On 17 July the University of Pretoria hosted its tenth public lecture centred on curriculum transformation. The lecture was presented by Professor Shose Kessi, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and acting Dean of the Humanities faculty at UCT. UP’s Vice-Principal, Professor Norman Duncan, welcomed everyone by saying that the decolonial turn lecture series forms part of UP’s ongoing process to decolonise the curriculum.
Prof. Kessi’s lecture entitled “Towards a Decolonial Psychology: Defining and Confining Symbols of the Past” commenced by discussing colonial representations of the black body in art and society. Prof. Kessi explained that public art always functions on a political level, thereby affecting our psyche. While discussing the Cecil John Rhodes statue and Rhodes Must Fall movement, Prof. Kessi said that we must explore “psychological effects of everyday encounters with historical symbols of oppression”. Prof. Kessi explains that as a discipline, psychology focuses on “the relationship between mind and society”. This means that psychology “has much to contribute to a decolonial aesthetic, despite its historical complicity with legitimising forms of domination and control”,says Prof. Kessi. Much of Prof. Kessi’s lecture focused on Photovoice, a visual methodology used for community-based participatory action research.
“has much to contribute to a decolonial aesthetic, despite its historical complicity with legitimising forms of domination and control”
Prof. Kessi explains that Photovoice is a “participatory action research tool that engages groups and communities to tell stories about their lives through photography”. Photovoice provides platforms where participants can represent themselves. This is key to the decolonial project, as methodologies like Photovoice give black people a chance to tell their stories without having colonial symbolisms projected onto them.
Prof. Kessi showed Photovoice studies involving black students at UCT, where they documented their everyday lives on campus through photography and storytelling. She said that Photovoice is an empowering research methodology which leads to a collective consciousness and solidarity, as well as a sharing of stories and experiences and challenges. In concluding, Prof. Kessi said that using methodologies such as Photovoice in the practice of psychology can pave the way for a decolonial aesthetic.
“A decolonial psychology necessitates an engagement with everyday lived experience through participatory and collective forms of community action,” says Prof. Kessi. The lecture was followed by a respondent session with Dr Sithembile Mbete of UP’s Political Sciences department. Dr Mbete discussed three points, the first being on what it means to decolonise. Dr Mbete says that “every human must be seen as a human being […] The way that we have been educated, the way we have organised our political systems, the way we have organised our societies and economies is fundamentally based on not seeing a huge chunk of humanity as human.” Therefore, a step toward decolonising the Humanities is redefining and recognising humanity in its fullest sense.
“A decolonial psychology necessitates an engagement with everyday lived experience through participatory and collective forms of community action”
Dr Mbete said that one of the ways we recognise humanity is through telling stories and that “part of what the decolonial turn is to me is about claiming our ability to tell our stories”. This is why Prof. Kessi’s use of Photovoice is a practical step toward decolonising the psychology curriculum.
This respondent session with Dr Mbete encouraged thought-provoking questions from the attendees, one of which also focused on how to practically decolonise the psychology curriculum. Prof. Kessi explained that often changes in course work rely on individuals. Therefore, there need to be more incentives from institutions, as well as support for change to be effected. In psychology a lot of content can be brought in which is decolonial in nature. This includes social psychology, political psychology, community psychology and critical psychology. Movements and discourses which are fundamentally psychological, such as the Black Consciousness Movement and issues of race, class, gender and identity, should also be included in the curriculum says Prof. Kessi. In terms of decolonising curricula other than psychology, Prof. Kessi says that it is pivotal to engage with the history of the discipline. For example, in critical psychology, you first learn how psychology was complicit in informing racial hierarchies.
UP has hosted several conversations on decolonising the curriculum, including a conference that was held on Future Africa campus from 10-12 July entitled “Unsettling Paradigms, the Decolonial Turn in the Humanities Curriculum”. This conference was part of a five-year institutional collaborative project involving universities from all over South Africa. According to Vice-Principal Prof. Norman Duncan, there will be more public lectures on the decolonial turn and transforming the curriculum later this semester.
Image: Katherine Atkinson