Disciplinary Exclusions

Over the last couple of weeks I have opened the Roma, Traveler and Gypsy Arts and Culture symposium at the Taliesin and spoken at a University event to mark National Holocaust Memorial Day. These experiences have raised once again the question of inclusivity in our curricular.

There are many ways of thinking about an inclusive curriculum but the specific question that was raised by these two events was that of exclusion; what is it that we fail to mention or fail to include within the presentation of our disciplines? Roma, Gypsies and Travelers are often excluded, both physically and intellectually, and I am sure play only a very minor role, if any, in curricular here at Swansea. One significant point that was made during the Holocaust commemorations was the need to remember, never to forget, never again to exclude.

In the mid-1990s David Sibley wrote an excellent book entitled Geographies of Exclusion. In this text Sibley looked at exclusion in two different ways. He talks both of the various topics, or peoples, that Human Geography tends to ignore and hence exclude in its academic work, and also of those Geographers (women and people of colour) who are not taught within curriculum and are excluded from what might be called the ‘canon’ of Human Geography. I am sure that, in many ways, and particularly here at Swansea, this message has been heard and things have changed in the research and teaching of Geography in the last twenty years.

What I am interested in here is the second of Sibley’s exclusions. Who do we reference when we teach our individual disciplines? How many of these people are women? How many have other protected characteristics (people of colour, LGBTQ, disabled)? Do we think to mention these other characteristics when we introduce their work into our teaching?

I always try to present academic work as a scholarly conversation. We introduce students to this conversation through our teaching, give them the knowledge and the skills in order to engage in that conversation and, ultimately, invite them to be a part of that conversation. It is very difficult being part of a conversation when all the other participants are presented as being different from oneself. If there is a point of contact, or a sense that many different kinds of people can be part of the conversation, then it is so much easier to feel as though you can also join in, become one of the conversation partners.

We don’t often think to introduce our students to the lives and background of the principle scholars in our field. However, to know where people come from, what they bring with them, perhaps their prejudices and constraints as well as how they engage with the discipline and all the wonderful things that they contribute, is important and often helps to engage students who are new to the field and nervous about their involvement. This is an essential part of what I would understand as an inclusive curriculum.

In the work that I am writing at the moment I am reviewing the history of the scholarly study of the Dogon people of Mali, from around the 1930s to the present day. That scholarship is dominated by one name, Marcel Griaule, a French anthropologist, and his is the only name most people have heard of in relation to this work. If you were to ask around Paris today then other scholars might suggest going to a seminar by Eric Jolly, the leading contemporary expert on the Dogon. What I find particularly fascinating about this history, however, is that the vast majority of anthropologists who studied among the Dogon were women: Denise Paulme (1930s), Deborah Lifchitz (1930s, who died in Auschwitz), Germaine Dieterlen (1940s), Genevieve Calame-Griaule (1950s, Marcel’s daughter), Barbara Mott (1970s), Jacky Bouju (1980s), Ann Doquet (1990s) and the study of Dogon art has been dominated by the work of Hélene Leloup from 1988 through to a major exhibition of Dogon sculpture that she curated in Paris in 2011. Despite all these wonderful women anthropologists, however, we still do not have any decent study of the lives of Dogon women; they all present, in their different ways, a very male perspective on the society.

What is also clear, however, is that throughout the almost one hundred years of study on the Dogon the voices of Dogon people themselves are almost entirely absent from the scholarly record, except in a few instances when quoted by external writers. Despite this there is one family, the Dolo family from Sangha in the middle of Dogon country, who have acted as gatekeepers and informants, from father to son, to grandson, to great grandson, as well as acting as hosts to many visitors and dealers in African art, and their names keep appearing in text after text after text. It is very clear that, despite the colonial anthropological context of much of the writing on the Dogon, and the filter of French anthropology or the art historical world of European and American museums, it is the Dolo’s perspective on the Dogon that has been presented to the West, undoubtedly at the expense of so many other possible local perspectives.

Knowing all this makes the subject so much more exciting and, in my experience, really engages the students. Asking the students to respond to such information, to evaluate the scholarship in the light of such knowledge, and to seek to question it in their assignments, is what teaching is all about.

My example is in anthropology. The same kind of stories, however, can be told from many other disciplines. My question is how far do we deliberately, or unconsciously, exclude important voices from our classes because of the assumptions we make about what a scholar in our field should look and sound like? Something to think about…

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