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Expanding Economics panel considers the importance of decolonizing economics

Expanding Economics, a McGill initiative that aims to promote pluralism within the field of economics, hosted the virtual panel, “Decolonizing Economics” on Feb. 27. Panellists discussed how colonial legacies have influenced economic development and economic theory and suggested ways to decolonize economics from an academic perspective. The event featured Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of postcolonial studies, and Carolina Cristina Alves, a research fellow in heterodox economics, both at the University of Cambridge. Joining them was Carol Anne Hilton, the CEO and founder of Indigenomics Institute, an Indigenous economic advisory group. 

Shanaya D’sa, U3 Arts and Expanding Economics co-vice-president events introduced the event’s panellists and spoke on the relevance of decolonization in a colonial capitalist society. 

“Our goal for today is to bring to light the ways in which colonialism has played a formative role in present mainstream economics and economic development so that we can actively decolonize our mindsets and our education,” D’sa said. 

Gopal began the discussion, offering insight into the ways imperialism and monoculturalism have shaped contemporary academic curricula. She explained how post secondary institutions have greatly benefited from the flow of resources and profits produced by colonialism.

“Universities in the West […] were able to accumulate archives, specimens, objects, information,” Gopal said. “All of these things [were] afforded to them […] by colonial knowledge gathering.”

Gopal felt that there is no single way to go about decolonizing higher education and curricula, but emphasized that attention to history is essential.

“Decolonization is meaningless without a set of principles […] that allow it to emerge as a practice that is sensitive to the present and to context steeped in historical awareness,” Gopal said. “There is something still to be said for universities as sites where intellectual and transformative work can intersect.” 

Alves then detailed how heterodox schools of thoughteconomic theories that diverge from mainstream economic principles—play a role in decolonizing economics by diversifying economic theory. She argued that the normalization of capitalism in economic development theories and the Eurocentric underpinnings of the discipline necessitates heterodox thinking. 

“Economic theories that developed in Europe are the ones that become the starting points for economists to analyze everything,” Alves said. “[These theories are] literally one size fits all. There is this idea that [Western] scholarship […] is the one that is valued, so we exclude local knowledge [and] we do not consider theory […] that is related to scholars from the Global South.” 

Alves argued that universities should acknowledge and integrate non-Western ideas into economics curricula. 

“Representation [of what?] is really about how we understand […] the development of our economic theories,” Alves said. “[We try] to understand who gets to define what we are studying, who gets to define what is economics, and then [we try] to break this intellectual hierarchy that we see in our discipline.”

Hilton concluded the panel by highlighting the ways that Canada’s Eurocentric economy has challenged Indigenous communities and exploring how these barriers could be overcome. 

“Here in Canada, the Indigenous peoples […] are the only ones who have had to fight for the right to an economy,” Hilton said. “There is no other population within this country who have had to express what our rights were across time, what our rights are today, and how we create that economic and legal space today and in our future.”

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, D’sa emphasized the importance of creating space for discussions on the legacies of colonialism. 

“The colonizer [versus] colonized superiority [complex] and [the] power dynamic is something that has seeped through the generations,” D’sa said. “It’s important for us to […] be aware that the economic theory that we study today is […] a byproduct of colonialism to begin with.”

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