Epistemicide Disguised as Academic Rigour

Updated: Apr 15

My research was supposed to be about how I don’t fit into academia even though I feel I do intellectual work. I wanted to help establish a space for thinkers like myself. People who are intellectuals, philosophers, art lovers yet nonetheless uninterested in academic norms. My understanding was that I needed to fit the mold in order to have my proposal accepted.

Once I had done that, I could then begin to explore ways of expanding the boundaries. But I have lingered so long working and reworking this proposal which I was under the impression was just a formality, that I am losing the initial passion, motivation, and gist of what I was interested in researching. It feels like the proposal and fitting its conventions has become the point instead of the actual content.

I am beginning to wonder whether there is space in academia to operate outside its parameters. Can people who love doing alternative intellectual work exist in the academic space? One of the ways in which I believed I could achieve this is through ubungoma. As an established knowledge field that is very prevalent in the arts, it seemed like a viable vehicle for doing intellectual work without being co-opted into the western academic apparatus.

However, despite my brilliant, patient, and supportive supervisors, every time my proposal is reviewed, I find myself in a sort of Groundhog Day. Writing and rewriting this same proposal for two years. Removing and adding the same information; being advised not to add more and simplify; then being told I’ve lost the plot and to elaborate. It feels a bit like a game. An excuse to keep students in the academic pipeline.

The process has resulted in a loss of focus and faith and made me wonder whether I am making any progress. I have even begun losing my own train of thought and sense of direction. I no longer have the same conviction about the research as I once did. My once passionate resolution has been replaced by self-doubt and I wonder: if I can hardly make sense with a proposal, I’ve been working on for two years, then what chance does my actual research stand?

The loss of direction and motivation is perhaps to be expected on such a serious academic journey. But I mourn for what could have been the result of the many observations and interactions with so many people who engage with ubungoma. A field that has been undermined because of its connection to spirituality. Something that academia deems as unscientific, therefore undeserving.

The relentless process called academic rigor is clearly nothing more than an extension of colonial gatekeeping, designed to continue the epistemicide of indigenous knowledge systems. While I respect and sometimes even love the academic process, I am equally (if not more) inclined to respect and love the processes of ubungoma which is ultimately the foundation of this research – not academia.

I am optimistic that soon I will be inspired again and go back, begging for ethical clearance from unethical institutions. I am hopeful that this moment is one small spec of difficulty in an otherwise fruitful experience. I refuse to scrape by and have not yet lost my desire to produce good, thoughtful, and thorough work. In order to do this, I have to face the academic monster and follow its protocols which I will do ... eventually.

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