In a new article (posted before peer review on preprint website PsyArXiv), psychologist Mvikeli Ncube of the University of Arden in the United Kingdom calls for the decolonization of psychological knowledge to address the epistemic violence done unto indigenous and local communities in the Global South. Ncube writes that the field of psychology must be decolonized and resituated in local contexts to ensure that meaning-making occurs within one’s own lived experience rather than that of the situatedness and power of the Global North, suggesting that indigenous researchers and ways of knowing offer an important alternative to the colonizing status quo.
“Decolonisation means fighting, undoing, and overcoming received colonial ways that have shaped knowledge practices in psychology and economic, political, and social structures; interpersonal relationships; and the self. Much of psychology in global south continues to be largely shaped by colonial ideas or at best dominated by ideas, self, and society from Europe and the United States,” Ncube writes.
The Global North has exported its concept of psychology and psychiatry across the world, under the assumption that findings of how people behave in WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) samples, such as US college students, are universally true. This includes specific psychiatric disorders, medication, language, and ways of knowing. Ncube, in his essay, encourages indigenous and local researchers, academics, and thinkers in the Global South to recognize the epistemic violence innate to Western ways of knowing and conduct their own research to counteract its many harms.
Ncube articulates this argument via a brief philosophical and historical analysis of psychology. He premises his paper on the social constructionist epistemological position (meaning that his underlying assumption is that knowledge is created, rather than inherent and objective). Through this premise Ncube argues that the decolonization of psychology is best done through Fanonian “epistemic decolonization.”
He explains, “Epistemic decolonisation refers to the redemption of worldviews and theories and ways of knowing that are not rooted in, nor oriented around Euro-American theory. The core contention of epistemic decolonizing is that subjectivity, situatedness, and positionality matter. It rejects the claim, founded in the European Age of Enlightenment, that scientific knowledge is inherently and necessarily rational, objective, and universal. Instead, decolonial theorists argue that objectivity is also socially constructed.”
He understands that the knowledge that is created in psychology is a kind of knowledge created and propagated by white researchers in the Global North. And this specific way of knowing and meaning-making will never be able to fully encapsulate or understand the true experience of indigenous people and locals in the Global South because it is designed to doubt and question other ways of knowing not founded in the scientific method. Ncube puts it simply: the Global North’s current psychology was created, not only without the appreciation for texts and methodologies grounded in the Global South, but with the specific intention to undermine them.
He writes, “Psychological science is positioned form of knowledge that reflects the understandings and interests of people in positions of dominance, those who decide what is worthy of study, what counts as basic theory or narrow application, etc. […] The meaning of all the above is that Western psychological concepts, beliefs, and understandings should not be accepted in the global south without a deep critical application of thought. Radical alternatives that question the dominant paradigm on issues of power dynamics, exploitation and subordination, politics and inequalities are encouraged for interrogating the underlying assumptions of mainstream research in psychology.”
However, the psychology of the Global North can be challenged by the academics the Global South, advancing the cause of liberation. Ncube asks that academics embrace their situated ways of knowing and conduct research that exposes and counteracts what much of the world considers to be both “natural” and “neutral” concepts to highlight the failures of a discipline created with intentional neglect for other ways of knowing and meaning-making.
Ncube, M. (2022). Epistemic violence in psychological science. Issues of knowledge, meaning making and power: A critical historical and philosophical perspective. Accessed September 21, 2022. https://psyarxiv.com/a5nxs/
Westerners go to therapy asking “I need my family to validate me and I want the therapist to validate my story”. Need for validation is strong. Independence is conscious but not valued intrinsically.
Immigrants who live in the West go to therapy asking “I am tired of my family’s involvement and what do I need to learn to stop” family validation is conscious but not valued as much. Independence is unconscious and sought after desperately.
Social Media is balancing this out quite spectacular ways if you want to see it.
We are all limping.
Thanks for this nice report! Docolonizing psychology is an important topic for sure. What I want to add here is that the different cultures in Global South have their own hierarchical power imbalance issues too. It seems to me that it is always a small group staying at the top in power to rule the masses.
“…the psychology of the Global North can be challenged by the academics the Global South, advancing the cause of liberation.”
Let’s hope this happens, otherwise all talk of “diversity” is meaningless (real diversity is diversity of perspectives and values not appearance).