Saturday, April 8, 2017

Gender, Racial, Ethnic, and Epistemological Diversity and Inclusion: Beyond Representation in Comparative and International Education

Copyright © José Cossa 

Introduction and Rationale

The issue of representation in any field can be attributed in part to how we understand the fallibility of such a field given certain conditions and, for the most part, to whether a field will survive certain forces at work that are endogenous or exogenous to it. On a conceptual level, I am not aware of any study claiming to fit a CIE framework that has tackled the question of what conditions are deemed necessary (N) and sufficient (S) for the field to be considered representative of and through its three main elements—i.e., comparative, international, and education—nor am I aware of a study that addresses the properties (P) and dimensions (D) that would help conceptualize such representation and representativeness. Pitkin’s conceptual analysis (Pitkin, 1967) emphasizes context, albeit limited to the confines of Western modernity and theorizing, as a key ingredient when trying to understand representation and results in a four-fold classification of representation as formalistic representation, descriptive representation, symbolic representation, and substantive representation. The bi-dimensional formalistic representation, which encompasses authorization and accountability, is characterized by the institutional arrangements that precede, initiate, follow, and terminate such representation; descriptive representation is characterized by “the making of something absent by resemblance or reflection, as in a mirror or in art” (p. 11); symbolic representation is characterized by the meaning that a representative has for those being represented; and, substantive representation is characterized by the “activity of representatives—that is, the actions taken on behalf of, in the interest of, as an agent of, and as a substitute for the represented” (Dovi, 2017).

Pitkins has categorically claimed representation as a modern concept, therefore a concept of modernity dated from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This, we must understand, bears (even if unconsciously or unintendedly) a constraint and commitment to a coloniality embedded in modernity as evidenced in the historicity of representation as a concept that was shaped by Western civilizations and their major turning points (e.g., the American and French Revolutions in which the concept became associated with the ‘rights of men’). Despite this concealment of coloniality in Pitkin’s conceptualization of representation, the etymological argument of representation as re-presentation or making (something) present again can be of great use to today’s scholars concerned with the issue, if representation is to be understood as re-presenting or making (the non-present a.k.a. the marginalized) present again. This, nonetheless, maintains coloniality by maintaining the other as a neglected entity that must be brought to the spotlight as those who are present or those needing to be showcased by the ones holding the spotlight that showcases the humanized. In holding coloniality as a factor in understanding and critiquing representation in light of Pitkin’s already critical, yet limited, conceptualization of representation, one is inevitably bound on a journey that questions our current engagements with advocacy that holds representation as a universal concept and shies away from critiquing the roots of coloniality that have hindered our very understanding of what it means to be human.

Any entity or field interested in addressing issues of diversity and inclusion with earnestness must do so by considering the coloniality inherent in the concept of representation and the power dynamics inherent in negotiations about a wide variety of spaces, since both diversity and inclusion deal with spatial width and spatial depth, respectively, and presuppose special negotiations. Hence, just as representation must ask questions about its own role within coloniality, diversity and inclusion must ask questions of hermeneutical power, a conceptual brainchild of modernity, which is in the heart of the license to create, legitimize, interpret, and apply. Hermeneutical power, in the inequitable sphere that calls for diversity and inclusion, is the attribution of power imbalances to a lack of understanding of both the nature of the implications and the essence of the agreements or documents embodying such agreements (Cossa 2008). Remember that diversity and inclusion are special negotiations, thus agreements are a critical aspect of such negotiations rendering hermeneutical power a force to be reckoned with.  Given its anchor on understanding and interpretation of text, hermeneutical power places the groups proposing the agreements at an advantageous position, thus relegating those others to a position of disadvantage.  Arguably, it is insightful to note that those who propose the agreements, and conceive the documents establishing such agreements, know better the historicity and the language of the documents as well as the essence and the implications of the agreements therein. That is, they know what they seek through these agreements because they “know” the spirit of the document and they perceive the intrinsic and extrinsic meaning and implications of the given agreement.

We should be cognizant of the fact that the “knowledge” of the spirit of an agreement penetrates deeper than the text per se to the sources evoked in the text, i.e., classical authors with theoretical, epistemological, ontological, and axiological kinship to those who propose the agreements. Such kinship or proximity of a particular party and distance of the other, to the classical sources of knowledge inspiring the agreements is essential to the concern with hermeneutical. Thus, degrees of closeness (that is, proximity and distance) to the author’s thought process constitute the measure of mastery of textual content and, in turn, mastery of textual content signifies an ability to manipulate content by unearthing the subtleties concealing essential meanings. This framework is relevant to discussions and spatial negotiations about diversity and inclusion, given the coloniality of hermeneutical power and the coloniality of representation as a hidden face of modernity.

Inherent in the nuances of hermeneutical power is also the fact that closeness and distance leads to mediation between the core, i.e., the institutions or parties who originate the agreements, and the periphery entities, i.e., institutions or constituencies in the represented/receiving end of the agreements.  Since mediators are not from neutral entities, rather personnel with links to core entities (e.g., epistemological and axiological links), mediation results in the preservation of hermeneutical power in that it does nothing to change the spirit of the negotiations, but ultimately enhances the center’s understanding of the periphery.  Thus, mediation becomes a tool to preserve hermeneutical power. As scholars educated in traditions that carry the hidden coloniality of modernity, we often serve as mediators between the core and the periphery; yet, our obscure link to modernity constrains us from engaging in de-coloniality that engenders border-thinking and border-operating.

What then can we say about our field?

These cogitations on the coloniality of representation and hermeneutical power have serious implications on Comparative and International Education scholars’ (un)engagement with epistemological and axiological diversity and inclusion. CIE was founded under classical modernist and classical cosmopolitan perceptions of how the world ought to be ordered (or modernity) and how to nurture planetary conviviality (or cosmolitanism). This order and conviviality informed the way the field was shaped by its founding editors and scholars who surrounded them and continues to shape our engagement with one another as scholars who navigate the complexity of today’s world. While we may fail to see the intricate influence of cosmopolitanism through the lenses of Francisco de Vitoria’s Christianizing design, we may readily see Emmanuel Kant’s secularizing design. Nonetheless, I challenge us to see both designs as inseparable in informing the assumed limits of our present-day conceptualizations of diversity and inclusion in scholarship. Mignolo urges us to look at this intertwining of the religious and the secular designs through the lenses of coloniality as a hidden face of modernity and its condition of possibility (Mignolo, 2000). If diversity and inclusion continue to be addressed within perspectives engendered by narratives of modernity and cosmopolitanism, even if at a critical modernist level, they will rule out the problem of coloniality and fall short of being critically critical. This limitation is also informed by the very classical modernist fallacy that change can only come from within, which is a clear elimination of possibility from without and an exaltation of classical modernity and classical cosmopolitanism as the legitimate sets of designs and projects embodying the formula for human civilization. Following this enslaving and patronizing narrative, it seems like no group operating in spheres external to Western epistemology and axiology can bring about diversity and inclusion, since valid epistemology and axiology informing diversity and inclusion are conceptual properties of modernity and cosmopolitanism. In order to deal with this enslaving and patronizing narrative, Mignolo argues for exteriority as a means to counter the inside yet remain necessary to its eventual transformation. This is an argument I have held for decades in regards to transformation of systems, be it overtly or covertly oppressive. Both exteriority (in Mignolo’s language) and remaining outside (in my language) call for continuing engagement in what happens inside without making the inside the source of the exterior’s existence; in other words, the exterior should be able to know itself outside of the engagement with the interior.

Ultimately, it is noteworthy that changes occurring within the hidden coloniality of modernity do not carry the much needed transformative force, sustainability, and global reach. We must be reminded that when the shift from Orbis Christianus to Orbis Universalis occurred in the Sixteenth Century, it seemed to offer a promise to humanity. However, one should not be fooled by the coloniality inherent in the emancipatory simulation of such a shift. Shifting centers from Christians vs Gentiles (as in Vitoria’s conceptualization of the others as Gentes) to Citizens vs Foreigner (as in Kantian conceptualization of the Western European as citizen) did very little to change the condition of the others. Fast-forward five centuries and we are still imprisoned by both religious and secular classifications of citizens versus aliens. What will distinguish us from previous generations, as we wrestle with representation and (in)equality, is how far are we willing to challenge our own coloniality hidden in modernity, as a set of designs to manage the world, and in cosmopolitanism, as a set of projects dictating planetary conviviality.

[1] Pitkin, H. F. (1967). The concept of representation. Univ of California Press.
[2] Cossa, J. (2008). Power, Politics, and Higher Education in Southern Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.
[3] Necessary, Sufficient, Properties, and Dimensions. For a philosophical treatment of these elements, see Norman Swartz (1997). The Concepts of Necessary Conditions and Sufficient Conditions. Available: