Introduction to Decolonisation

Glossary of Key Terms

Glossary of Key Terms

Disclaimer: These terms are defined in the context of undertaking research from a decolonising lens. Their definitions are contested, complex and not fixed. Unless otherwise noted, these definitions are from the University of Exeter’s Researcher Development guidance on decolonising research.

Colonialism is the practice of having full or partial control and domination over another country or region. Colonialism can be enacted through language, economy, politics, military occupation or other socio-cultural and political practices.

Coloniality is a concept advanced in postcolonial studies, decoloniality and American subaltern studies which examines the long-standing power structures, legacies and logics of European colonialism which are embedded in social orders and forms of knowledge.

Culture is a collective set of shared beliefs, behaviours, ideas, philosophies, and practices common to a particular group of people. (This definition is provided by Meg Pier of People are Culture).

Decolonisation is an on-going process of undoing colonial and imperialist logics embedded within power structures, knowledge production and social orders.

Epistemology is, broadly speaking, the study of knowledge, what is or can be known, and how people know and engage with knowledge. (This definition is part of a much longer entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Ethnicity is a term used to indicate a group of people who all identify with a shared culture. Ethnicity often indicates a shared geographic origin or nationality. It is also sometimes associated with race, since ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are used colloquially to indicate common ancestry. (This definition is provided by the Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.)

Gender is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours, and roles…as well as relationships.’ WHO recognises that gender constructs vary amongst societies and over time. (Their full definition can be found here.)

Imperialism is an ideology that seeks to extend the domination and control of one country over other territories through military force or soft power such as cultural influence.

Indigenous Peoples is a term that should not be homogenised. They can be referred to First Peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal Peoples, or Native Peoples. They are culturally ethnic groups who are known to be the first earliest inhabitants of particular lands.

Minoritized communities is a contested term which describes groups of people who have been historically marginalised and who are defined as ‘minority’ by a larger dominant group. Other terminologies have been used such as ‘BAME’, ‘BIPOC’ or ‘Global Majority’.

Ontology is, broadly speaking, the study of existence and being. (This definition is part of a much larger examination of ontology and logic provided by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Oppression refers to a combination of prejudice and institutional power that creates a system that regularly and severely discriminates against some groups and benefits others. (This definition is provided by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.)

Positionality refers to understanding and critical awareness of one’s position in relation to the research study, social context and the world. Researcher’s positionality influences every stage of the research process, from the way the research problem is formulated to how ‘data’ is collected, gathered and interpreted, and finally how knowledge is produced.

Power is the ability to exercise control over personal relationships, lands, social dynamics, professional institutions and regimes of truth. Power can regulate social discourses, dispositions and what count as knowledge/truth.

Race is a social construct used to group people. Race was constructed as a hierarchical human-grouping system, generating racial classifications to identify, distinguish and marginalize some groups across nations, regions, and the world. Race divides human populations into groups often based on physical appearance, social factors and cultural backgrounds. (This is the definition provided by the National Human Genome Research Institute, and you can find additional narration here.)

Reflexivity refers to the process of examining one’s beliefs, assumptions, bias and practices which shape the research process and knowledge production.

Representation is a system by which language, discourse and power deal with and present social markers and groups such as gender, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ethnicity, culture, and social/world events to an audience.

Sexuality is a term for someone’s sexual behaviours, attractions, likes, dislikes, kinks and preferences. (This definition is provided by the sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook.)

Whiteness is an ideology, a racial discourse and a socially constructed identity as a result of colonial projects and legacies which have maintained whiteness as the standard through which regimes of truth and thoughts are developed.

Glossary PDF