Listen to an episode featuring Kalyani Unkule:

Higher Education Internationalization from a Spiritual Approach

Why I use an Education Podcast to Teach International Relations

by Kalyani Unkule
Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School
Member, National Academy for International Education, IIE

I teach and did my doctoral work in International Relations (IR). My research and writing are informed primarily by my practice in the internationalisation of higher education (IHE) and intercultural dialogue. The virtues of transcending disciplinary boundaries are regularly extolled; however, instruction, conferences, journals, and peer expectations continue to enforce these boundaries. Were it not for my happy discovery that the cracks are a favoured hiding place for inspiration and bottom-up innovation, I should have been quite afraid of falling through them. Through my writing, I analyse the IHE as an important dynamic in international affairs. I chose the field of international education as the venue to pursue this work, because I found more openness to fresh perspectives here. This is in marked contrast to the field of IR, which, whether due to its inherent nature as a deductive discipline or the preponderance of matters of high politics in its subject matter or other power dynamics and representational inequities which I cannot fully elaborate here owing to limited space, led me to dead-ends.

Teaching IR in India prompts thinking through world affairs in the context of a hierarchical world (dis)order, which already constitutes a marked departure from disciplinary convention. I often find it helpful to explain this in terms that are relatable for students by inviting them to observe who are the people they study as “authorities” in various fields as well as their beliefs around how and where legitimate knowledge is created, leading us directly into the realms of international education. I use this line to convey the message: “Ideational hegemony precedes real-world dominance”. Repeat it often enough in class, and students find it a useful shorthand for understanding how coloniality operates. Significantly, it enables them to develop self-awareness into their own deeply internalised intellectual inferiority complex and unexamined fascination for greener pastures abroad By accessing this ingrained, insidious, and ideational nature of coloniality, we see why education has been weaponised to maintain unequal relations between different parts of the world – a phenomenon particularly evident in extractive colonial contexts such as India, where we got our “land back” three quarters of a century ago. By contrast, when I teach IR to students in Europe and the United States, I am intrigued by their tendency to ask the question, “So what can we do to help?” in response to conversations about global conflict and precarity. For these groups, I formulated the mantra “the help isn’t helping” as a shorthand to unpack how high levels of consumption in certain parts of the world are premised on exploitation, dumping, and pollution on the other side of the planet. Treating international education as mirroring IR uniquely positions me to explain how discourses of development in economics, best practices in education, and policies of providing aid and technical assistance mask the unrelenting conjoint onslaught of the mission civilisatrice and market expansion.

One way forward is to conceptualise around hitherto marginalised worldviews and historical experiences. The conversation with Seu’ula Johansson-Fua exemplifies the possibilities for pluralising key concepts in IR, such as regionalism based on emerging educational models. The idea of Wansolwara provides a glimpse into the power of education to communicate a sense of shared responsibility through the dynamic construction and nurturing of collective identities. We discover an alternative model of bio-regionalism in contrast to the entrenched vision in IR of a region being a product of cultural identity, market and legal integration, and normative exceptionalism – allowing the post-war European experience to claim for itself the default definitional setting. In addition to pluralising the concept, the practical implication of alternative reference points is that they allow us to view global challenges like climate change differently through their unique local manifestations and mitigation efforts, offering potential solutions outside the dominant imagination privileging global governance, technology, and markets.

Training in education policy and research carries a homogenising thrust due to its conventional preference for best practice over pluriversality. It privileges evidence-based technical approaches over the critical reflexivity and context sensitivity that truly hold the promise of transformation. The episodes with Elmi Slater and Pasi Sahlberg and Greg Skutches highlight the need to transition from some of the established instructional modalities to those geared towards greater reach and impact. The ensuing discussion highlights equipping students with different forms of expression so they may find their unique voice and, I would add, read texts in light of lived experience rather than getting “trained” in jargon to describe what they observe, however distorting that may be.

Thus juxtaposed, the two fields reveal how the perpetuation of hierarchies and inequities in the real world is bolstered by the refusal to move away from prevailing methods and pedagogies, while silencing other ways of being and knowing.

March 1, 2024