Claude Alvares – Academic Imperialism

Claude Alvares - Academic Imperialism and Multiversity
Claude Alvares on Academic Imperialism and Multiversity

Claude Alvares – Academic Imperialism and Multiversity

Claude Alvares is an Indian public intellectual and educator. When in comes to the critique of academic imperialism, Claude Alvares is one of the world’s most outspoken critics and activists against modern Western cultural imperialism in India.

Alvares strongly advocates a “Multiversity” in which cultures may coexist in academia, but this, he admits, can only work when the current – English language based – education system in India focuses away from derivative “Western” knowledge toward a more Indian knowledge. Otherwise, Mr. Alvares claims, India is doomed to become a “useless culture” with a “useless language” and “useless people”.

Launching the Multiversity

“The present day educational system is not only an imposition (requiring mandatory attendance and compliance at every stage), but it also demands implicit allegiance to the homogenizing values and objectives of State and Market. As such, it is a means of preparing the spirit of people to unquestioningly accept the presently entrenched model of development and globalization even when the latter implies deeper entrapment and bondage. The educational system appears to be nothing more than a vast recruitment ground for a project of continuous colonization that had commenced 500 years ago and is now being spread to even the remotest corners of the planet like a disease. Jalal Al Ahmad1 called it “occidentosis: the plague of the West”: the urge to condition all children and young people to accept and conform to a perception of human beings that was profoundly anti-Nature, anthropocentric and individualistic to the point of being anti-social. […]

The Multiversity we envision, and seek to establish by our collective action, is in complete contrast to the educational system, as we know it. It shall be constructed with the support of a wide network and community of independent, free-thinking educators and learners from Asia, Africa, Aotearoa, andSouth America. The idea of a Multiversity is based on the firm reality of diverse universes of perception, separate cosmologies, and distinct existing bodies of valid knowledge.” Read Full Text here.

Academic Imperialism

“Some people have everything, some people don’t. And the people who have everything, have this imperial duty to ensure the perfection of other human beings.” -Claude Alvares

Claude Alvares of India speaking about resistance to academic imperialism at the International Conference on Academic Imperialism held at Al-Zahra University in Tehran, Iran, on 1-2 May 2010.

“We see a lot of resistance to political imperialism. […] But for some reasons, there is no resistance to the imperialism of knowledge. This is something we should try and recognize. And why does it happen? And why is it that our universities today are all part of that imperialism of knowledge; that whole empire of knowledge that has been constructed over the last one hundred and fifty years. How is it that our universities have become part of that imperialism of knowledge? How is it that we don’t resist it at all? We resist political domination, but we welcome intellectual domination. We conceit to intellectual domination. And we are willing to accept anything provided it comes from a European or an American, but we are hesitant in trying to validate ourselves. Because in some sense we consider ourselves deficient.

Well, where does this idea of deficiency come from? That we lack something. Where do we think for example that children like something, so therefore we have to educate them for 14 years? They are like empty pots and we are going to keep filling these pots with something. Where do we get the idea that nature is deficient? It’s a very fundamental assumption that we have, that nature is deficient. And that the things we do are superior to what nature does. It all comes back to the idea of deficiency. Some people have everything, some people don’t. And the people who have everything, have this imperial duty to ensure the perfection of other human beings. They are more perfect than us, they are superior human beings. They have a superior system of knowledge.Europeis basically the superior culture. We are all inferior cultures. We are defeated cultures, in a certain sense, because we have not created whatEuropehas created.

If you look at history of human beings in the last one hundred and fifty years, you find this as a very strong tendency in imperial culture and imperial practice: they see societies which are not European as they see a field. You want to cultivate a field, a field on which is something growing you consider wild, what do you do? You’re forced to eradicate everything in the field, and then you manure it and immediately you plant your own seed. Because if you don’t plant your seed immediately, then wilderness will take over again. In a very powerful state made by an Englishman during the conquest of Ireland, this was the x that he used, that “if we do not subject the Irish to a war and clean them out completely and then immediately plant our own culture and our own seed, the Irish will revert to barbarism.” Because in contrast to the English, the Irish were considered as barbarians. Later on they began to consider everyone as barbarians. Indians were also considered as very savage and primitive after 18th. And in 1890 William Wilberforce actually made a very interesting speech in parliament. He said that these Hindus are so depraved that unless we convert them all to Christianity there is no redemption for them.

Of course, that big project failed entirely and we are still very comfortably Hindus. And that big European conquest ofHindustanand making it into another version of Christendom completely fell on its face. But […] we are defenseless when it comes to education. And here is the Englishman [Thomas B.] Macaulay who comes and says that all the literature of Arabia and all the literature of Asia are not worth a single shelf of European literature. And it can all be put into the basket. And we should stop teaching people inIndiain Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit and Arabic. These were languages which were taught in India in 1800. We Indians were teaching in Persian! It is so difficult for us to accept but we were teaching people in Persian, we were teaching them in Arabic, and we were teaching them in Sanskrit. And it is said that nothing good can come from teaching people in these very crude languages. The only language worth teaching is them in English. And the only knowledge worth giving them is the knowledge of European literature. Everything else is to be cast aside. Is to be thrown aside. […]