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Toward the hospitality of the academy : the (im)possible gift of indigenous epistemes Kuokkanen, Rauna Johanna

Abstract

The academy is considered by many as the major western institution of knowledge. This dissertation, however, argues that the academy is characterized by prevalent 'epistemic ignorance' - a concept informed by Gayatri Spivak's discussion of 'sanctioned ignorance.' Epistemic ignorance refers to academic practices and discourses that enable the continued exclusion of other than dominant western epistemic and intellectual traditions. The academy fails to recognize indigenous epistemes grounded on different conceptions of the world and ways of knowing, and thus, indigenous people 'cannot speak' (Spivak); that is, when they speak from the framework of their own epistemic conventions, they are not heard or understood by the academy. This dissertation suggests that there is a need for a radical shift in approaching 'cultural conflicts' in the academy. So far, various programs and services for indigenous students have been set up on the premise that they need special assistance to adapt to the academy. I argue, however, that the academy is responsible for 'doing its homework' (Spivak) and addressing its ignorance so it can give an 'unconditional welcome' (Derrida) not only to indigenous people but to their epistemes, without insisting on translation. This process must continually be watchful of the arrogant assumption of 'knowing other cultures' while engaging to 'learn to learn' (Spivak) from indigenous epistemes. If the academy does not assume its responsibilities, the gift of indigenous epistemes remains impossible. To counter epistemic ignorance, indigenous epistemes have to be recognized as a gift to the academy. This implies perceiving them according to the ethics of responsibility toward the 'other' and the reciprocity that foregrounds the gift logic of indigenous philosophies. With examples drawn primarily from Sami and Northwest Coast First Nations' contexts, I propose a new interpretation of the gift as a central part of indigenous worldviews. I also test the theories of Spivak and Derrida against the traditional indigenous notions of gift and hospitality. Following Derrida's argument of the 'limit of the impossible' where the academy is exposed to 'forces from without,' I suggest that this threshold is also the limit of possibility, a place where the gift eventually becomes possible.

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