By Susan L. Robertson
The geo-graphic and historical importance of location for a conference theme can often stimulate, and thus create the occasion for, a more engaged set of conversations around the politics of place and its history. A group of recognisable faces from the comparative and international education, development and globalisation of education worlds were on the very early flight into Mexico City early yesterday. The conference kicked off today on Monday 26th, running until Thursday 29th March, but pre-conference workshops occupied some of our colleagues on the 25th.
The theme of the conference is Remapping the Global Education: South-North Dialogue. It’s a provocative and timely theme given developments over the past decade, where not only has education been increasingly dominated by global actors (many of them private commercial) but education’s historical entwinement with imperialism and colonialism has been placed on the agenda by the Decolonising the Curriculum movement which has rocked campuses from South Africa to the United Kingdom and beyond.
A quick walk around the neighbourhood where the conference is to be held, the historical centre, and the history of colonisation by the Spanish is there for all to see. The Cathedral Metropolitana pictured below is a case in point. Not only does it hold the distinction of being one of the largest churches in Latin America, but it was constructed out of the stones from the Temple of Huitzilopochtli after the Spanish conquest in 1573.
In constructing the cathedral from the temple, it was argued to be a fitting tribute to the Spanish empire, and of course the Catholic Church. These colonial monuments stand to remind us of the ongoing de- and re-territorialising of place and the mapping onto that place of new imperialising social relations.
Education was deeply implicated in this process, largely led by the church. Mexico, of course, is not the only place where the colonial encounter with foreign powers took place. And nor was it the only one. Historical ruins show past cultures prior to the Aztecs and the Mayans, much as the so-called pre-Colombian cultures along the west rim of Latin America were defeated by the Incas in the 1400, to be in turn challenged by the Spanish.
The image above is a painting currently housed in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It is a depiction of once was lake that is now Mexico City. Around the lake’s edge were many different nations (prior to the rise of the Aztecs and Mayan’s), many of them warring with each other over resources. The lake was later filled in, though to the south some of the canals are still visible. The Cathedral Metropolitana pictured above was built on this filled in lake, with the result that it is gradually sinking. The ‘south’ is therefore an encounter with the ‘other’ that goes back prior to the Spanish conquest. though it is evident this particular phase was violent and long lasting.
This South, as a metaphor for an ongoing encounter with an imperialising force, the North, has many registers through which to explore the ongoing issues around education, questions of whose knowledge comes to be counted, patterns of oppression and exploitation that accompany the arc of time and its often brutal crushing of alternative ways of knowing.
This is not just a dialogue then about nations, but a dialogue about the consequences of when those whose knowledges are discounted, made invisible or derided as inconsequential to our every day encounters. Let’s see what this mapping might reveal. I’ll keep you posted over the next few days as to where were get on an aptly titled South North Dialogue.