Monday, August 1, 2011
Why are the white folks doing all the talking?
In preparing for my Communication Theory undergraduate course that I will teach this coming Fall, I am struck by the the whiteness of the theories presented in the text I am using in class and by the limitations in seeking to offer alternative worldviews that open up the spaces of pedagogy to imaginations of communication from elsewhere. What is most important to note here is that irrespective of the paradigm of the theories one picks from, the theories are essentially white in terms of where they have been picked from, which theorists talk about them and cite them, the political agendas of these theorists, the ideologies written into the theories, and most fundamentally, the location of the theories within the neo-colonial sites of knowledge production that reestablish the hegemony of whiteness. Inherent in the articulation of the theories in the pages of the texts is an assumption about the superiority of whiteness as the legitimate producer of knowledge. Simultaneously, written into these theoretical articulations then is the undermining of other possibilities from elsewhere as legitimate forms of theory making. I was intrigued by this one section in the opening pages of the text that seemed to demonstrate its liberal openness by discussing the possibilities of Eastern theorizing of communication, and then went on to note how such theorizing was beyond the scope of the book because it dealt with non-linear wholistic concepts that did not really fit into how theories have come to be defined in the discipline. I am particularly intrigued by these so-called liberal theories that propose to listen to voices from elsewhere and then continue to carry out the same logic of building their work in reference to other white theorists, and simultaneously downplaying formations of knowledge from elsewhere (as if these theories from elsewhere are not really theories as understood in the lingos of the institutionalized structures of whiteness). As I think more about this question about what it means to teach communication theory to undergraduate in the US academy or for that matter elsewhere (I could imagine going through the same exercise in seeking to offer a course on communication theory to students in India), I am intrigued by the possibilities that might be opened up in provincializing Europe and in articulating frameworks and agendas that speak from elsewhere. As Dipesh Chakrabarty wonderfully articulates, this position of provincializing Europe takes as reference Europe as the entry point to knowledge. How then does communication theorizing and pedagogy entertain fissures and ruptures that foreground logics from "other" spaces, turning these logics into logics of the center? How does one pedagogically engage possibilities of counterhegemonies from elsewhere? What are my starting points, given the simple and profound ways in which my own being, my understanding of what makes theory and the methods to engage in, are colored with the lens of whiteness?