Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Decolonising International Justice

Around the world, there is a growing movement to decolonise university curricula, with both students and educators seeking to disrupt existing epistemic hierarchies within higher education. This research project aims to unravel what decolonising means in general and what it means for the International Justice Major at Leiden University College (LUC) in particular.

2021 - 2026
Barrie Sander

Sustaining an ongoing process of thinking through what decolonising means for international justice is both important and necessary in the context of broader global and societal developments.

Rooted in a longer trajectory of decolonising logics and practices (on which, see: Tamale, 2020 and Adébísí, 2023), calls to decolonise the university gained particular attention following the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in South Africa in 2015. Initiated by students at the University of Cape Town who were protesting a statue of 19th century imperialist and white supremacist Cecil John Rhodes on campus, the campaign sparked the emergence of a broader movement that generated important questions across universities around the world regarding how institutions of higher education maintain colonial legacies.

Within LUC's International Justice major, the Decolonising International Justice project began by convening a research clinic in which students and staff explored the meaning of decolonising the curriculum. The clinic reviewed existing literature on the meaning of decolonisation in the context of higher education with a particular focus on fields of study related to the IJ major, conducted interviews and focus group discussions with student and staff communities connected to LUC to gain an insight into existing practices, experiences and initiatives related to decolonising the curriculum at LUC, and identified pathways for sharing ideas and practices with staff and students to foster critical self-reflection on our own practices as academic community. Please find the report of the clinic’s work here.

The Decolonising International Justice project is driven by the belief that ‘a critical adoption of decolonisation should be done for the purpose of the world it may produce, and not just for a department to identify itself as “decolonised”’ (Adébísí, 2023). As such, the project does not aim to produce any singular output, but rather to nurture sustainable conversation concerning what the anti-colonial project of decolonisation means for the curricula and related activities of the IJ major and to surface some ideas and practices for both students and educators to consider when considering what actions to take in this regard.

The Decolonising International Justice project, developed by students and staff within the International Justice (IJ) major at Leiden University College (LUC), aims to enhance student and staff understanding of what decolonising means in the context of international justice in particular. As one of six majors that students can choose at LUC, the IJ major focuses not only on international law and national and regional legal orders, but also on relevant transnational and local norms and actors. The major seeks to analyse how norms, laws and institutions operate in practice through comparative and interdisciplinary approaches that combine legal research with socio-legal and other approaches from the social sciences. More broadly, the IJ major aims to explore challenges to justice and the rule of law in a globalising and pluralistic society.

To study these themes requires unveiling the ways in which concepts such as the rule of law have been and remain tied to relations of coloniality and the production of unequal social realities around the world. Moreover, many of the challenges addressed in the IJ major – ranging from the climate crisis to the commission of mass atrocities – cannot be adequately understood or examined by monocultural approaches to knowledge that neglect or marginalise the plurality of ways of knowing that exist across different societal contexts.

Building on the work of the research clinic, the Decolonising International Justice project is based on a modest hope that the spaces we nurture, the experiences we highlight, and the literatures we engage with may provide one entry point for students to critically reflect on class materials and concepts, for educators on their content and modes of pedagogy, and for institutions on how to better encourage and create environments conducive to decolonising ideas and practices.

  • Report Decolonsing International Justice - Unravelling What Decolonising Means for the International Justice Major at Leiden University College by Dr. Barrie Sander, Maria Calomfirescu, Rebacca Hussey, Laura Pereira and Jasmine Velasquez; with editorial and project assistance from Dr. Bernardo Ribeiro de Almeida (April 2023)
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