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Decolonizing Politics — International Relations Series

March 4, 2021


  • Robbie Shilliam, Professor of International Relations, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University
  • Nina Hall, Assistant Professor of International Relations, SAIS Europe

Shilliam presented his most recent book “Decolonizing Politics” which tackles how to decolonize the academic study of Political Science. As an introductory tale he spoke of a famous political theorist Aristotle, who he pointed out was also a migrant and refugee and grew up on the ‘periphery,’ not in Athens. Nevertheless, Shilliam argued that the father of Political Science strongly believed in conserving the hierarchies between citizen and non-citizens (slaves and women) in Athens. Shilliam then asked what would happen if Aristotle discussed his theories of citizenship with Gloria Anzaldúa, a chicanx theorist of borders. She saw border culture as one of constant transformation, and formed by the outcasts of society that reached a mestizo consciousness. Anzaldúa provided a vasty different perspective to Aristotle; where democratic deliberation is the exclusive property of the (male) citizens, and not women, children, or slaves who are not considered citizens.
Using this example, Shilliam proposed three maneuvers to decolonize politics: the first is a recontextualization of political thinkers within their colonial/imperial experiences; the second is reconceptualization of the logic of their arguments based on the colonial context they lived in. The third is reimagination of political science cannons by engaging with those the periphery. Through these three steps, science moves those that have marginalized to the center of theorizing.
Shilliam closed his presentation by challenging the audience to think from the margin and imagine how it could enrich research and thinking. A Q&A followed where the author was asked about his selection of pairing thinkers like Aristotle and Anzaldúa. He replied that it took imagination to search people that were talking about essentially the same thing but in a radically different manner. To conclude Shilliam was asked about ways to implement this in both syllabus and as students. He stated that for scholars it should be about having a conversation, and letting it shift from the previous expected outcome. For students, he recommended advocating for teaching material that can make sense of the world they currently inhabit as a young generation.