stay uncomfortable

Decolonizing research, teaching, and scholarly practice within the universities of settler-colonial legacies is dirty in every sense as we are complicit in supporting these structures and benefit from them even as we strategize dismantling them. We also can’t see how our well-intentioned strategies are themselves shaped by white supremacy. Operating within institutions linked to the promotion of nation-states (Readings, 1997) might seem inherently at odds with pedagogies and methodologies aimed at learning from Indigenous, non-western, and Black ways of knowing. But the complexity, difficulty, messiness, and inevitable failures to be encountered in this process — and it is an ongoing action rather than an endpoint — are no reason to discount the premises of decolonizing approaches. 

Instead we suggest an embrace of and comfort with these discomforts: of naming white privilege and supremacy; of being the irritating voice in staff meetings, classrooms, and conferences pointing out the ‘pale, male, and stale’ constitution of departments, syllabi, and panels; of doing the extra work to find marginalized research to cite rather than the familiar. A lot of our inspiration in this call comes from the work of Sara Ahmed. Ahmed (2010) champions the feminist killjoy as a counter to the ways that happiness maintains the familiar, a willful subject who objects. She explores how complaint works within and against institutional policies to produce such willful subjects and how that process both reinforces structural exclusions and opens avenues for collective complaint, for consciousness raising (Ahmed, 2021). She understands scholarly citation practices as systems of domination (as in the “citational relational” of white men as an institution) that can be reimagined to start acknowledging how whiteness is reproduced as a scholarly norm (Ahmed, 2014; see also Chakravartty et al., 2018). 

Ahmed’s influence foregrounds the possibilities of resisting the ease, tidiness, and convenience of fulfilling institutional norms where you can, since calling attention to how the status quo is built on a normalized exclusion of non-white voices and bodies is an everyday action. This small example illustrates how discomfort will inevitably be part of academic work and it can be a more public one in the spirit of dirty methods. In this sense, as we’ve shown throughout, dirty methods go beyond a particular research project to be about how a researcher negotiates the diverse activities and institutions involved in constituting knowledge.


Ahmed, Sara. (2010). The promise of happiness. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, Sara. (2014, November 4). White men. Retrieved from: 

Ahmed, Sara. (2021). Complaint! Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 

Chakravartty, Paula, Kuo, Rachel, Grubbs, Victoria & McIlwain, Charlton. (2018). “#CommunicationSoWhite.” Journal of Communication 68 (2), 254-266.

Readings, Bill. (1997). The university in ruins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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