Meet the book author – Reflections from the editors of Decolonisation, Anti-Racism, and Legal Pedagogy: Strategies, Successes, and Challenges

Foluke Adebisi (Bristol University),  Suhraiya Jivraj (Kent University), and Ntina Tzouvala (Australian National University)

L-R – Foluke Adebisi, Suhraiya Jivraj and Ntina Tzouvala 

In 2021, Foluke Adebisi, Suhraiya Jivraj and Ntina Tzouvala undertook a project to curate pedagogical perspectives on teaching legacies of empire in law schools across different continents. The result was an edited collection of 16 essays with a specific focus on post- and decolonial thought as well as on anti-racist methods in pedagogy: Decolonisation, Anti-Racism, and Legal Pedagogy: Strategies, Successes, and Challenges, Taylor & Francis, 2023.

The Volume at a Glance 

With contributions from diverse jurisdictions, including the UK, India, South Africa, Australia, and Canada, the chapters in the volume critically examine the ways that decolonisation and anti-racism has been incorporated in legal pedagogy and what teachers have learnt from that experience. We hoped to demonstrate how teaching can be modified and adapted to address long-standing colonial and racial injustice in the curriculum. For more on our initial vision for the volume, you can see the original call for papers.

Our starting point was the sometimes patchy and contradictory yet promising adoption of decolonisation into legal education in the UK, but also across the world. It is evident that to talk about “decolonisation” in relation to the law school is to enter a perilous terrain. Few terms have gained prominence so fast, while triggering seemingly never-ending debates about their meaning, agents, goals, and preconditions. The demand to build broad alliances that will facilitate change has to be balanced against theoretical and political clarity and a dedication to the radical origins and aims of decolonisation as a pedagogical endeavour with broader aspirations for social transformation. Trying to strike this balance in the context of a law school is even more complicated: it requires reflecting on the role of law in society and, in particular, its complicity in the construction of capitalist modernity and its ideological justifications. The collection focuses on unpacking some of these challenges in a bid to reflect on the future of decolonisation and antiracism in the law school.

Even though the volume mostly adopts the perspective of educators, we also focus on our students and how they often experience the law school as a strange and alienating place and the law degree as only useful for instrumental reasons that also involve making the world into endless reproductions of present inequalities and injustices. This focus animates the practical outlook of many of this volume’s contributions. By focusing on fields such as tortscivil procedure or contracts, authors showed that no field is impenetrable to critical pedagogical intervention, all the while acknowledging the limitations that we face due to institutional constraints, professional demands, and the intensification of workloads. Other chapters adopt a more theoretical outlook, questioning the possibility of decolonising the law school in the first place, but also reflecting on the convergences and divergences between decolonisation and anti-racism as theoretical, political and pedagogical projects. Regardless of their different emphases and orientations, all chapters constitute responses to the questions, demands and anxieties of our students and evidence a commitment to using the classroom as a space for exploring and challenging the role of law in the construction of racism, capitalism, and Euro-modernity. 

As editors, we cherished the opportunity to work together on this project that builds on our own previous work, but pushed it toward new directions. Previously, Jivraj and Adebisi co-wrote a chapter entitled ‘Racism as Legal Pandemic: Thoughts on Critical Legal Pedagogies’ which explores how ‘premature death’ or the necropolitical as Mbembe calls it, is an outcome of the racial state, and its laws. This is based on an understanding, examined elsewhere by Adebisi, that law is integral to and a purveyor of the racial capitalist state, one that accumulates wealth on the backs of bodies of colour; a point that decolonial studies and Critical Race Theory scholars have also been making for a long time in different ways. The volume provides examples of various ways legal academics have attempted to elucidate these points to their students across the world.

What we did well and what we could have done better

As editors and contributors, we were very pleased to be involved in a conversation that had such international breadth. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that we could have had more contributions from scholars based in what is currently designated the Global South. We also acknowledge that due to our current locations, the volume skewed heavily toward common-law jurisdictions. In addition, a project like this would have also benefited from more direct student involvement. These shortcomings were largely the result of material limitations pertaining to time and resources as well as to the exigencies of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, even though we had a very cordial and productive collaboration, we have yet to meet in person as a team. The writing process was supported by online workshops where contributors shared their work-in-progress. These turned out to be very generative events. We were able to collectively reflect on how we understand the project of decolonisation in our different jurisdictions and within the context of our individual, institutional and national legal pedagogical traditions. The sharing of challenges for this project was a warm and flourishing experience we recommend to all scholars putting together edited collections. We are hopeful that this collection will contribute to an open and ongoing collective international conversation about the continuous project of decolonisation – and our role in it as academics in law. We continue to engage in these conversations through seminars and workshops.

What we hope readers take from this volume

We return to our earlier points about the nature of the law school, its role, and its relation to societal transformation. We tend to think about the complexities of the racial state, modernity, or whichever label we choose to describe the multitude of phenomena that fall under those rubrics, as somehow external to us as individuals, and even us as law schools. We tend to treat structural inequalities as extrinsic to us, and that in turn enables us to tell ourselves that there is only so much we can do given the limitations and conditions in which we live and work. We are certainly not disputing the difficulty of these conditions. However, we want to seriously challenge the notion that we as individuals and law schools are somehow outside of the problematic of structural inequalities and its multiple manifestations. Instead, we are in fact often complicit in the making and unmaking of premature death. As socio-legal and critical legal scholars it is incumbent upon us to exercise ethical processes that foreground non-extractivist and other practices from decolonial and CRT to inform and intersect with socio-legal approaches. That would require us to acknowledge our positionality and complicity within the structural inequalities/coloniality of law and our law schools. It would require us to stay and linger there for quite a while to let it truly sink in and allow ourselves to deeply engage with the ways in which we manifest that complicity.  Then and only then, can we begin to think about the “how” of teaching and engaging our students and colleagues. We particularly urge heads of school and programme/module leads to “lead” in this and facilitate the way. At the moment, early career colleagues, in particular, tend to do the bulk of this labour. Taking the work of legal pedagogy is essential, not least because it is crucial for all of us to be to thinking about methods and methodology, with the same thought that we would bring to our research work but currently rarely afforded to our teaching and learning. In this respect, the work of the editors and the chapters in the collection challenge quantitative approaches to student inclusion within HE and the curriculum, which in essence follows hundreds of years of reducing racialised bodies to banal measurements and reductive statistics.

This, however, is not just about challenging our notion of the canon in our curriculum, what is privileged and what is rendered invisible. The work we have done on that is documented elsewhere. Rather, we want to emphasise an embodied approach to teaching which recognises certain students and colleagues as at risk of the legal pandemic of racism and its necropolitical outcomes. Even though our edited volume went to print before the current genocidal assault against Gaza, we cannot have this pedagogical conversation without also acknowledging that Palestinian students and teachers, as well as those elsewhere, are experiencing the most violent aspects of law’s coloniality and racism at the moment. The destruction of every single university in Gaza-described by some as “scholasticide” – reminds us that the violence of colonialism and racism is not only – or even primarily – epistemological, but brutal, direct and physical. 

Engaging deeply with the grounded theory necessary to make radical and needed change in law schools places upon us an extra burden to read beyond the discipline, yet we exist within a sector that relies on accelerated frames of production that preclude this sort of self-education. However, for ourselves and our students, we need this time to develop tools and use existing ones to help us craft a discipline that will be able to rescue the planet from the perdition of racial injustice, extreme inequality, and environmental disaster. This challenge requires creativity, imagination, and innovation and courage. As such, rather than ask mundane questions like, how do we “decolonise the curriculum”, we must ask more creative ones. For example: “What does it mean to dream of new anticolonial worlds from within the law school?” It is our firm belief that we have a responsibility to use all the tools at our disposal to consider the ways in which our discipline can bring an end to the perils that continue to put our planet and all its inhabitants in jeopardy. This is a task that we can carry out now and hand over to our students – while we are still here. In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez “To oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life.”