University of Westminster flag

Doerthe Rosenow: The discomfort of Indigenous refusal: Un-settling languages of decolonialisation in IR and beyond

The Centre for the Study of Democracy, based in the Department of Politics and International Relations, has an international reputation for research excellence, with research themes in contentious politics and democracy, security and violence in global politics, gender and sexuality, as well as resilience and sustainability.


Over the last few years critical IR (and the social sciences more generally) has seen a surge in articles and conference papers that call for ‘decolonisation’: of the curriculum, the discipline, security, ethics, etc. The downside of this laudable effort to bring what decolonial theory calls ‘coloniality’ to the forefront of IR debates has been the danger of turning ‘decolonisation’ into an unspecific buzzword (or a ‘metaphor’, as Tuck and Yang (2012) have called it).

In this paper I will show how this tendency can be traced back to decolonial theory itself, particularly the way it generalises ‘coloniality’ from specific Latin American colonial histories and contemporary struggles, and makes ‘decolonisation’ commensurable with wider transnational struggles for social justice. I will confront the consequent ‘ease’ with which calls for ‘decolonisation’ can be incorporated into critical IR more generally with the discomfort generated (particularly for white, European scholars) when reading the work of North American Indigenous scholars Audra Simpson, Eve Tuck, and Glen Coulthard.

This discomfort is related to their calls for refusing recognition and engagement, and for the way they draw attention to the problem of incommensurability when it comes to decolonial struggles. Besides reflecting on the need to hold, rather than brush off this discomfort, the paper will conclude that it is important to understand and analyse different colonial regimes, and the struggles against them, in their specificity. In other words, it needs to be understood that the North American Indigenous scholars drawn upon in the paper argue from within a very specific – settler colonial – regime that, in its historical and contemporary composure, is different from other (e.g. many Latin American) colonial experiences.

Research seminars take place on Tuesdays 4-5.30pm at Westminster Forum, Level 5, 32-38 Wells Street, University of Westminster, W1T 3UW. Seminars are followed by drinks with the speaker.

All are welcome and there is no need to register.