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Where is the Diversity? Studying Politics at University

Maya Angelou once said that “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength”, through diversity you can gain an understanding of the true vastness of the human experience.

Nearly 60% of the world’s population comes from Asia, and Europe and North America’s population combined is still 200,500 less than Africa’s. Yet nearly all the political thinkers and thought we learn at university in the UK come from Europe, or occasionally the USA. The vast majority of the people in the world are not white yet only 20% of the thinkers I learned in a Political Theory module were non-white, and only one woman of colour. There is a 1.01 to 1 ratio for people assigned male at birth and people assigned female, yet still, only 20% of the thinkers taught were women.  There is also a lack of LGBTQ+ thinkers and thought, and what about thinkers who discuss disability. There is also a failure to consider intersectionality in the political thinkers we learn, as for example a white woman and a black man will be placed to offer diverse thought, with little regard to the black woman, whose gender and racial identity cannot be separated and who experiences the world as a black woman, therefore not fully represented in either.

Politics is the study of people, power, institutions; “The political should be defined in such a way as to encompass the entire sphere of the social… All events, processes and practices which occur within the social sphere have the potential to be political…The realm of government is no more innately political, by this definition than that of culture, law or the domestic sphere.” (Colin Hay, 2002). The personal is political, people’s lives, relationships and so on are all political. Therefore, at its core politics is the study of people, their lives and the things that affect them, yet the people we study and the ideas we learn represent a fraction of the people in the world, they understand a fraction of the world’s experience, yet they are labelled as the ‘key thinkers’.

Some ideas that are considered radical to western ideals […] have long existed in native and indigenous cultures around the world

Madeline Trubee

Based on the demographic of the people we are taught it would be easy to assume that Europe is the epicentre of philosophy, politics and debate, that everything important to political thought comes from European thinkers, which may spark from colonial ideas which centre the west as ‘developed’ and ‘cultured’ and the so called ‘east’ as ‘barbaric’ or ‘wild’.  It is glaringly apparent that what we learn needs to be decolonised and de-westernised, and we need to look at “who and what gets to occupy the centre and the margins of ideas and society, and re-balance power”. It is often claimed that we learn about the people we do because they are the key figures, they offer revolutionary thought, but saying this ignores the structural discriminations that have prevented many people’s contributions from being heard. Some ideas that are considered radical to western ideals, such as the discourse on gender and sex and the idea that there are multiple sexes and genders, have long existed in native and indigenous cultures around the world: Fa’afafines and Fa’afatamas in Samoa; Two-spirit in native North American Navajo culture; Muxes in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico; Sekrata in Madagascar; Sworn virgins in Albania; Hijras in South Asia; Metis in Nepal or Toms in Thailand. Showing that Europe and the West aren’t the sole location of philosophical and political thought.

Furthermore, I have not even discussed how whilst political theory modules have a diversity issue, they also often have more racist thinkers than they do non-white. Lecturers often acknowledge that the people we learn are problematic as if someone being a Nazi is merely problematic, but then justify us learning about them by suggesting we ignore their racist, sexist or colonial ideas and just focus on their theory. This may be easy for the mainly white men that are teaching, but for people who these thinkers are insulting it’s not as simple as just ignoring. As a white woman, being taught about Aristotle and then being told yes he thought women were inferior did sting, so I can’t even imagine how it would’ve felt to be say a black woman and be taught about thinkers who were sexist and racist, and have to view them as these great theorists. Although, there is merit in learning about the history of political thought, it is necessary to also add thinkers who represent the wide spectrum of humanity and not to dismiss thinkers discriminatory ideals.

In diversity there is beauty and there is strength” and it’s about time that our curriculum acknowledged that.

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