisation, but are less clear on how to practise it. After all, the language and concepts around decolonisation are often inaccessible to students at first. However, this task is as necessary as it is challenging. As part of the Diversify and Decolonise (DnD) Action circle of Rethinking Economics, we debated these questions and posed them in more accessible terms to students across the network in an Introductory Workshop on Diversifying and Decolonising Economics.
In this blog post, we briefly explain our understanding of the need to decolonise economics by reclaiming its political economy roots via active student participation. We argue that, as young people conscious of the flaws of the mainstream paradigm, students play a pivotal role in this project through campaigning for decolonisation of the curriculum. This post presents some suggested actions to help Rethinkers campaign for the decolonisation of curricula. In addition, we present a non-exhaustive list of resources to help their exploration of the decolonisation of knowledge.
Decolonisation can be understood as a mindset in which the categories of race, gender, power, and privilege are held to be of historical importance to the object of analysis. They form the foundation from which we ask questions. This definition, arrived at after multiple open-ended discussions with students in our action group’s workshop, implies an understanding that:
- The modern world was built on the exploitation and enslavement of African, Asian, and American peoples.
- Colonialism not only coincided with the development of capitalism but it is also foundational to capitalist economic thought and development.
- To successfully exploit these peoples, colonial states developed purportedly scientific concepts of racial superiority as justification.
- The colonial legacy affects knowledge creation by disregarding the role of power and rendering invisible the lives and voices of the global majority who are not European or of European descent.
- A decolonising mindset rejects the structural silencing of non-European voices and seeks to redress it by reframing issues around the experiences of invisibilised people.
Seen from this perspective, the decolonising mindset is important for everyone. Every life has been affected by colonialism, racism, and their intersecting structures, whether as an oppressed majority in the Global South or as beneficiaries of continuing privilege of colonial legacy in the Global North. Indeed, those benefiting from these privileges are often particularly blind to these systemic injustices. The manifestations of privileges in the discipline perpetuate a mindset that hinders critical perspectives, reinforces power imbalances, and undermines the urgent need for decolonization.
A decolonising mindset, however, entails both acknowledging these privileges, but also actively working against such inequalities and inequities. In other words, the decolonising mindset rejects the silencing of non-European voices, rejects racist structures, and seeks to redress this historical imbalance by reframing issues around the experiences of people who have been marginalised.
How to do this in practice? By decolonising the curriculum!
As argued, the decolonisation of economicsimplies a change in perspective towards power and knowledge structures. A decolonised curriculum can act as a catalyst to spur debate and discussion that contributes to this change in perspective. It is therefore important to ask what a decolonised curriculum would look like. In our understanding, it would:
- acknowledge power as a central element of economics, recognising its manifestations in racism, sexism, and every form of discrimination,
- treat equally African, Asian, American, and European philosophy, methods, lived experiences, readings, and writings in the curriculum,
- take a critical, pluralist, and real-world approach to development, including the perspectives of marginalised people on the economy,
- incentivise students to be self-reflective and ask questions about what they are taught, and actively engage and consult them in the education process.
It is important to emphasise that decolonising is a constant process. Every improvement in curricula, institutions, and approaches to our subject of study will open new challenges and further possibilities. A decolonised curriculum will help in institutionalising this self-reflective pursuit of changing the mindset and of systemic change to create a more equitable society.
What is the role of students in the decolonisation of economics?
In this blog post, we have briefly reviewed the ideas and practice of decolonising economics and emphasised the space for ambitious campaigns around this project. A resource-list at the end of this post offers material for a more thorough understanding of the issues at hand. But how do we encourage this change in the curriculum from within the classroom? How can this understanding be put into practice by students? Here, we offer a few suggestions on what can be done by students.
- Curriculum research:
- Investigate an economic issue which is pressing to your national context through a decolonising lens. How to address it?
- Write a short paper by centering non-Western, marginalised scholars. What writers will you discover when you go off the path?
- Building networks:
- Create alternative reading lists. When you’ve got a few books and articles down, why not start a book club?
- Diversify your local group events by inviting researchers from underrepresented backgrounds via the D-Econ Database
- Ask questions:
- Do you feel represented by the type of economics you learn?What do you understand by decolonisation in your context?How can my local group include decolonisation in their events?
- How can I challenge my curriculum to be more diverse?
- Ask lecturers to include curricula that draw upon materials and ideas by non-Western scholars and educators from the Global South,Press lecturers to interdisciplinary engagement with knowledge systems used around the world to make their curricula less Eurocentric,
- Ask for a dedicated of the semester to projects investigating what they think is key to learn in an ever-changing world, especially if this can be done through a decolonial mindset.
Most importantly, share your thoughts and questions! This way we can learn from one another and build momentum for the campaign. Over the coming months, Rethinking Economics will be arranging calls to bring together members of our network to engage in a campaign around the need to #DecolonizeTheCurriculum. Stay tuned, and if you would like to collaborate with the RE network on this topic, then email for more information.
The following resources were collected when writing this piece, during previous collective web searches for other projects, and for our individual reading. They range from the general issues of decolonisation to more specific topic-based ones. The resources selected here are highly coloured by what we found accessible as well as what was materially accessible to us, as we only recently have embarked on this journey. It can be seen as a tentative list, a proposal, which has the aim to somewhat guide first readers who don’t know where to start, especially students. However, it is not an exhaustive list or a finished menu and does not pretend to cover all topics and discussions in the field. We hope it sparks interest of the reader and motivates them to continue discovering the ever-blooming field of decolonisation.
- How can you work to increase the presence and improve the experience of black, latinx, and native american people in the economics profession
- Diagnosing the learning environment for diverse students in introductory economics: an analysis of relevance, belonging, and growth mindsets
- Decolonising quantitative research methods pedagogy
- Mignolo (2007) Introduction: Coloniality of power and de-colonial thinking
- Rethinking Economics – Learning to unlearn to relearn: Using decolonial scholarship to challenge your economics curriculum w/ Michelle Groenewald
- URPE – Decolonizing Economics: A Guide to Theory and Practice
- Plurale Ökonomik – Decolonizing Economics: Perspectives of young African economists w/ Michelle Groenewald, Bandile Ngidi, and Abel Gaiya
- Plurale Ökonomik – Decolonising Economics in Practice in cooperation with D-Econ w/ Danielle Guizzo, Surbhi Kesar, Devika Dutt, and Amir Lebdiou
- Rethinking Economics India – Decolonising Economics w/ Priyamvada Gopal, Carolina Cristina Alves, and Carol Anne Hilton
- The Sociological Review – Decolonising Methodologies, 20 Years On w/ Linda Tuhiwai Smith
- Pluto Press – A Decolonial Feminism w/ Françoise Vergès and Lola Olufemi
 The authors are members of Rethinking Economics International and co-construct its Diversify and Decolonise (DnD) Action circle.
 It is also important to say that this blog post is not an end-all guideline of decolonisation, so if you think there’s something missing here, join us in conversation by email!