Academia: A Provocation

On September 24th, 2020, Co-lead of the Open Praxis Forum and Knowledge Equity Lab Member Kanishka Sikri performed this powerful and provocative piece for guests at the Knowledge Equity Lab virtual launch party.

Academia. 

A place where you can stick it to the man and be paid for it. A place of critical pedagogy, of theory, learning, writing to radically imagine our world, our place within it. A place of salvation.

The continued hope our parents placed that more education, more power, more influence could stop the violence, could give us a way out of the suffering—relentless, omnipresent, ingrained in every surface we touch type of suffering. 

The academy is many things, but the preceding, it is not. We enter the academy, and surprise! We either become the man or we are demolished. We publish or we perish. The problem of academia is that I too, say us, we, but the reality is there is no we. At least the academy does not see or value our solidarity. 

Everything—from the journals we are prompted to publish in, the conferences deemed legitimate, the funding agencies and resources we are forced—if we want to keep our positions—to apply to. Everything that is considered success, is read against the backdrop of white male western productivity. 

I’m told academia has been a historic vehicle for knowledge production, but has it? Whose knowledge is worthy enough to be taken up by the academy? Whose theory is made visible by the static, inherently exclusionary politics of academic publishing—and who, how, where is made invisible?

Oral storytelling. Spoken word. Poetry. Visual art and culture. Community activism. Everyday acts of resistance. Oral histories. Digital forms of rebellion. Workplace protests. Marches and strikes. Survival politics. Participatory learning. Consciousness raising. How can these forms of being with and through our world be captured by academia as ‘productive’?

These are questions we provoke, but have not received answers for. Our measure of being a true academic is written by those who have continually viewed theory as white, experience as black. Theory as academic, and experience, embodied, and lived knowledge as everything but. Why then are we surprised that imposter syndrome runs rampant for global southern scholars, for black, brown, indigenous, women, poor, and disabled communities? 

Are we really surprised? I’m not. 

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