Following the publication of Australian Continental Philosophy, we sought Bryan Mukandi’s permission to re-post his reflections on the 2017 ASCP conference in Hobart. Our interest in seeking such permission traces back to the 2016 Crossroads conference, which was held in Australia for the first time in the history of the Association of Cultural Studies. The conference was promoted as such – that is, as an event, the coming of the discipline to that strange land called Australia, Europe’s outpost in the Asia-Pacific.
Not by chance, the website of the conference welcomed you as a ‘stranger’, making you wonder, as Mukandi does in his intervention, what is home in a land such as Australia? As the word Ab/origine itself reminds us, everybody else’s roots lie elsewhere. In this sense, whether a settler, migrant or refugee the biographies of all those who live in the country or wait for its doors to be opened are steeped in what Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos refer to as the criminal will to occupy stolen land.
On the occasion of such a conference, these were exactly the questions that several other race and whiteness studies scholars and I posed to its organisers where, in the same fashion as the 2017 ASCP conference, Indigenous scholars had to make an appearance as either the ‘traditional’ custodians in the form of the welcome to the country ceremony or as keynote speakers. Having worked for more than two years with the only Aboriginal scholar temporally appointed in the same department welcoming you as a ‘stranger’, I was very much puzzled – as I put it then – by the deep-seated assumptions underpinning the practice of inviting Indigenous scholars as ‘guests’ when they should be the ‘hosts’. Following this online debate, whose traces have been erased, the conference organisers, unironically showcased diversity on the conference’s website.
As more and more non-white faces and non-white sounding names appeared in the online published list of speakers, other race and whiteness studies scholars and I persisted in drawing the organisers’ attention to the fallacy of their ‘diversity’ approach. Namely, if planned and organised by Indigenous scholars (alongside racialised as non-white academics), the question of what is cultural studies itself in this strange place we call Australia would have been – as Mukandi puts it – front and center.
What I refer to here as ‘home’ resonates with what Mukandi conceptualises as ‘space’ when remarking thus:
‘More, perhaps, than the rest of Australian society, Continental Philosophy here seems gripped by its own imagined anxiety that outside of Europe is nothing, save perhaps flora and fauna. This, it seems to me, is why we are so reluctant to grapple seriously with the people, work, and ideas that draw on traditions that have emerged in and around this place, and that precede (and follow) European contact.’
As this passage shows, Mukandi does not distance himself from the ‘we’ of continental philosophers populating the country. Rather, he gestures towards a collective (and non-white led) effort to decolonise the whole discipline by grappling with the many epistemic legacies characterising this place we all call ‘home’: settler colonial and Indigenous modes of being and belonging alongside their inextricability in the academic business of knowledge production.
In contrast to this self-criticism, ASCP’s Equity and Diversity Officer Simone Bignall’s response to Mukandi’s reflections opts for a defensive stance, one which, like the 2016 Crossroad Conference’s organisers, deploys the study association’s alleged commitment to ‘equity’ and ‘diversity’ as evidence of (white) Australian continental philosophers’ engagement with both colonialism and racism.
In light of Bignall’s response, we decided to also re-post Mukandi’s second contribution to the APA blog alongside a response to the debate by Anastasia Kanjere, who also attended the 2017 ASCP conference.
In these interventions, both Mukandi and Kanjere address Bignall’s explanation of the lack of Indigenous and non-white scholars as ASCP keynote speakers from two different, yet complementing, perspectives. Whereas Mukandi refutes Bignall’s characterisation of the ideal ASCP keynote speaker as an exclusionary request for non-white scholars to be ‘exceptional’, Kanjere highlights how Aboriginal scholars have always already worked in, through and against, the various sciences of ‘Man’ which have sutured their subjectivity to modes of subjugation aiming to deny their humanity, ownership of land and sovereignty.
When reading these interventions together, it becomes obvious that – contrary to Bignall’s impressions – the problem with continental philosophy (but also with cultural and gender studies) in this ‘strange’ land we call Australia is not a purported lack of diversity, but rather a deeper and more pernicious lack of commitment to decolonising academia more generally. In this regard, we sincerely hope that the contributions published here will pave the way for further discussion of the marginalisation of colonialism and racism as enacted by the refusal to question the ‘host’s’ role iteratively performed by white scholars at conferences such as 2016 Crossroads and 2017 ASCP.