Decolonising Multilingualism: Learning to decreate

This is the first of a series of short posts on the lectures and presentations I saw at SOAS’s 5th Learning and Teaching Development Conference.

Prof. Alison PhippsDecolonising Multilingualism: Learning to decreate

Phipps’ keynote examined the role of language in research. She asked the question – How do we research multilingually, especially in the context of Anglonormativity? Vignettes from her work in the AHRC Researching Multilingually at Borders project were used to illustrate the challenges of decolonising multilingualism.

Phipps suggested one of the key problems is the extractivist ideology which academia is based on – likening research to a form of fracking where information is forced out of the subject, whose language is then burnt with the rhetoric of academy.

The project set out to see if it was possible to change the process. Curriculum design is often lengthy and linear; would it be possible to redesign curricula to allow for the influence of the ‘real’ world? An example of the project’s work with the Islamic University of Gaza was used, where students trained to teach Palestinian Arabic. The aim was to develop and open narratives, rather than imposing a singular narrative.

Dancer with Calabash (Owoo, 2017)

Phipps recognised that it’s not easy to achieve such an aim. The challenges were present in the performance she created with the Noyam African Dance Institute. Enabling each participant to speak in their language of choice often made the process slow. Monolingualism may be efficient in the short term, but at what cost? Such an imposition may silence the most vulnerable. Phipps suggested that “devising and improvising” were an essential part of decolonial work. Only in this way can education be collective and transformative. Through the example of dance Phipps evoked a sensuous pedagogy which is the embodiment of mobile learning.

These arguments resonated with me – especially since at various points in my educational journey I have been faced with the truncating ordeal of fitting the multiplicity of sensual experience into the ready-made box of an assignment. Whilst my artistic side is all for promoting creativity, my administrative side questions how easy it would be to assess such production objectively. Nonetheless, it doesn’t have to be a question of either/or. If we truly aim to promote multisensory learning, then we should support this with multisensory assessment tools. In this way, we will enable our learners to develop more holistically. In addition, it will make it hard for essay mills to churn out assignments to order.

Photo source:

Owoo, J. (2017) Restrained movements express misery, agony and strength. Available at: (Accessed: 2 August 2018).


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