As you know we, as Convivial Thinkers, are continously exploring new formats of learning and engagaging with knowledges and especially with communities of knowledge. For that reason, we are extremely happy to host and feature Parinita Shetty and her work by way of text (- this transcript ) and audio (-the podcast conversation between Parinita Shetty, Sayan Dey and Lata Narayanaswamy). When she is not guest podcasting for us, Parinita is exploring how fan podcasts act as sites of public pedagogy by providing a social learning context in informal digital spaces. With her project Marginally Fannish she takes an intersectional lens at online fandom.
In their conversation, Parinita, Sayan and Lata exchange about how collaboratively engaging with knowledge and activism with a wide range of people both within and outside institutionalised academic spaces is crucial. The world we inhabit offers us several different learning opportunities. However, academic structures frequently end up valuing a limited kind of expertise.
Whose cultures, languages, and experiences are considered the default? What kind of knowledge matters? How do you seek alternative communities of knowledge beyond the restrictions of the structure you work in?
If you feel like listening:
If you feel like reading: the transcript follows below.
The world we inhabit offers us several different learning opportunities. However, academic structures frequently end up valuing a limited kind of expertise. Whose cultures, languages, and experiences are considered the default? What kind of knowledge matters? How do you seek alternative communities of knowledge beyond the restrictions of the structure you work in?
Collaboratively engaging with knowledge and activism with a wide range of people both within and outside institutionalised academic spaces is crucial. Academics have the responsibility to make academic knowledge and theories more accessible and relevant to non-academic contexts. Going even further, academics can work with non-academics to create spaces which explore alternate expressions of knowledge and different approaches to knowledge-building. Conversations with diverse groups of people can challenge limited notions of one-way education and academic expertise by moving towards a more inclusive pedagogy. Encountering each other’s diverse – sometimes conflicting – experiences and perspectives in unconventional contexts can help us unlearn our colonised mindsets and discover what we don’t know. Both uncertainty and discomfort hold radically liberating possibilities when it comes to building knowledge, especially when combined with a sincere curiosity to learn from the world.
Find our conversations about all this and more in today’s episode!
(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Parinita: My name is Parinita Shetty and in this episode, I speak with Dr Lata Narayanaswamy and Dr Sayan Dey about unconventional ways of learning and new communities of knowledge and culture. Both Lata and Sayan are part of the Convivial Thinking collective thanks to which we’re exploring critical, collaborative, and creative forms of decolonisation in our conversation today.
Since 2001 Dr. Narayanaswamy has worked as a research practitioner, consultant and most recently lecturer in international development in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research critically reflects on gendered/intersectional and post/decolonial dynamics of development knowledge and its perceived contribution to global development challenges. She is currently involved in applied, interdisciplinary research related to climate change, water security and decolonising development.
Sayan Dey grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. He completed his studies from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and is currently working as Lecturer at the Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. He is also the Senior Advisor of Quality Education Group, Center for Regional Research and Sustainability Studies, India.
I’m a third-year doctoral researcher in the School of Education at the University of Leeds. I’m really interested in exploring how fan podcasts – especially those featuring people from marginalised groups – use the framework of their favourite media texts to share their diverse perspectives and experiences. I’m also passionate about using digital media to make academic research accessible to non-academic audiences as well as to include a diverse range of non-academic voices in academic spaces.
Parinita: Hello! It’s really nice to talk to people who are not just me and my boyfriend and my cat. [laughs] It’s nice to see other faces. I’m just going to start off because we have a lot to talk about. In terms of unconventional engagements with knowledge as well as culture in spaces that are beyond educational spaces or institutional spaces – I do a bit of that in my project, but I was really interested in how you have dealt with that in your own work or otherwise.
Lata: First thank you for inviting me into your podcast world. It’s very nice to be here. It’s difficult because I think it’s the kind of thing that as academics we don’t do enough of, for a start. I think we do tend to think about academic spaces in very narrow ways. Where and how we learn is conceptualised in very narrow ways, right? So you’re in a classroom or you’re in a building; you have to go somewhere. I suppose the most immediately obvious counterpoint in my own life has been just having children and thinking about learning in a much more dynamic way. And trying to instil in them that there’s never an opportunity not to learn from something that’s happening around you or something that you might observe or something that you might see on the news or hear on the radio or an interaction you might have with a friend. You can talk about issues or interesting things or relevant things or share lessons about the world on the walk to school or a picnic in the park. In terms of even more formal kinds of spaces … this was not formal, but another opportunity was during an election, right? Say you go along for a political party and you’re door-knocking. I did that in the last election in the UK – and less said about that, the better, in terms of the outcome. But certainly, in thinking about what it might mean to actually knock on somebody’s door and have a conversation about the things that matter to them and then finding that common ground. And seeing that as integral to shared learning or co-production and enriching myself. I don’t mean that in a selfish way; but I think it’s about approaching learning and academia as a two-way street. And I think there’s a tendency in lots of educational contexts to see education as a one-way street. In academia we’re particularly bad. And in higher education too, there is a framing of expertise: “I’m the person that knows stuff and I’m going to impart to you all this wisdom that I have.” And I’m very keen that we turn that on its head. I do think that’s possible within the classroom and we can have more dynamic and inclusive pedagogical approaches. But I really think it’s about trying to think through how we can not only create but also seek out those opportunities to have conversations in more diverse contexts and with a greater diversity of people.
Parinita: Um hmm.
Lata: I think as academics, we have a responsibility to do that, if I’m honest. And I don’t know that we have the tools or the language to do it. But it would be something that I’d want for us to be exploring more collectively. Even you and I being on a picket line; I mean that’s an opportunity to have a conversation. Not just about your cat or your breakfast – although we can have that conversation too. But how do we expand our educational engagements? And who do we bring into that space with us? How do we learn from it? They’re different questions. I don’t think we ask those questions enough in academia.
Sayan: Just to continue with where Lata stopped. As Lata also mentioned categorically, to balance the academic and the non-academic spaces I think we often talk about activism within and outside the academia. It’s easy to talk; it’s interesting to talk; it’s nice to quote theorists and show off how much we have read. But when it goes into the question of application, we see a whole lot of challenges. Personally, I think that there’s this process of engaging within and beyond academia at the same time, it’s not an “I” thing, it’s a very “we” thing. I alone can’t do anything. Alone I can sit and talk a lot, but if I have to do something, alone I can’t do anything. With respect to the things that Parinita and I were talking about just a few moments back before the recording started, you were sharing how did you meet Lata and then how did you take up your conversation. And that was a collective space. That was a collective space where you met, where you started engaging. And I think that engagement was not just an engagement of “hello” and “hi”. But it was that moment where you were creating knowledge; you were altogether weaving new dimensions of intellectual ideas outside the restricted academic space. Coming back to our personal engagements with everyday decoloniality, I usually engage with lots of people – with respect to podcasts, with respect to interactions, with respect to writings and readings and engaging – and Lata is an integral part of that. As an individual in relation to others, I try to understand how can I engage with decolonial practices in everyday life. Now let me give you very, very basic examples. So for instance, I have a problem in using a spoon and fork while eating. And that is a physical problem; it’s not an ideological problem. So basically, I’m not very comfortable, to be very honest and blunt. Now if someone is having bread and a cup of tea in a roadside restaurant in India, that person is not really concerned whether he is eating with one hand or two hands. But if that same person goes to a 5-star restaurant, that person is extremely concerned; that person is extremely aware and he’s trying to use the tea and fork thing when he’s not going to do the same thing in a roadside restaurant. But for me, I find it quite problematic; this practice is quite problematic. It’s a cultural problem, it’s a social problem, it’s a racial problem. It has its roots in the colonial ethics and morals that we still follow consciously or unconsciously. So wherever I go, whether it’s a roadside open shop or it’s a 5-star restaurant, I’m going to use my hands. And I really don’t care if people are shrugging, they’re sniggering, because that’s not my problem. I’ve gone to savour the food and I like the food and I just come back. It’s as simple as that. And I pay money for that so I’m not stealing. So that’s perfectly fine. So from all respects, I am safe there. This is one such example. The second thing I can tell you is with respect to the concept of languages. I don’t know if it is there in the UK, but in Indian schools, if you go to the English-medium schools in general – and I’m pretty sure Parinita also has that experience – you will see when the teachers teach us English, they have this tendency of imposing the typical UK-styled English or the US-styled English on the students. Let me give you another very basic example. If suppose in a parents-teachers meeting, parents ask the teachers, “I want to see my kid improving spoken English. What should I do?” The teacher will always say – usually, not always – that “Okay ask them to watch a BBC; ask them to watch a CNBC; ask them to watch a Star Movies; ask them to watch an ESPN.” I mean there are English-speaking channels in India as well. You have English-speaking news channels – sensible news channels are there as well, along with several non-sensible news channels. But there are places where people can learn. So why by default, consciously or unconsciously, we have to make a consistent reference to Western dimensions, Western parameters? So I think this process of questioning through action, not questioning just as questioning. Questioning through action living as examples, within and outside the academic space. Because these examples cannot only be set within the academic space. Obviously, we need to discuss, we need to theorise, we need to problematise, we need to unsettle. But also, we need to continue it beyond the academic space through making it as a part of practice of our daily existence, individually as well as collectively. And this is how I try to do that, and these are some of the things I would like to share.
Parinita: I totally connect with what both of you are saying. For me, I’ve grown up in Bombay and I went to one of those English-medium schools; a Catholic school actually, because there was the imposition of English in India. At least when I was growing up, the perception was that the nuns teach you better English. So as a part of social mobility, that’s where you go to learn better English. And because I’ve grown up in India and because most of the stuff I grew up reading was British children’s literature or American children’s literature and then American media, for me, it was this colonised mindset –that I’m still trying to unlearn – that English is better than other languages. And because you grow up in the space, nobody is disrupting that thinking and nobody is really questioning that. Because that’s the world that you live in as well, right? If you don’t have any social or financial capital or any sort of help there, you are reliant on employers who might then look at your English and decide that if you don’t speak good English, you’re not as intelligent as someone who speaks English. And for me, the framework of learning to think and unlearn this social conditioning has largely been online honestly, and specifically through fandom. The school that I went to, they didn’t teach you to think critically at all. They just taught you what to think and that’s what you write in your exam papers. And you don’t understand the context or you don’t understand enough to question. There’s no questioning at all; questioning is not allowed. And even though I was in Mumbai which is a fairly big city, you still have a small social bubble so you still have mostly people who are like you. And it’s only through fandom, Harry Potter fandom specifically, which is where my unlearning started. Because it’s such a globally popular text, the fans came from a wide range of backgrounds, and that’s where I learned things about decolonisation and queerness. Recently because of J. K. Rowling’s transphobia, there’s been more talk about that. And that’s a whole education in itself. You’re both marginalised and privileged in this space. As someone who’s grown up in India, you think fandom and everything happens in the West and then you see that oh there are other people like you. For me fan podcasts more recently have been such a fantastic way to learn and unlearn things. Because more and more people, especially fans who are from marginalised backgrounds, are using the fictional framework, are using this language of Harry Potter or Doctor Who or Marvel or whatever, which everybody knows, and then pushing against that. They love these texts – we love these texts – but we are unpacking the more problematic elements of it. I think that’s fantastic because in academia, I still don’t really see myself. I don’t really feel quite comfortable in academia because none of my parents went to university and onto higher education or a PhD or anything. So I still feel like I’m conning academia in a way; that I’m doing fan studies and intersectionality and podcasts. And I’m like, “Wait, they’re allowing me to do this?” And I don’t really see me being in academia at all after that. Even though I think there would be – there should be room for it. Like what you were saying, Lata, about what kind of language is acceptable and who has expertise and what kind of knowledge matters – I think that should be expanded. But I think academia is still a little hesitant to do that; not people within it but structurally, it is quite reluctant to do these things. The podcast that I’m doing for my PhD research – my supervisors, everyone, was super happy for me to do it as a research method. And they also suggested I present my PhD thesis as a podcast which they thought makes sense in terms of my focus on co-creating knowledge outside the academy and in online spaces. But then the university itself is not comfortable with that. And podcasts aren’t even this new-fangled technology; they’ve been around for a really long time. With the episodes so far, I’ve reached a fair amount of people. It’s not a huge number, but it’s much more than a journal article in traditional academic language and structured traditionally or a PhD thesis would have reached. It’s not just me saying my expertise, it’s me trying to learn from other perspectives as well. My podcast is a fan podcast, and we’re aiming an intersectional lens at both fandom and some of our favourite media. Since I tried to recruit co-participants online, it reached a fair amount of people. So I have people from diverse countries and they all have their own – our own individual social contexts and political contexts. So we do bring that in and we learn from each other. Which I think is really valuable. But I don’t think it’s as valued in the university, unfortunately. How do you try and seek this community, this community of knowledge, elsewhere if it isn’t being given space in the structure that you’re working in? How do you think you can do that or people can do that?
Sayan: I think one of the basic ways from where we can start and actually from where we are all starting, is collaboration. Because collaboration is something that always gives us the option to stay within academia, just within that space if we feel like; but at the same time to disentangle ourselves from those narrow restricted spaces of this academic system and indulge with people who are working right in the field as activists, performers scholars, musicians – whatever or whoever it is. To stay within and beyond at the same time. Nowadays, for example, whenever we have these academic events, amongst many institutions I am seeing changes which is actually making me feel very happy and also very optimistic of the transformations. Earlier there was this notion that a keynote speaker has to be the so-called seasoned academician with a fat CV and a huge number of publications and a massive resume. The bio note will be read for the first fifteen minutes and then the lecture starts. These kind of usual categorisations are getting broken. We see activists coming up. We see people who may not be very well-known – so-called “very well-known” in terms of publications and all – but have significant contributions to the ground-level towards their respective communities and societies. And they are coming up in that academic stage to share. And that is how now the direction is changing. Earlier there was this notion that activism travels from academia to the society, and not the other way round. Now because of this unidirectional dimension, till now what happened is that the battle of control remained in the hands of the academic system. And they have been acting not less than the colonial empire. And they have been regulating it in their own manner and using it for their self-centred needs. But now when it is happening the other way round, it is also dropping a strong message that sure, we are ready to learn from you, thank you so much, we need to learn from you. And you also need to learn from us. So this process is not a unidirectional journey. It’s an exchange as well. For instance, last year I think it at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa who started their first decolonial summer school. Now during the decolonial summer school, obviously they had lecturers from academicians like Professor Nelson Maldonaldo-Torres, Ramon Grosfoguel and several others who came up and delivered lectures; but that was not the end of the story. They also invited activists, local activists. They invited local dancers, they invited local musicians. And they were brought to the central academic space to make the people understand that how at the very basic social level, the process of decolonisation takes place. Because obviously we read a lot of theorists but when we go to the very ground level, it is impossible for us to exactly interpret or reflect on the theories in those exact terms and languages. We have to do it in a completely different manner so that it is relatable and connected to people as well. So I think one of the major ways through which we can do it is to build collaborations which actually gives us the opportunity that if academic space is not allowing us, it doesn’t mean that my all the doors are shut. I have other branches open, other channels open, where I can take out the activism there and channelise it among the folks.
Parinita: Based on what you said, I think sometimes academia tends to value and privilege theory too much without exploring how it is done by people, perhaps without using those terms, but people are still doing it. Intersectionality, for example, is something that I encountered online for the first time. I know that there’s this huge history of scholarship and activism in it as well. But thanks to the internet there’s more everyday engagement with it. And it might not be perfect, but it’s not like scholars are perfect, right? There’s always debates happening within journal articles and papers slamming each other’s ideas and theories and stuff. So that’s what’s happening online. But online there is no one person to say this is correct or this is wrong. You’ll get into fights and things but you’re still trying to form your own ideas about it. And it’s valuable even for someone like me, who’s largely a lurker. Apart from my PhD podcast now, I don’t really write long articles or anything about this. But I’m learning a lot from what other people are saying. During my master’s, there was this lecture about critical literacy and it was a term I’d never encountered before. It basically means unpacking the meanings in texts and all the multiple layers and questioning everything; questioning what’s written, questioning social norms, political norms. And I was like, I haven’t learned this myself in school, but I have seen fans doing this online. But they wouldn’t call it critical literacy. Similarly with intersectionality. Because I listen to a range of fan podcasts made by trans fans, gay fans, black fans … not Indian fans so much, it’s largely in the West still. But they are bringing their perspectives into it and into the text that they are analysing. They’re maybe not calling it intersectionality, but that’s still what they’re doing. And I think that also needs to be valued. Or maybe not valued; the fans don’t care if academics value them or not. But I think academia is losing out on not seeing these other cultures of knowledge and communities of knowledge.
Lata: I’m thinking about what you’re both saying. It’s just fascinating because to go back to the point you made about how do you create these spaces and what do we do, I’m actually struck by how in a way what you’re describing, Parinita, is about our academic responsibility to be speaking to people about those connections. And Sayan, everything you said is very relevant about bringing more people into that space, valuing different people, different types of knowledge; let’s not valourise expertise at the expense of this. I totally a hundred per cent agree with all of that. If you want to be what you might call an activist academic, or somebody who wants to bridge that gap, then we have a responsibility to try to create that bridge in our engagements. So, for instance, what you’re describing, Parinita, about people who might be doing critical … um what did you call it?
Lata: Critical literacy. But actually, the responsibility we have as academics is to make things like theory accessible. I actually think we have a responsibility to do that. Even in my teaching, I always describe theories as, “This is fancy social science way of describing X, Y and Z.” I don’t believe that theory exists separately to the world that we live in. The best theory is absolutely grounded in the world; that’s what it is about. It’s about finding a way of explaining multiple things at the same time. That’s all theory is. And if the theory doesn’t do what we need it to do, then I need to either make up or find another theory. That for me is very important. It’s almost like having a platform and the power. It’s like having a power and wanting to use it for good, right? If I am given the platform as an academic to speak, then I have a responsibility to not only say things that bring people in, but actually to make space for more people. I have a responsibility. And I suppose it’s not just about being an academic, it’s anybody that has power. In my view, that power best exercised is about actually trying to make sure that more people have power, right? It’s not about consolidating it and keeping it to myself. Now obviously I use power very loosely. It’s not like I have a huge amount of power as an academic. But in whatever way I’m able to, I think, is a key responsibility. So Sayan what you’re describing is absolutely right. If I’m going to put together a conference or if I’m going to put together a workshop, then if I’m the organiser, I take on the responsibility of bringing more people into the space and making the argument for why they need to be there. If I have the power to do that, I need to use it. And I see the same thing about how we engage. I’ve had quite a few opportunities recently, it’s been wonderful. Obviously, the pandemic’s a disaster, there’s no two ways; I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But if there’s been one ever-so-slightly silver lining, it has been that because everybody seems to be moving online it has facilitated my engagement in spaces that I probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do. Whether that’s because of work, I don’t have time to travel, I’ve got other responsibilities, so I can only do so many things. Now I’m at home and I’ve got my computer so suddenly I can be involved in all sorts of things. I can be in one event in the afternoon and another event in a completely different time zone in the evening. That’s actually been a really positive thing. And the result of that has been then again to think about how can I use that platform to try to make some of these arguments but make them accessible, inclusive. How do I bring people into this space and to make it seem as if it should matter to other people? So even those arguments around decoloniality, the thing that I find deeply frustrating is that – and I also work around gender – so whether it’s decoloniality or gender, it’s like, “Oh well if you’re white, decoloniality has nothing to do with you.” Or “Oh if you’re a man, gender has nothing to do with you.” And it’s about actually pushing back and saying okay, let’s have these debates. And my responsibility is at least partly to say, okay why did these issues or these theories or these activist voices – why did they matter to you? How do we bring you into that space in a way that you feel that this becomes your responsibility as well? And if I have any power to affect that kind of change, I actually think it is also then about bringing people into that dialogue who think that they shouldn’t be there. So for me, whether it’s around decoloniality theory to practice, I think as academics, if you’re going to be critical decolonial transformative academics, that is part of your job. You’re like a translator. In a way it goes back to the earlier part of our conversation, because I don’t think academia has any tools for us to do this. I feel like you’re just making it up on the fly. You do it out of a sense of commitment, you do it out of a sense of love even. But also a commitment to want to see the world work differently. But I would also agree that there is no roadmap. I mean it’s interesting, Parinita, what you describe about engaging with fan podcasts as a sort of learning journey for you. And it suggests again, like your original question, education doesn’t just happen in classrooms. Not that I’m saying we should make a roadmap. That suddenly we should turn around and try to turn that into expert knowledge. But certainly, an acknowledgement that the ways in which we might engage with these different pluriversal arguments or decoloniality or expanding our views on education – the pathways for that are not linear at all. And I suppose if I thought of myself as an activist academic, what I want is to be supportive of pluriversal approaches to education where we can acknowledge that learning and engagement and change happens in lots of different ways and through lots of different pathways with lots of different people. And it might be in unpredictable ways as well. We’ve just got to keep making the argument, keep trying to do this. And what might come of that is not predictable – and actually that’s okay. We have to learn to live with a little bit of uncertainty. And Sayan’s point about it’s not “I”, it’s “we”; that eventually the more people you bring in, the power of that collective, you will eventually be the change you want to see.
Parinita: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic point, what both of you brought up. Lata, what you were saying in terms of how you are now able to engage with more spaces online because of the pandemic, it’s the same with me; I’ve been able to do that as well. At the same time, I’ve also been following these conversations on Twitter that disabled academics and academics with caregiving responsibilities have been wanting these spaces so much for so long. And it had been completely possible to do it as well because the technology was there. The technology has been there, but the will wasn’t. Nobody really wanted to do it until there was no other option. And then suddenly, “Oh right, it’s the easiest thing to do to!” To stream these things online and to have it on YouTube and not just make it accessible to fellow academics but to people who don’t have access to academia. Because that’s also a privilege, right? Getting into a university, for whatever reasons isn’t available to everybody – your money, country, regional origin or other stuff. You may still want to learn but you’re unable to learn because you don’t have the money, because you have other responsibilities; and that’s such a shame. Which is why I totally resonate with making academic knowledge more accessible to people – both academics but also, more importantly, non-academics – in a way that also privileges their voices and their experiences as well. So it’s not just academics talking about this sub-group of people but actually, we are that group of people and we’re bringing that experience together. Both of you have very different ways that you’ve done that either through podcasting or even the blog Convivial Thinking. Do you want to talk about your projects or your work a little bit? And how you’ve tried to make that more accessible?
Sayan: Talking about my project. Obviously, it’s not just one project; I have been engaging in different types of projects. But in relation to what we have been talking about right now, what Lata and Parinita mentioned, in context to balancing, trying to create a bridge between the academic space and the non-academic space – the challenges and the possibilities. One thing I have been trying to do since last year, I use this podcast as a tool to do that, as you have been doing. In alignment with what Parinita just mentioned with how she has been able to position her understandings with respect to research and many things beyond that – not only within the constricted academic space but also outside as well, trying to compare them, balance them – the same thing happened for me. One of the central reasons why I wanted to do a podcast series on everyday decoloniality – which actually started with an idea of three podcasts and then it expanded to twelve to thirteen podcasts – the basic idea was actually to bring these ideas of coloniality to the common people and those who may not have read anything about decoloniality; who may not be acquainted with the term decoloniality. There can be some people who will just hear the term and will like to know what is decoloniality all about? And that person may not be an academician. That person can be a roadside vendor – what is wrong in that? A person can be a vegetable seller, a hotel person, someone who goes to the office and works, and someone who is driving the car and just wanted to listen – what is this buzz everyday decoloniality all about? So my central idea behind that podcast was that. And I started having researchers, I had academicians, I had activists, I had musicians, I had film actors, who just came in and talked from multiple dimensions of decoloniality. Multiple dimensions with respect to race, with respect to classroom, with respect to pedagogies, with respect to performance, with respect to music – different dimensions came into the conversation. In fact, I had a very interesting conversation on music with Professor Lewis Gordon, who writes a lot about blues and jazz, and we had a fantastic conversation on that. Apart from these academicians, we had several other people who were not exactly seasoned so-called academicians like professors and all; they are some researchers and performers. And the interesting part is – which I actually share with people with extreme happiness and pride – one of the biggest fans of my podcast was my dad, actually. Obviously one side of happiness is it’s my dad, but my dad has been a 9-to-5 banker and he likes to read a lot of books, he likes to read a lot of story books and newspapers, watches news channels, he analyses things good. But he has no connection with decoloniality, even with this term, in any way in his life till date. But he became a fan. And the best part was that every time he would listen to the podcast, he would give his interpretations, he will try to understand, and he was able to understand the essence of the podcast without me giving any background of that. And I felt that was somewhere a little bit I succeeded. Because an individual – I’m forgetting about the part that he’s my dad, I’m just taking him as an individual who has no connection with this notion of decoloniality to any extent and he could understand the essence of that particular thing. And he would ask questions and those questions were literally very critical questions. It’s not just random questions – “I did not understand” or something like that. And then he would also give his analysis with respect to his life experiences which he will start recovering from his childhood – which he never did that previously. So this is one example. Apart from that, it just touched so many people who have never been associated with this. I have one of my aunts who started listening to it; who has no, no, no connection with any kind of decoloniality. Now I’m not saying I have done a massive job, or I have done a revolutionary thing. But we start with drops of water and drops of water makes an ocean. And it gives me a lot of courage to see that somewhere somewhat even the common people are not only able to understand the essence of this podcast, but they can also unsettle themselves and self-realise that what they have been engaging with on various dimensions was not actually on their own. It was actually enforced by an external power. It encourages me to, as you say, you also want to do a Season 2, that encourages me to do a season 2 as well. Podcasting acts as a tool through engaging with ideas which are critical but at the same time that are also relatable to any layman who has no connection with it. So somewhere somewhat I feel that process of unsettling, the vision of unsettling, which I started with, it has started somewhere.
Lata: I admire Sayan for how much he gets done.
Lata: We can only all wish to be as productive. And I’m not exactly tech-savvy. In fact, setting up this Zoom meeting is a superb accomplishment for me.
Lata: For all the Zoom meetings I’ve been doing over the last six months, I only realised two weeks ago that I never set one up myself.
Parinita: And it’s really easy, right? Once you just sit down and do it, you’re like, oh yeah this is easy.
Lata: Yeah. It must be reasonably intuitive because I’m not … I’m comfortable talking online, talking to you both, wonderful, fine. But the actual nitty-gritty of setting it up. So anyway, the point is, my instinct is not to do this. Not because I don’t want to but I don’t have the skills. To go back to your question, my engagement with Sayan came through Convivial Thinking. And I wouldn’t want to take any credit for either conceiving of this space or curating it because I have only been an admiring bystander and just trying to be supportive of the principles. But I can’t claim any sort of authorship of design or drive because my head doesn’t work that way. But I admire it greatly. Having said that, obviously I am in the Convivial Thinking collective and obviously that’s how I’ve gotten to know Sayan which has been just a huge privilege. And engaging with people who are motivated that way is also really inspiring for me. Not so inspiring that I feel like I can get my head around web design. Right, there are limits.
Lata: But inspiring enough that it’s really easy. I like to think of myself as the marketing. When I was actually going places, I had my pile of Convivial Thinking postcards and I would sit and chuck them out at people and go, “Oh by the way, I support this website.” And it’s great because I find it really easy to promote things that I admire and people I admire. That’s a lot easier than talking about anything to do with myself. It’s really easy to go, “Oh I have all these fantastic colleagues doing this brilliant website. Here, have this postcard!” That’s been one element of just trying to get the message out in terms of thinking that there’s an alternative space. One of the things that we’ve talked about – Sayan and Aftab and Julia and I – over email, queries will come up about things to do with the website. So the really positive thing about the website is actually the way it was established and the purpose of establishing it. It was very much driven by, “Okay, how do we create a space for alternative – not just alternative knowledges but alternative expressions of knowledge and debates about alternative expressions of knowledge?” There’s all these different things that are similar, not the same but they’re interacting – what it is but how you get it. Even what is alternative knowledge? Who gets to decide what alternative knowledge is? Or who gets to decide what knowledge is and then what the alternative is? The difficulty of the language. As soon as you talk about alternative knowledge, well that mainstreams a certain kind of knowledge – that’s the expert academic knowledge and you’re othering the rest of it. Trying to have these debates has been really amazing. And again, I can’t take any credit for the innovation at all, but the fact that Convivial Thinking now has a YouTube channel. So, Parinita, the kind of thing you’re saying about the internet creating these opportunities, and Sayan, you’re absolutely right; both of you are saying things which are super important in the sense that there are concerns around digital literacy, there’s different types of exclusion that we have to be aware of and I think we are. But the fact is we can diversify our audiences and reach people we couldn’t reach, right? That is and continues to be a motivation. And, in fact, I actually originally was connected to Julia through an online conference that I did in 2017. But I outsourced the tech end of it because I wasn’t going to manage it! And I didn’t have the license with the software anyway. But it was motivated by similar sorts of concerns and I think that’s what connected us and why she reached out to me in the way that she’s so fantastic at doing, and then connected me to Sayan and Aftab which has been amazing. And why actually, Parinita, when we met on the picket line, you were very much a kindred spirit. Because it was almost like these constellations of all these wonderful people coming together who have all these again, different approaches to knowledge building – which I don’t have but admire and want to promote. So for me, maybe actually what it is is I’m actually your fans.
Lata: I’ve got my own little decolonial fandom. I know who I wanted to promote so that’s very much where I situate myself. With some exceptions; I’ve written the odd blog here and there and I’ve tried to support where I can. But I’m very much the fan or the admirer as opposed to curator of content. And I think that’s great. And in a way actually it’s a wonderful position to be in. Because even in my positionality as an academic, I quite like taking the time to reflect and to use that position, which I think is incredibly privileged; to actually reflect on what I don’t know and the messages that I can promote that aren’t mine. That’s actually a really nice thing. I don’t actually like talking about myself – what’s the fun in that? Whereas I can talk about all these other people that I know who are people doing fantastic work. Let’s talk about that! That’s going to be great. We did this online conference and similar sort of issues would come up and we did it as text-based thing, so you post stuff. But one of the things even in 2017, before we had a pandemic and this became a necessity, was again to try and reach people that might not be able to travel, might not be able to get a visa. So these debates are happening and you’re always trying to either curate or involve yourself try to build more dynamic spaces to include more people. But there are limitations. And I think that’s the thing with Convivial Thinking. We’re always trying to overcome and trying to be more nuanced in that. So obviously there’s the actual thing about inclusion/exclusion and around digital literacies; have I even got an internet connection? So we’re not going to get to everybody. And I think upfront we get that. Then there’s those layers that you’re trying to unpack that start to make the project in a way more important and also more interesting and more of a challenge, as some things you simply cannot overcome. The most immediate one that we talk about most often is obviously the absolute hegemony of the English language, right? So we had a colleague in Leeds, for instance, who wanted to write in a kind of mixture of Spanish and English. And we were like, yeah! Totally. Go for that, please do, that would be wonderful. Because that’s how she wants to express herself. And we’re like, yeah that sounds wonderful. So she did and that was amazing. Laura Loyola-Hernandéz did that and it was wonderful but it’s a limitation, right? It’s still text. So this podcast again offers a counterpoint to that, that’s wonderful. But again is there bandwidth to run audio files? There are other sorts of things that might come out of that. But things like performance, poetry, photography, video images … I mean there are still barriers. We have to be mindful of the fact that we are still creating different types of inclusions and exclusions. But I would say overall that it shouldn’t still stop us from exploring both alternative knowledges or different knowledges or pluriversal knowledges but also pluriversal approaches to knowledge-building. So it shouldn’t be a limitation. To go back to your original question, Parinita, actually being involved with Convivial Thinking in itself has been hugely enriching. Because the engagement – whether it was the online conference early on where you’re having to actively confront it but now with Convivial Thinking, in very much a support role – is still a fantastic education for me. The challenge has been how do I take that learning around inclusion/exclusion – the new dynamics that emerge – and then try to apply that in my own academic spaces; in the conversations that we’ve been having about how do we include more people or more views? And rehearsing that in a way has been hugely valuable because I think I am now thinking about things that, if I hadn’t been involved with Convivial Thinking, wouldn’t have even occurred to me. So again, selfishly maybe, it’s been hugely valuable – that engagement. And this kind of conversation even today, what a great learning opportunity, again, selfishly for me.
Parinita: But that’s brilliant. And that’s something that you said, Sayan, as well about it being collaborative. For me, that’s one thing that I sort of had a hint about when I launched my project properly in January but now I’m even more determined about this, that knowledge is so much more enriched when it’s co-created through dialogue because you don’t know what you don’t know. And you only learn these things when you’re talking to people. Like the blind-spots that you have, you don’t even know they’re blind-spots. And obviously it’s a lifelong process of unlearning and relearning and even identifying first of all that social conditioning and then undoing that. So Sayan, you used the term common people, which I thought was really interesting because I very much see myself as common people. I don’t see myself as an academic. I don’t know if that’s raging imposter syndrome – I’m sure it is. Because before I did my master’s, I’m a children’s book writer so I work with children’s books and young people in different ways. I’ve worked in a school, I’ve done activities, I’ve worked in bookshops. So for me, that was my engagement with knowledge as an adult, a newish adult, in the beginning – getting kids excited about books because they were so important to me. But with kids who are more reluctant, who didn’t already think books were awesome, I had to trick them into making it more fun; so I used to design these activities and have conversations with them. I did this reading programme in a school which was largely first-generation English-speakers. So how to make them connect to this picture book that I’m reading that’s set in France maybe or the US or the UK or different parts of India? I used to start off with asking them a question that was sort of related to the book, but then ask them to contextualise it in their own lives. Like what was your favourite breakfast, for example, or something like that. They had to buy into the book first and drawing connections from their own lives helped. I’ve done other activities as well in schools and outside, in bookshops and literature festivals. So when I came into academia – as you were saying, Lata, theory is important – but for me, theory is important in the lived experience of people rather than in just reading about it.
Lata: Yeah absolutely. I agree.
Parinita: So I’m reading about this in academia, but I’m always drawing connections to my experiences and through second-hand experiences as well. Which is why in the podcast, maybe that’s why I wanted to not privilege just my own voice; I’m not comfortable privileging my own voice because I don’t think I know too much. I know children’s books, but I don’t know so much. So like you said, selfishly, it’s me trying to learn through other people’s perspectives. I obviously have these ideas and theories, I have some level of knowledge; but it is very incomplete knowledge which other people help fill in. Especially people who come from different backgrounds. I think intersectionality includes decolonisation as well. It has its roots in Black feminism in the US so originally it looked at class and race and gender and sexuality – how they intersect and affect black women’s lives in the US. But now, in academia and, for me, online discussions have expanded it to look at other identities as well. So we’re talking about it in terms of how we’re both privileged and marginalised. You’re both. Even when you’re marginalised in spaces, you still have other levels of privilege. And they’re also very contextual. Like my identity in India is very different from my identity as a brown immigrant in the UK, for example. So we’ve been talking about all these things. I’m cisgender, I’m heterosexual – so for me, those are blind-spots as well. And I don’t have any identified disabilities. So for me, talking to people about their experiences is so much more valuable than … reading is important as well, obviously. I read theory in academia and things but they’re living in it. Their practice is informing their theory almost, which for me is hugely valuable. And what you were saying, Lata, about the exclusions and inclusions in digital literacy as well. I find that really fascinating because I’ve learned so much just by making a podcast. I’d never made a podcast before I jumped off the deep end of the pool like, “Oh yeah I’ll do this for my PhD!” And I’ve just learned so much. I’ve been a very online person since I was sixteen, I think. I’ve just grown up online. So I’m comfortable with online things; I like learning new things. But I think everybody has more skills than they give themselves credit for. Like for you, Lata, once you actually sat down to do Zoom, it was easy enough for you. So I’m sure you have more skills than you think you do.
Lata: I’m not sure about that. [laughs]
Parinita: [laughs] When you were talking about digital exclusion and inclusion, I think there’s more nuance to that as well. In a previous podcast episode for my podcast, we were talking about this newspaper called Khabar Lahariya, which is a rural newspaper in India. I don’t know how much you know about it but it was started by this woman to look at local news and rural news.
Parinita: And she had women as journalists and as distributors. And after a few years, they have transitioned online. So their news is now on Facebook, through WhatsApp, through Telegram. And they’ve done it so much better than a lot of bigger newspapers have managed to do. They are so with it. I think that disrupts these notions as well; maybe not of people who know about it, but even in India, in Indian cities, for example, we have these ideas about rural women. Like, “Oh these rural women are doing all this?! We didn’t know. Phones! What?! Digital literacies?!” So I think that’s really interesting. In terms of your own experiences, in terms of literacy, have you engaged with multiple kinds of literacies or multiple kinds of knowledges as well while doing these things we’ve been talking about?
Sayan: Well multiple forms of literacies … now this perspective makes me think about what other various ways we gain knowledge. And this process of gaining knowledge, to my best I try to be conscious to understand it away from that capitalistic concern of knowledge production. So when I say gain knowledge, I don’t mean that “knowledge production” thing. So I’m keeping that aside. If I again go back to my individualistic as well as collective practices of what I engage with everyday decolonial thinking and doing, I feel that what I read in the text and what I do in the context – somewhere somewhat I always try to relate that. So to give a very simple and a straightforward example, when I’m eating a particular food item, I’m getting my certain tastes in my tongue, for sure, and whether I’m liking or disliking the food. But it’s much beyond that. I am gaining a form of cultural knowledge even in my process of disliking that. Even if I’m disliking that, still I am gaining a kind of cultural knowledge and gaining a kind of social knowledge, a racial knowledge, a geographical knowledge and varieties and various dimensions of knowledge. So for me, that context is the text for me at that time. Like if I’m wearing a particular dress, on a particular occasion. Now for instance there are various ways of drinking alcohol in Bhutan which is actually absolutely very interesting. You don’t drink the same kind of alcohol in all the occasions. So, for example, the interesting part is that they drink alcohol on every occasion. So if you compare it with the Western concept, to be very specific about the colonial West, alcohol is an element of celebration. Some will interpret alcohol as an element of violence. But here, alcohol underlies every aspect. So if there is a birth, for example, when a child is born, the ritual is that the mother will take a clean cloth, will rub a bit of alcohol on the cloth and will rub it on the lip of the child. That’s a ritual. And that alcohol will have a very, very, very low alcoholic content actually so that it doesn’t harm the health of the child. It’s a ritual. Then the alcohol that is taken in the time of, for example, a big Buddhist festival is not going to be the same alcohol that is going to be consumed at the time of a marriage or at the time of someone’s death. So the point is, just with drinking different types of alcohol, before coming here, the typical vision that I had before coming here, or those set of notions about consumption of local alcohols or foreign liquors or whatever, completely transformed here. So, it is also a form of literacy for me. This alcohol is a form of language for me, this alcohol is a form of pedagogy for me – the drinking process, sitting in that collective, cultural space is a pedagogy for me. So through these examples, through these experiences of the daily life, I try to position this notion of literacy, or if I put it as collective literacy, through these daily life experiences.
Lata: Yeah that’s actually, that’s really, without wanting to make it sound like a pun, Sayan that’s given me food for thought. And I do mean that genuinely because I think that in answer to your question about engaging with different knowledges, the immediate response to that is no, because I am who I am and live where I live and so my starting point is that I don’t know stuff. And so I have to work really hard to keep finding out both the things I don’t know and the ways in which I don’t know them. But in a way that’s actually quite liberating. Because if we go back to the original thing about academic framings, there’s lots of pressure to be an expert and know everything. I actually find it quite nice to be able to start by acknowledging well actually, I only know this much about this much. I know this tiny little slice; and even then, I’m not going to claim that I know everything about this tiny little slice of stuff that’s happening here in this little part of the world where these sets of ideas interact and I know some aspect of that. Because when my starting point is I don’t know things, or I know things the way I know them but I would never ever want to assert that it’s the only way, actually that’s a really productive place to start without wanting to sound too commodifying. It’s a very productive place to start because what that allows me to do is say okay, how do I challenge myself? So I know it this way – this could be food cultures, it could be language, it could be ritual, it could be pedagogy in the classroom, it could be how I interact with my children, it could be watching the news, Twitter, whatever right? But if my starting point is okay, this is what I think I know and then something comes along, then it’s actually really nice because my first question is obviously okay well what do I learn from this? And is there a way for me to think about whether there’s another way to approach this issue or question? If I tried to get outside of my own head or if I put aside what I think I know about this, what might that teach me about how somebody else might be experiencing that? So, Parinita, your point about being heterosexual in a heteronormative world and not having a disability, this particular positionality that you hold interacting with people and actually that revealing lifeworlds that you don’t have access to, doesn’t mean that you can’t have solidarity, that you can’t learn, and that we can’t build collective wisdom or action, right? It’s actually really liberating because if my starting point is I don’t know, well then every interaction is a learning opportunity. And that’s brilliant. I don’t mean that in a kind of I figured it out. Sayan, the language of unsettling, it’s perfect. You’re constantly unsettling yourself. In a way the most successful academics are the ones that just think, I am fantastic and I know all of these things – they’re the most successful ones. I’m not interested in that. I mean I can imagine that might be fulfilling in its own way, right? You get promotion, you gain a platform notoriety, money, whatever and there may be something to that. But I think collectively what it feels like we’ve expressed is we’re all aiming for something bigger, right? There is actually something else that has to come out of all of this. Which isn’t even in itself an end or an outcome. But trying to embed different types of processes, validating different pluriversal experiences and knowledges that might actually reshape the world. Because ultimately, I think all of us are expressing a discomfort about the determinism of the world that we live in. That doesn’t even mean that we share the same vision. But actually, that discomfort I think is good. That’s important. Because who would want to live in exactly the same world? That’s a bit bleh. That’s a bit boring, right? The question is how do we all work towards that collectively, but still embrace the fact that we might all want different things out of that? What does that process look like? Embracing that uncertainty, allowing yourself to be unsettled, is the first step. But actually, having done it, I feel hugely liberated. Because then, I don’t have to have all the answers. And that’s great! [laughs] And then my job becomes something else. I say this to my students all the time that I’ve got the best job in the world. I get paid to think. I get paid to learn. Don’t tell my employers but I might do it for free, right? When I approach it like that, it is fantastic. But it is often unsettling, right? Because sometimes we do want answers or answers are being demanded of us. Parinita, you’re talking about imposter syndrome and there is an element of that, right? We are put in that position because we’re supposed to know stuff. So then when I don’t have an answer, your instinct is to go, “Oh my god. I don’t really belong here.” But it’s actually about living with that sense of discomfort and being unsettled. Sayan, I think you’re absolutely right. Which is then you want to be able to radiate that outwards. How do we unsettle? But not in ways that are meant to be about attacking or distrust. It’s about actually trying to understand what the purpose of that unsettling is. Why would I want to unsettle? It’s not because I want to upset you or because I’m trying to make you feel bad or because I think everything is horrible or anything like that. The unsettling is about, well, hang on a second, if I just step back and take a different perspective on this or I look at this ritual or that food or this custom or this language or this geographical place – what if I shifted the lens a little bit like this? Or I described it in this way? Is it possible that we can learn something? Is it possible that we would be better off from it somehow? That we might actually create a different world? And the possibilities of that are so exciting that the discomfort and the unsettling is worth it for me. But for me it’s very much about a learning process. And living with that is a challenge but it’s hugely rewarding. So the answer to your question – the short answer is no, I don’t. But I want more. So I’ll just keep looking for it. [laughs]
Parinita: I love that. This conversation was so brain set abuzz and brain set alight. Because sometimes it feels very isolating because not everyone within academia seems to want to question these things or seems to want to know about these things or is interested or whatever. So it’s nice to talk to people who do think about these things and who are doing things.
Sayan: Somewhere somewhat I feel that because the title of this umbrella podcast is fandom and I think also through these interactions, we create a mutual fandom that dissects from the usual dimension of hero worship. We don’t create pedestals; we are breaking pedestals. And we are basically acknowledging each other, critiquing each other, trying to understand each other’s differences. I once read an article by obviously a very famous Portuguese thinker Boaventura de Sousa Santos and he talks about this concept of depolarised pluralities. That is, not only do we require a form of plurality, but it should be depolarised as well. So I think this very podcast interaction made me feel in the same manner. That it’s not necessary we are all agreeing with each other, we critiqued each other, we acknowledged each other, we appreciated each other but also this consistent process brought so many new thoughts and dimensions to engage with in the future. Which I think is the most important thing. It’s not about shutting down and getting the record and sharing on Facebook and WhatsApp. Yeah we need to do that, we need to spread that. But what after that? And that opens up the gateways for more interactions, more weavings in the future. And for that personally I really thank Parinita for inviting me and inviting us and creating this us thing altogether today.
Parinita: Oh, it was totally Lata. Lata is the one who’s helped poke me when I fell into my PhD research pandemic hole. I’m so glad as well, Lata, that you brought us together. This was such a good conversation. More than ever now after talking to everybody here as well, I wish academia did more to talk to people who are not academics. Even in spaces like this, in Convivial Thinking or a podcast or just within academia in a classroom or whatever. Maybe talk to the students in a way that’s not talking to them but talking with them. And having them contribute their knowledge and intelligence which will again disrupt your own thinking because you don’t know. And that’s good pedagogy, right? That’s what we do in primary schools. I mean not in my school, we had 67 children in a classroom [laughs] but in other schools which have more room and resources to do this. You come together and you share knowledge and you have the skills that you exchange and learn from each other. Why don’t we do that in higher education? Why is it that the older that you get, there’s only one or two people who know. And even in terms of research, not just researching a group of people but having them be a part of the design as well. Not just you’re going in there as a researcher and then going away, like you were saying, Sayan, just going away and doing this research and then sharing the research in the academic version of Facebook and WhatsApp which is journal articles that are very expensive to access. But just creating this knowledge with the people and then also sharing it in a way that makes sense to them and that’s relevant to them. So yeah, that was apparently a very long final thought that I had. But thank you so much – this was fantastic. This was a great conversation.
Lata: No thank you for bringing us together which has been fantastic.
Lata: And I’m glad that we got to talk to each other.
Lata: It’s been so nice to talk to both of you today.
Sayan: It was fantastic interacting. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned and so many things to talk about again.
Parinita: I know.
Sayan: That makes me so happy actually.
Parinita: We need to have a second part of this episode. [laughs]
Sayan: Sure why not.
Parinita: Maybe in a post-pandemic world.
Thanks so much for listening! As both Lata and Sayan brought up throughout the episode, creating knowledge is such a collaborative effort and I absolutely have to agree. I learned so much from our conversation which I’m so excited to incorporate into my own work and thinking. Thank you both for taking the time to do this and for being so patient throughout this episode’s long journey out into the world. And thank you, Jack, for finding the time to edit this episode.