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Maria Hantzopoulos and Monisha Bajaj discuss their new book, Education for Peace and Human Rights: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2021).

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Today I speak with Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo about indigenous women and research. They have co-edited the latest issue of the International Journal of Human Rights Education, which was released last week.

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman is an associate professor of Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. An Indigenous education researcher, her work focuses on the link between Indigenous lands and natural resources, languages, and cultural and educational practices in the North and South America. Tessie Naranjo lives in northern New Mexico and is an internationally recognized Indigenous community education, language revitalization, and arts advocate. She is a founder of the Pueblo Indian Studies Program at Northern New Mexico College where she served as faculty, and former co-Director of the Northern Pueblos Institute.

Citation: Huaman, Elizabeth Sumida & Naranjo, Tessie, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 179, podcast audio, November 4, 2019. https://freshedpodcast.com/indigenouswomen/

Will Brehm 2:55
Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo, welcome to FreshEd.

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 3:00
Thank you for having us, Will.

Tessie Naranjo 3:01
I am glad to be here.

Will Brehm 3:03
So, let’s start by talking about colonization – a big topic. In your new co-edited volume, in your introduction, you call it a “strategy of imperialism that has left an indelible mark on colonized lands and people.” What sort of narratives has colonization constructed about indigenous peoples and lands?

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 3:25
I can address that. We talked about this a little bit in our introduction, but I think maybe one of the things that we can clarify is that we’d like to differentiate colonization as a set of actions or patterns that empires will use towards expansion of their empire, and oftentimes that’s bounded by time. So, there is a period of colonization, and then what we’ve seen around the world in different national contexts, is that there’s then a time of decolonization or post-colonization, often referred to as “independence.” I think what Tessie and I are referring to, and what our authors are speaking to, is a condition called “coloniality.” And so, there is an Argentinian scholar that Tessie and I use; his name is Walter Mignolo, and he talks about “coloniality,” which is the ongoing condition of colonial oppression and struggle that’s exemplified through four domains. So, these are four areas where indigenous peoples are encountering resistance and struggle. So, we think very closely about those four domains as: control of economy, which includes manipulation of land and natural resources; control of authority, which is the creation of institutions – political and legal institutions, as well as military; this creation of what is considered normative, so that oftentimes is heavily influenced by ideas of religion, as well as gender and sexuality; and then, this control over knowledge, which is oftentimes most clearly exemplified by the construction of education, and what constitutes knowledge. So, in our issue, we really think very closely about how indigenous peoples are speaking to, or speaking back to, conditions of coloniality in all of those areas. And all of our authors, I think, write about those areas in one way or another. So, they address, really, that entire system of domains, and they address coloniality as a whole, but taking up different lenses. So, one of the things that I think is really important for us to think about is not just how coloniality has left, or leaves us, in a condition where there is that, you know, as we might refer to, this mark on lands and peoples. “Lands” meaning the impact to our natural resources: you know, our earth, our water, our animals, our skies, and so forth. But then also peoples, meaning bodies and psyches. And I think what’s really critical is that our authors who put forth their work so lovingly, speak to that condition. They speak to coloniality in some way or another. And so, for example, we have one author, June Lorenzo, who is from Laguna Pueblo, who talks about this idea, counters this idea, that land and natural resources are only for human exploitation or for capital gain. And she writes about uranium mining in her own village of Paguate in Laguna Pueblo. And we also have authors like Robin Minthorn and Heather Shotton, who take up this idea. So, they would be countering this normative view of gender and sexuality. And primarily, this idea of women in leadership; they take up this idea that you know, women are not leaders because they are not visible, for example, or as visible as men. And they really challenge that.

Tessie Naranjo 7:25
Well, I was thinking about answering the question in terms of fences. I am from one of the pueblos in northern New Mexico, and I have enough knowledge about the history of our place. And I was thinking about when the colonizers came in, first the Spaniards, and then later on the white Americans. And the idea of fences became a part of our understanding. Reluctantly. And so, I was thinking of fences in terms of creating borders and boundaries, and I was thinking of how these fences psychologically make us feel less than.

Will Brehm 8:15
It is interesting. I mean putting up these fences and borders and boundaries and feeling “less than” when thinking about coloniality. And Tessie and Elizabeth, you both sort of mentioned issues of knowledge and even education. And so, you know, I want to ask a little bit about how coloniality has impacted the very meaning of research. So perhaps, Elizabeth, maybe you can start.

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 8:44
Sure. So, in terms of how coloniality has impacted research, you know, Tessie and I are, we are community members, and we are educators, and we write as well. And we think. And we speak. I think that you know, but we also come from places. We come from very strong peoples and places that we have very strong connections to. And I think one of the ways that coloniality has shaped dominant understanding of research is to devalue those places, and to devalue our interactions as intellectual beings, as spiritual beings, with those places. So, there are wonderful scholars, some of them in our special issue. Others like Linda Smith, who is a very highly regarded Māori scholar, who has really informed our thinking around decolonizing research approaches, who do that work very well. And they help us to understand how research can be transformed by indigenous peoples. I think one of the issues that we encounter consistently as indigenous peoples is that our knowledge isn’t really knowledge – that what we know, and how we’ve managed to live in a particular place over time, isn’t necessarily something that is considered valuable. You know, it’s this idea that: well, maybe indigenous peoples didn’t really know that much about their environment, or they lived in a way that was haphazard, or they were lucky. When in reality, indigenous peoples have very strong systems and ways of interacting and of living and of thriving in places. And I think that that’s one of the key issues that we are interested in as community members is this idea that we, too, have had research for a very long time as indigenous peoples. We maybe didn’t call it “research.” There’s lots of different ways in our languages that we think about inquiry, and we think about knowledge production. But I also think that there are different reasons that we sought to understand, or to know something, and there were different uses for what we did learn.

Will Brehm 11:15
I mean, it is interesting, the idea that you know, this coloniality, the domain of the normative, as you were saying earlier, and how that has sort of narrowed the very meaning of what science is, to, you know, the scientific method or Western science. But, in fact, there’s so many other and diverse ways of knowledge, of inquiry, of what we might call research, very broadly. And, you know, your special issue really sort of draws out all of these different, diverse traditions of what research could be, and has actually been marginalized by this sort of normative stance of what modern research is supposed to look like.

Tessie Naranjo 11:57
Well, I was thinking about the community that I come from and the pueblo world, that I know more about than any other tribal group. And I was thinking about how we have our own way of researching, so that we understand our place and our land, and I was thinking that our methods are different from that non-tribal world. And I was thinking of how we are more circular in our thinking, we are more fluid in our thinking, and in contrast to the Western way of researching, which is, I don’t know if you call it regimented, but it’s different than the way that we understand how to do things. And I will give you maybe an example or so of how we have learned to live off the land. For example, the irrigation. We are a traditional agricultural people, and so how we learn how to grow corn and beans and squash is something that we learn through experimentation. And so, “researching,” if you want to call it that, has been very much a part of our lives. And in terms of, for example, the pottery making that is a traditional part of our lives: how we’ve learned how to mix clays, and how we’ve learned how to use the plants for coloring the designs on our pots, all of that is a researching. Our place, our land, so that we know what its resources are. Our methods are different, but it is researching, nevertheless.

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 13:50
Will, you know, to speak to your point about the Western scientific method, I think Tessie really exemplifies that with her description of pueblo knowledge and living as agricultural people. I think that one of the things that is really disturbing that we’re seeing about the condition of the earth. And what we are seeing in terms of environmental catastrophe today is the distancing of our relationship from our respect and our regard for place. Our respect and our regard for natural resources and land as living beings. And I think that one of the things that, you know, Western science is not our enemy. Western science in many ways, scientists today, I think, are starting to wake up to, and have been, you know, at least for the last several decades. There are voices and people who are talking about. And they are naming it different things. So, they are calling it things like biocultural diversity, you know, or concentric ecology, for example. So, there are people who are understanding and delving more deeply into this idea of relationships. And I think that indigenous peoples, because of our relationships and our regard and our exercise of values, we don’t just talk about the values of respect or the values of love for the things around us. We have ceremonies, we have activities, we have daily things that we do as community members and as individuals, that put those into practice. And I think that people are seeing the importance and the value of that, and certainly, our authors are seeing that. So, for example, we have Danelle Cooper and her coauthors, her wonderful professor-mentors, who have really shaped a beautiful submission that highlights a couple of different sacred places, one of them being Mauna Kea in Hawaii. And we see there the tension between Western science and this drive to build, you know, super telescopes and more telescopes, and things that can really help humans to explore the universe in ways that assume that indigenous peoples didn’t have the capacity, or the technology, to do that. And I think we are talking about different purposes and different uses of technology, different definitions of technology. And I think so much of it comes back to purpose: Why do we seek knowledge? Why do we think about science the way we do? What is the ultimate goal for us? And for many of us who are really attempting to reclaim those connections to the beautiful things around us, and to appreciate the gift of life that we’ve been given, the purpose is to sustain life and to live a life of values and quality where, you know, children and communities and all the creatures can flourish. So, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a clash of Western science because Western science can be used as a tool of and as a resource for us. But it is: what is the purpose, you know? And I think that you know, those of us who were colonized by the Spanish – and there were many communities that were colonized by the Spanish back in the 1500s – you know, we joke about the Spanish being some of the very early colonial researchers. They were very early anthropologists, and they would ask questions, you know, there’s lists of questions that you can see in the archives. What were the questions that they would ask of community members? You know, they would ask questions like … and they knew, they knew that we had a relationship with place. So, for example, our mountain deities are called Apus, and so they would say, “Okay, we know this Apu. You know, the Quechua people, for example, believe that this Apu has a wife and children and so forth. We know that you know, the Quechua people believe that these mountains are families.” And they would ask the question, “Well, okay, what is the name of this Apu? Who is his wife? You know, who are his children?” And then they would say, “And where are his treasures?” And we can see a very early and primitive approach to science, a primitive approach to social science, a primitive approach to inquiry, that is material gain based. And I don’t think that you know, indigenous peoples today – what our authors, especially the authors who are participating in this special issue – are really interested in, is reclaiming our connection. For the purpose of, not just survival, but of really honoring our existence, and the existence of the things that are in creation.

Will Brehm 18:58
I mean, I love that idea of sustaining life rather than exploiting and advancing economic gain in anyway. I mean, you know, it is a very different purpose, as you said. So, Elizabeth, could you talk a little bit about why, in this special issue, you and Tessie basically situate indigenous women at the center of this conversation, in a way. Can you speak a little bit about why that is the case?

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 19:22
Sure. So, Tessie and I were very interested in promoting and supporting a special issue that involves indigenous women because we are indigenous women. And we do research, we interact with community members, we work with institutions that serve indigenous peoples. And we do that from our own experience. And I can speak for myself to say that I began doing work with generations of Quechua  grandmothers – people from my own communities – and I was very interested in, “Well, if I’m having these kinds of experiences and thoughts as an indigenous woman, as a descendant of these women that I’m speaking with, what might be the unique lenses that indigenous women bring to the conversation? Are other women having these kinds of questions? Are they having these kinds of discussions? What feelings are coming up that might be distinct to indigenous women, particularly women who are from the communities where they’re doing the research, or who are serving the people that they hope their research will highlight in some way, uplift, bring forward?” So that’s one of the reasons why I became interested in working on this project with Tessie. And of course, I’ve held her in such high regard for so many years, and have heard the stories of her talking about her mother and her grandmother, and how she was raised by very important people, women who lived daily lives. And similarly, in my own family background, I was raised by people and had a grandmother, who is no longer with us, and aunties, who are people living daily lives in community. Experiencing certain struggles that in many ways are distinct, gender-based struggles for women in my community; I will only speak from my experience. And you know, these are women that, they are not necessarily scholars, they are not necessarily researchers. But in many ways, I think both Tessie and I wanted to pay homage to what we’ve learned from them as well. And to bring together women in this special issue that also come from somewhere, that also have aunties, that also have grandmothers, that also themselves are living daily experiences, and encountering struggles and challenges as women, and that they too have something to offer a broader conversation that is often very lofty – that’s considered very lofty, and academic, and intellectual – which is a conversation about human rights.

Will Brehm 22:22
Tessie, would you like to add anything?

Tessie Naranjo 22:24
Well, I’d first like to get started in my thoughts, and knowing that, in the pueblo world, our world is constructed with the feminine in mind, the female in mind. So, it is a natural understanding that it is the female who is a part of our beginnings. And so, I’ll start with that. And then, Elizabeth invited me to be part of this project; I did not know what I was getting into. But I was resistant, admittedly, because I thought it was too much for me, because I am pretty much, home is important to me, and I don’t stray too far from home. But in the reading, and the helping edit the articles that were submitted, I began to feel that I had the best opportunity to look at what other indigenous females were very passionate about in the work that they were doing to better the lives of their home communities. And I got all of this understanding in appreciation of the feminine through my great grandmother, who was born in 1867, and then raised my mother. Because my mother was raised by my great grandmother, who did not know how to talk English or any other language, except my language, which is Tewa. I have very much appreciation for the strength of the women in my family, as well as for the strength of women in all other tribal communities, and we are doing our part as individuals, whatever place we live at, and whatever our passion is, whatever fight, whatever cause we want to get involved in. I have been able to look at all of these, or read all of these, articles, and just I am so proud of the dedication of the females who have submitted their articles, showing that they are lifelong contributors to bettering the health of their communities.

Will Brehm 24:59
Recently, I guess, I have noticed a lot of talk about indigenous research through, or within, international organizations, like the United Nations. And I just wonder in your opinion, to what extent is the United Nations, and even places like the World Bank – I have seen them promoting ideas of indigenous research, as well. And, you know, what is your take on it? How does that all fit in? Is it helpful? Is it problematic in ways? You know, how do you see the sort of the international push, through international law and human rights groups, advocating for, and supporting, indigenous research and knowledge?

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 25:41
So, there is undoubtedly value to international organizations like the United Nations, that are comprised of, and promote and highlight and create spaces for dialogue, that involve indigenous peoples and recognize indigenous peoples as actors in their own self-determination. There is absolutely a place for that. And I think there is a lot of tremendous work that’s been done by the United Nations. For example, the folks who worked on, including one of our authors, June Lorenzo, who worked on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And at the same time, I think that we have to recognize what era we’re in. So indigenous human rights, or indigenous rights, are considered to be third generation, the third generation of human rights discourse. So, the first generation, you know, in many ways, really focused on what we might think of as these very normative approaches to rights. So, the first generation was really about political and civil liberties. We also hear a lot about European constructions of rights in terms of male property rights; you know, that is very early on. And then the second generation of rights is really about social and economic rights, as well as equality for women and so forth. But I think it is very telling that indigenous rights are only recently, in many ways, being recognized as this third generation of rights. And I do think that many organizations, and lots of different bodies that are involved with bringing forward indigenous issues and struggles for self-determination, do very good work. But I think there’s conditions to that. I think that those organizations, or really any organization – it could be a grassroots community organization – really needs to have some sort of awareness and be very explicit around certain starting point questions. So, for example, what are rights? What are even rights? What is law, for example? How are those things conceptualized and named by indigenous peoples, representative of indigenous communities, at all levels? And how do those reflect principles that are embedded in indigenous languages? So, is that explicit in the work? I think another point that is really critical is that we also have to think about indigenous self-determination and the role that indigenous self-determination plays in those organizations, which refers to the ability of people to decide how they want to live their lives. And is that an explicit part of the conversation. As well, in any organization, are there clear reporting of biases? Is there also another explicit conversation around power, for example? So, who speaks for indigenous peoples? Who represents indigenous peoples? What constitutes indigenous communities? And how are decisions made? What kinds of questions are being asked? What kinds of goals are being identified? So, I think that there is several different areas of consideration that need to be explicitly laid out if organizations are going to attempt to be less problematic.

Will Brehm 29:30
So, Tessie, I want to bring you into this conversation, and ask a little bit about this concept of land and place, and why it’s such an important concept in indigenous research and education.

Tessie Naranjo 29:40
Well, in thinking about that question, I was thinking about, we have a local tribally run school here in my community. And I go to visit the community school every once in a while, and I love what is happening in the school because the children are learning about who they are and what their place is. Knowing how to appreciate their place, and knowing what it means to have a place, and have an appreciation for that. I was thinking about my mother. I would ask her the question, “What is important, Gia?” And Gia is “mother” in Tewa. She would tell me, “Children,” and I didn’t appreciate that as much as I do in my older age, but it was a very profound response to that question, although I didn’t think so at the time. But it is about kids. It is about children that you teach so that they can move forward and pass on the information so that, as they become adults, they can then become the leaders within the community. So that children, I would say, like by mother, children are probably the most important persons to guide, so that they can then maintain the village as they are growing up, when they grow up. That is what I can say about response to that question. But it is very important, I think, to pass on the knowledge of any community in whatever way you can: Who you are. Names of places in your land area. What your name is, for example. Like in the school, everyone has their tribal name. I can give you example of my tribal name and what it means to me because it talks about place and land. My name is Pae Ojegi in Tewa. I was born in January. My great grandmother, that I talked about earlier, took me to greet the sun and to name me. But we have a deer dance in the wintertime. The deer were passing from the mountains, and these, of course, are humans, dressed with horns on and sticks to emulate the deer coming to visit us in the village. And so, as they were coming by, she looked at the deer passing by, and she said to my mother, “We shall name this Pae Ojegi. Pae Ojegi is “deer with frost on its horns,” and I have loved that name all of my life because it represents the time, the cycles that we live, continuously – we live according to the seasons. And because I was given my name, Pae Ojegi, I am always reminded, whenever I see a deer, for example, the importance of that moment when the men dressed like deer were entering the village. This is a long example to talk about what the children in the small grade school are trying to learn. They are trying to learn about place and land. And they can learn it through names and other things that we are able to teach so that these kids one more time, as my mother said, can pass the knowledge from within our community and pass it forward.

Will Brehm 33:38
So, Elizabeth Sumida Huaman and Tessie Naranjo, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. It really was an honor and a pleasure to talk today. And congratulations on your latest special issue.

Tessie Naranjo 33:49
Thank you, Will.

Elizabeth Sumida Huaman 33:50
Urpillay sonqollay, Will. Really appreciate it and thank you so much to our authors and their families and their communities.

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Controversies over school policies that impact transgender students have increasingly made headlines in the United States for the past few years. What legal protections do transgender students have in schools? And how have the Obama and Trump administrations interpreted the law in this regard?

My guest today is Suzanne Eckes, professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Indiana University. She has written about the various legal cases involving transgender students.

Citation: Eckes, Suzanne, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 177, podcast audio, October 21, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/suzanneeckes/

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Today we take a critical look at human rights. My guest is Radha D’Souza. Radha has a new book entitled: What’s wrong with rights? Social movements, Law, and Liberal Imaginations

In our conversation, we discuss why there has been a proliferation of human rights since the end of World War II and how these rights have actually furthered the interests of the transnational capitalist class.

Radha also discusses education as a human right and the challenge it has for social movements and unions such as Education International.

Radha D’Souza teaches law at the University of Westminster, London.

Citation: D’Souza, Radha, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 120, Podcast audio, June 25, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/radhadsouza/

Will Brehm 1:59
Radha D’Souza, welcome to FreshEd.

Radha D’Souza 2:02
Thank you, Will, for having me on this program. I’m delighted to be here today.

Will Brehm 2:07
How are human rights commonly understood today?

Radha D’Souza 2:12
Commonly, people when they speak about human rights, they have in mind a set of claims that they can make about certain basic needs for human life. For example, it could be civil and political rights: right to fair trial; right not to be tortured; and these kind of rights are called civil and political rights. Or they may be social economic rights: rights to education, rights to health, rights to housing, those kind of rights. Or they could be Cultural Rights: rights of indigenous people, and so on. But the key thing about rights in popular imaginations is that rights are universal, that every individual has them by virtue of being human. That is why they understand it as human right.

Will Brehm 3:12
How many rights are there?

Radha D’Souza 3:15
When the United Nations was established at the end of World War Two, in 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enumerated about 28 rights; there was a list of 28 rights. Today, it is estimated that international law recognizes more than 300 rights, so human rights have proliferated phenomenally in the last 70 years.

Will Brehm 3:46
Why? Why has there been a proliferation of human rights?

Radha D’Souza 3:50
Well, we can see if we look at the history of rights that the prefix ‘human’ was added only after the so called New World Order was established after World War Two. Now, why does that order need this expansion of rights? Earlier, before the World Wars happened in the 19th century, 18th century and so on, rights were largely confined to nation states, they were only available to citizens against states. But after World Wars, we find that capitalism changed in its fundamental character; it became transnational, it became monopolistic, it became finance driven. And these kinds of expansion of capitalism and intensification of capitalism required a proliferation of new types of rights. And that is why we see all sorts of new rights. Most of them are international in character, and most of them are rights that actually meet the needs of transnational monopoly, finance, capitalism.

Will Brehm 5:18
Could you give an example of a right that meets the needs of transnational financial capitalism?

Radha D’Souza 5:28
Okay, let’s look at the proliferation of rights, the ways in which rights have proliferated. We have all sorts of rights now, you know, rights to surrogacy, rights to land, indigenous people, including a right to happiness. Now, if you look at the UN General Assembly, it adopted a resolution in July 2011 called ‘Happiness: A holistic approach to development.’ Now, you might wonder what happiness has got to do with transnational monopoly finance capitalism, right? And can happiness be legislated at all? I mean, can people demand from the state a right to be happy in the same way as they can demand from the state right not to be tortured, for example? But when we actually — and it may on the face of it sound a little strange that we have a right to happiness, which is now part of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 — but when we start looking behind these rights, we can see that there are a lot of important organizations like EU commissioners, European Union commissioners, who are advocating for this right; the OECD, the Organization for Economic [Cooperation and] Development, has published guidelines on measuring subjective well-being for national statistical offices for the use of bureaucrats, etc.

Who’s driving this new right to happiness? On the one hand, we see large corporations are trying to de-unionized workers, deny them collective bargaining rights, which they always had. On the other hand, these very same corporations are also introducing what they call work life balance programs. Now, these work life balance programs have led to a large coaching industry which has about 47,000 employees and estimated to be around $2 billion US dollars a year. So one of the things that the right to happiness provides for people, or underprivileged people in developed countries, is the right to tourism. So now you can straightaway see the link between tourism industry and the right to happiness. And similarly, you have in the social, the economy… the SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Now these goals were established as successor to the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals set out about eight goals to achieve basic needs of people. So the goals like, for example, primary education, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal gender equality, the goal to reduce child mortality and so on. Now, these goals where we know that it’s questionable whether they have been achieved at all. But regardless there was an eighth goal, which was to achieve Global Partnership. And this is the only goal in the Millennium Development Goal 2015 that was actually achieved because it was about establishing private public partnerships and induct global corporations, trust funds, private foundations, and so on into the very heart of the UN’s work.

Now, following on from that, we need to ask, if the Millennium Development Goals were not achieved, why do we need Sustainable Development Goals? And why do Sustainable Development Goals 2030 include the right to happiness? Right, and then you can see a whole lot of big players, for example, the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation and so on taking up many of these development projects. And how do they plan to deliver on it? They deliver on — now because poverty has not been eradicated women are not equal. There’s no universal primary education yet. So instead of addressing those, now we have a new goal: let’s try to make people happy. Because people can obviously be happy even without anything, right? Because even slum children now are very happy when they kick footballs on streets, for example. There is momentary happiness, and it takes attention away from the fact that even if slum kids are happy, playing football on the streets — probably with a torn ball — and still feel happy, maybe questions of education, housing, health, you know, don’t really need to take center stage, or we don’t need to give it as much importance as we’ve been doing so far. So it kind of deflects attention from all of those things. And I think that is really one of the problems.

How does it deflect attention? Because the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 has led to this whole indicator industry, if we can call it that. How do we measure happiness? mathematical methods, you know, with a complete array of methodologies, multiple disciplines, including psychology, religious studies, sociologists, Development Studies, all getting together to list a number of factors, which, if they exist, we can say the person is happy. And that completely changes the meaning of happiness. And instead those indicators become ways of measuring, you know, development and saying, ‘Okay, these kids in the slums are happy playing football.’ So maybe, you know, they are somewhat developed. And that completely skews the whole thing. And I think it takes us away from the reality that as human beings we live in this community, whether we are rich or poor, and happiness is an attribute of being human. And regardless of our social status or conditions, we will always seek solidarity with other human beings and that will always bring us some level of happiness.

Will Brehm 12:55
So, are you saying that the the human right to happiness that’s embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals actually furthers the interests of a transnational capitalist class?

Radha D’Souza 13:10
It does. It does it at several levels, because at the level of poverty and all those basic needs, as I’ve just said, there is no need to deliver on them. So, there is no need to feel guilty because rich people are also unhappy, poor people are unhappy, rich people are happy sometimes. So, there is no need to give it the kind of primacy that we have given it all these years. It operates at the level of corporate management and so on, because of this work life balance, so that employees are driven to work more and more and the technologies have increased the intensity of work and yet, you know, there is no sense of solidarity because the trade unions are gone, communitarian life of employees are gone, entire towns have been dis-established. So, all those other social factors which give people some kind of social identity, solidarity, and so on is taken away. So the corporations need to step in and and do something about it. So instead of returning their communities in lives, they take over even their most personal lives by making, you know, work life balance a corporate goal and creating an industry coaching industry around it.

Will Brehm 14:45
Has capital been interested in rights before they were human rights? So you said human rights sort of came around post World War Two and sort of proliferated as transnational capitalism sort of grew globally. Before World War Two, the idea of rights, were they also connected to capitalism in any way?

Radha D’Souza 15:11
Absolutely. I said that the prefix ‘human’ was added to rights after World War Two. And before World War Two, say in the 17th and 18th centuries, rights did not have the prefix ‘human.’ When people talk about rights, it included property rights, as well as human rights. And rights are absolutely instrumental in establishing capitalist societies. Now, if we look at pre-capitalist societies, pre-capitalist societies were land based societies. Land was the central organizing principle for the social order and as land based societies, people and nature were united. This does not mean that there was no exploitation or whatever. I mean, serfs were exploited, etc. But their connection to nature was…their lives were embedded in nature. They were not disconnected from nature.

What capitalism, in contrast, is a commodity based system, so it’s commodity producing system. And that means that everything in capitalism needs to be commodified, bought and sold, exchanged and so on. And one of the first commodifications we see is commodification of land. So capitalism is establish by commodifying land, and when land becomes private property, and land becomes alienable, that means people can buy and sell it, which could not, was not, possible in the feudal system. Then people are displaced from land, because to get clear title, you have to buy it, sell land without the people. And when people are displaced from land, you have labor, a free labor market.

So you have two kinds of markets. One is the land market and the labor market. And these two are absolutely foundational for capitalism and commodity production, and a system based on commodity production. Now, rights are the means that actually reorganized society. They reorganize our relationships to nature, our relationships to each other, the capitalist and the worker, our relationship to land and forests and water and so on, and our relationships to each other in society, on the basis of rights. So capitalism kind of transforms, you know, property, a land, which is a social relationship between ourselves and nature into a thing, a commodity, and it transforms labor, which is an inherent property of being human, we have always worked and we can only live by working and that labor is transformed into another kind of commodity. And I think rights are the ones that established the system and rights establish in right bearing individuals. And each right bearing individual is right bearing because they have something to give and something that they need and can receive. And this is basically the basis of capitalist systems. And capitalism works on contracts. Because to produce commodities, to exchange commodities, individuals need to be able to arrive at contractual relations. And all contracts presuppose the existence of at least two right bearing parties. And that is the relationship between commodity production contracts as social relationships and rights as the concepts or the other basic idea that establishes right bearing individuals that can enter into contractual relations. So there is an absolutely inalienable, intrinsic relationship between rights and capitalism.

Will Brehm 19:48
On this show, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who do research on education privatization, the ways in which education has become commodified in so many different parts around the world. Do you think rights and human rights, since since education is a human right, as you said earlier — have rights played or furthered the commodification of education in your opinion?

Radha D’Souza 20:14
It has because, look, education has always historically, has always been central to social reproduction. Because what education does is reproduces the social order, it trains the next generation to take over the reins. This is not being or what capitalism does. This turns that into an education and education becomes an investment. And as an investment, it becomes meaningful only if it can produce returns. So education then loses its meaning as a way of, understanding the social order and how we can continue our social life. It becomes an individual personal investment. And with the right to education, we also see education itself becoming an industry in so many different ways. If you look at the internal management of educational systems, they are very much run like corporations. If you look at the disparities, they mirror the larger capitalist societies, you know: those with education and those without education, those who use it to make capitalism more profitable are the ones that go very high up, and those who use their education for social justice or to improve things in the world, you will find that they are not making much money out of their investment. But also the methods used. For example, we have these huge organizations, educational companies, you know, who produce databases who produce various kinds of technologies, they’re making money out of it. Let me give you a very simple example. Now, I work for a University. The University pays me a salary, but when I write something, I can’t give it to people free of charge to read. And because there are journals, academic journals, there are publishers and they all claim that they have a right to make money out of it, even though they have not spent anything on my work. So it’s a strange situation. We are in a position because I don’t need the money because the university’s paying me a salary. And education companies, I’m not doing anything, they’re only charging readers exorbitant sums of money $35, $40, to read an article for what, for doing nothing, because the technology is now so freely available that I can let anybody who wants to read my articles, but I’m not allowed to do that.

Will Brehm 23:25
And this comes back to the issue of having rights to commodify, in a sense, articles and books — very essential features of higher education.

Radha D’Souza 23:37
Yes, it is absolutely central to that, because education is about passing on our knowledge to others, and learning from others. So why do we need to pass on knowledge to others? And why do we need to learn from others as educators? Presumably there is something called a social good, presumably there is something called future generation, and we want the societies and the world to continue. And that is why this exchange of knowledge, both accumulated knowledge from the past and new knowledge is necessary to solve problems, just iron out difficulties, and to see how we can continue human life in the future. But this purpose is taken away. When education becomes a commodity, human life gets a backseat, social well-being gets a backseat and education becomes a product which has to be sold in the market. And increasingly, research is linked to corporations linked to government, social policy, to international organizations, and all of that, where it is designed to improve their productivity. But as social beings, we need a critique of society, constantly reviewing our practices, evaluating our practices, and, and trying to make improvements in our social life for society to continue. What education as a commodity does is exactly the opposite.

Will Brehm 25:23
Seeing education as a social good is something that organizations like Education International would most likely advocate for. Education International being the global federation of teacher unions around the world. But Education International also supports the human right to education. They sort of see that as one of the justifications for what they do. And so the question I guess I have is: to create education as a social good, can human rights help in that cause? Or is it actually just sort of undermining it because human rights have become sort of helping the political agenda of the global capitalist class?

Radha D’Souza 26:08
That’s a good question, Will, because I think one of the things I do in this book is to examine what the disjuncture between property rights and human rights does. Because that’s where we started this conversation. In the 17th and 18th centuries, rights included property rights, as well as human rights and in fact, rights, property rights and labor rights were very closely tied. And the justification for property rights was really about labor theories. You know,  John Locke, for example, he says, he asks how can we call a piece of land mine and he says, because I labor on it, and therefore add value to it. So anything that we add value to through our work becomes property, my proper, private property, and so labor and property rights or social rights and property rights were entwined in the traditional thinking, or what we call enlightenment thinking, the European enlightenment. But after World War Two, we find that the property rights are disassociated with human rights. And I think this is the problem that we have today.

And your question is really an example of this disassociation. Because when people think about human rights, they think about, oh, children need to go to school, or, you know, people need — must have the right to go to a university or whatever. But they forget why the education industry wants human rights to education. See, and when…we see the property relations and education as a property, intellectual property, as is a post World War, you know, it has really expanded as a transnational, right, we see the industry itself, we see copyrights and all these kind of rights to my thoughts, which has become a form of property, because ultimately, that’s what it is, my thinking has become somebody’s property. And we don’t make the connection between these two things when organizations like this union, that you refer to, Education International, when they demand human rights, they’re only thinking about what we want from rights. But what I say is, you should also question why they want rights, why does the education industry want rights? Why do research foundations want rights? And why do corporations want intellectual property rights and so on. And when we start to ask why they want rights, then we start to see the connection between property rights and human rights. And this is what has been severed in the last 70 years. And that is why people continue to imagine that if they demand human rights, that somehow they can achieve it. But it only becomes an aspirational statement when it is not linked to the realities and how rights actually operate in the world. And that’s that’s the crucial point.

Will Brehm 30:07
I’d like to ask a personal question about how you navigate the space of academic publishing, because you just said that your thoughts become property. And we’ve been talking a little bit today about the academic publishing industry and how it’s, it’s very, it’s commodifying an essential part of higher education: books, articles. And you just put out a book and I think it’s published by Pluto Press.

Radha D’Souza 30:38
That’s right.

Will Brehm 30:38
How do you navigate signing contracts with publishers and knowing that your thoughts and your hard work is literally going to be the property of some other entity?

Radha D’Souza 30:52
It’s a difficult to navigate, especially at an individual level, because — and this is where the reality that we are social beings, we live in a social setting, and we can only change the world collectively becomes so important — because at an individual level, what is my option, either I publish, or I don’t publish. And even there, there is a lot of gatekeeping that happens. I mean Pluto is amazing; is one of the few, you know, radical book publishers around Left really remaining. But generally, if you look at the other big publishing names, they decide what they will publish and will not publish. And that will depend on the market that will depend on their judgment of your ideas. Say, I have an amazing idea, which is a radical idea. Or I write a piece of literary work, which is completely, you know, new genre, for example. If the publishing industry does not come on board, and some publisher does not agree to publish my work, I cannot communicate with the world. And in order to communicate with the world, then I’m under pressure to tailor my thoughts, to tailor my thinking, and my style and, you know, genre, to whatever is marketable. And that makes the gatekeeping a hugely problematic thing for our rights to intellectual freedom, you know, rights to knowledge, to conscience, all of those things. And I think the journals, it’s even worse because with journals, there are gatekeeping, gatekeepers who will decide, you know, you have not cited x or y or z and therefore, your article is unpublishable, or you’re right your ideas are too radical, therefore, they will not be publishable and it is through this kind of gatekeeping, that we are unable to produce knowledge that addresses the real problems of the real world and the people who are really in need of solutions.

Will Brehm 33:16
So, in your book, you argue that the 21st century needs a new counter social philosophy. What does that look like in your opinion?

Radha D’Souza 33:27
You see, all problems of the modern world are, in one way or another, related to three types of questions that we have: questions about human relations to nature, questions about human relations to each other, and questions about our inner lives, you can call it emotional life, psychological life, spiritual life, whatever you want to call it. Now, in ancient times, philosophy helped us to understand these relationships, helped us to understand our place in the world, our purpose in life, the meaning of life and our actions. What are the long term effects of what we do or don’t do.

Capitalism dismissed these questions as irrelevant, it undermined philosophy. The European Enlightenment thinkers for example, separated philosophy from science and philosophy was a useless part of knowledge and science became the useful part of knowledge. And then a series of separations followed: the separation of Natural Sciences from Social Sciences, separation of law from ethics, separation of society or sociology from law, and so on and so forth. And I could expand. Some European Enlightenment thinkers, like Liebnitz for example, fantasized about transforming all knowledge into an ideal kind of mathematical formula. Now, today, with computing, we see this fantasy being realized, because all computing is ultimately about mathematics. It’s about combinations of zeros and ones. I may be oversimplifying it here, but that’s what it is. Everything can be reduced to numbers, happiness can be measured, intergenerational equity is reduced to the technical definition of 30 years, and so on. But as a result of this, we no longer have any way of knowing our place in the world: Why are we here? What do we want to do? And we have no way of understanding the world around us. Therefore, I say we need to return to these big questions about human life. These are not useless kinds of knowledge, because they don’t produce marketable value, or they don’t produce returns on investments. We still need to understand how to make sense of our actions. And therefore I say, we need to find ways of restoring the three relationships that I talked about: relationships between nature and society, between people, and between ethics and aesthetics. And only a counter philosophy that puts these questions at the center of our knowledge production can help us get out of this terrible mess that we’re in.

Will Brehm 36:43
Well, Radha D’Souza, thank you so much for joining FreshEd it really was a pleasure to talk and a lot of thoughts and more questions are coming in my mind right now. And and I hope audience members will just have so much to think about going forward.

Radha D’Souza 36:58
Thank you so much, Will, it was a pleasure talking to you.

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