The Epistemological Privilege of Biculturalism
In the post-imperialist society of which we find ourselves inhabiting, the rise of globalization and consequent international awareness of impacts and concerns is inevitable. This is particularly evident with the current global financial crisis. We occupy a point in history in which the economic stability of each sovereign nation is directly dependent on the overall stability of the global economy. The ideology of entitlement and subsequent propagation of a “manifest destiny” has extended the imperialists’ notion of globalization not limited to the expansion of national boundaries but toward international economic trade – i.e. the globalization of capitalism. In “Biculturalism and Community: A Transformative Model for Design Education” Anthony Ward insists that this current international market economy directly threatens the pedagogy of institutional thought and design education.
The notion of power and privilege and the determination of their entitlement lie at the forefront of imperialist thought. Wherever the concept of privilege is utilized – and as we find in the globalization of capitalism, worshiped – there is inevitably the creation of a substantial dichotomy between those who receive privilege and those considered unworthy of privilege. This separation of privilege manifests itself prominently throughout education systems – where the cultural identity and thus voice of the privileged is given superiority over the underprivileged - and is most apparent to Ward in colonial settings.
“It is in the postmodern discourse on voice that the connections between education and power become finally clear. In the last fifteen years all of these arguments have been nurtured through postmodern (and deconstructivist) discourse that has challenged notions of value, legitimation, and authorship – the issue of power and voice. These discourses take on a particular poignancy in colonial settings, such as New Zealand where culture, class, race, and ethnicity congeal into a multiple oppression, and where the educational process play a prominent role in the processes of subjugating subordinate cultures and colonizing indigenous peoples.” [Ward, 92]We must not put aside and ignore history but rather admit that the United States is fundamentally a colonial society. Our educational systems and political tendencies suffer from the same oppressions and subjugations that Ward finds prevalent throughout New Zealand. Our privileged Eurocentric cultures are reinforced through taught dominance and unquestioned veritability. In this way, the dominant Eurocentric cultures engulf any opposition of their superiority, attaining a hegemonic imposition over subordinate cultures through the globalization of capitalism and, in effect, have achieved an international economic colonization.
“Recorded history (which we normally assume to be the history) is invariably the history of the winners, of the hegemonically successful dominant culture. In design, our built history tends to be that of the dominant Eurocentric culture. The histories of minority cultures are rarely, if ever, valorized in the contested space of the urban landscape.” [Ward, 93]Our design schools are experiencing an increasing awareness of the wealth inherent through the incorporation of multicultural perspectives. It is now widely believed that there exists an “epistemological privilege” of the oppressed. This privilege resides in an ability (or the necessity) of the oppressed to have knowledge systems based on both the dominant and oppressed cultural norms and contexts.
“Oppressed people have a kind of epistemological privilege insofar as they have easier access to this standpoint and therefore a better chance of ascertaining the beginnings of a society in which all could thrive. For this reason I would claim that the emotional responses of oppressed people in general, and often of women in particular are more likely to be appropriate than the emotional responses of the dominant class.” [Jagger, 162]We are beginning to see this shift in attitude away from the supreme superiority of the dominant culture by the implementation of cultural studies within design curriculum. An example especially relative to North America is the increased attention being paid by design schools to the study of Native American structural responses and solutions that embrace the local climate while retaining a humble footprint upon the environmental impact of habitation.
Those contributing to this school of thought are beginning to understand the wealth of knowledge inherent in cultures that have primal rather than colonial experience with the site. This movement represents an awareness of the faults embedded in an entitlement-biased globalized society. The collapse of any elitist global institution is caused by the unstable dichotomy of a dominant cultural ignorance coupled with increased global awareness. We are starting to observe – and necessarily so in order for international progressivism - the reduction of cultural ignorance and its hegemonical system and an increased global awareness of the epistemological advantage of bicultural insights and thus a shift toward, at very least increasing, academic integrity.
A.M. Jagger, “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology.” In Gender/Body/Knowledge.
Ward, Anthony, “Biculturalism and Community: A transformative Model for Design Education.” The Journal of Architectural Education, February, 1991.