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Epistemic decoloniality as a pedagogical movement: a turn to anticolonial theorists such as Fanon, Biko and Freire.

Harms Smith, Linda


Linda Harms Smith


Tanja Kleibl

Ronald Lutz

Ndangwa Noyoo

Benjamin Bunk

Annika Dittmann

Boitumelo Seepamore


The failure of decolonisation as a process to rid postcolonial contexts of the ongoing complexities and structural dynamics of coloniality has led to the emergence of a vibrant movement for epistemic decoloniality. In the South African context, the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements arising in 2015 among university students were the result of deep discontent and anger about ongoing collective subjection to race based inequality, exclusion and colonisation. As in institutions of higher learning, social work was also still failing to transform and provide evidence appropriate African-centred education. A rallying call emerged in social work for a pedagogical movement of epistemic decoloniality developed from universities, academics as well as students, collective social work educational groupings and in textual discourses – decolonisation of social work education was an imperative. Dominant social work discourses based on Western, Eurocentric theorists and philosophers had posed a problem of contradictory intellectual and professional identities for social workers in postcolonial contexts. While some of these theories may be relevant and appropriate, they are presented as holding universal truth, presume African knowledge to be peripheral and ‘indigenous’, and are silent on issues of ongoing colonial, or in the South African case, apartheid power constellations both at structural and intrapsychic levels. Coloniality operates at levels of power, knowledge and being. The movement towards epistemic decoloniality is therefore more than the introduction of new theoretical content in order to ‘Africanise’ or indigenise. This chapter proposes a number of theoretical concepts derived from anticolonial theorists which inform understanding of intra psychic and psycho social dynamics but also of psycho political processes of change. Achieving decoloniality in social work knowledge and practice is an ongoing process which demands interrogation, engagement, experimentation and contestation. What is presented here is by no means exhaustive in this important pedagogical movement for epistemic decoloniality, and are intended to contribute to an emerging, transformative discourse.


HARMS SMITH, L. 2019. Epistemic decoloniality as a pedagogical movement: a turn to anticolonial theorists such as Fanon, Biko and Freire. In Kleibl, T., Lutz, R., Noyoo, N., Bunk, B., Dittmann, A. and Seepamore, B. (eds.) The Routledge handbook of postcolonial social work. Abingdon: Routledge [online], chapter 9, pages 113-126. Available from:

Acceptance Date Jun 11, 2019
Online Publication Date Jul 30, 2019
Publication Date Aug 19, 2019
Deposit Date Sep 13, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 31, 2021
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Pages 113-126
Series Title Routledge International Handbooks
Book Title The Routledge handbook of postcolonial social work
Chapter Number Chapter 9
ISBN 9781138604070
Keywords Social work; Anti-colonial theorists; Paradigms; Theoretical perspectives; Postcolonial feminist
Public URL
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