Professor Arathi Sriprakash is a sociologist of education whose work focuses on the racial politics of knowledge in relation to education and international development. Professor Sriprakash became a Fobzu Palestine-UK Academic Links (PALS) Travel Fellow and joined the study tour to Palestine at the end of June. The PALS Travel Fellowship was designed to address the urgent need to build educational links and promote mutual understanding between UK and Palestinian academics. Through participation in the programme, the fellowship aims to enhance UK academics’ understanding of the Palestinian higher education sector and support them in building academic collaboration with colleagues in Palestine. Professor Sriprakash spoke to Fobzu about her research interests, her experience as a PALS fellow and how she hopes to carry this forward in her work.
- Can you tell us about your academic work and recent research? What are the questions that animate your research interests?
As a sociologist of education I’ve spent a number of years examining how schooling systems are both implicated in the reproduction of social inequality and also how education can be a site of resistance and imagination. I took up these themes in a recent book, Learning Whiteness, which focuses on the relationship between education and the settler colonial state of Australia. Often education is seen as a ‘progressive’ force, but my co-authors and I analyse how it has been used to materially, epistemically, and pedagogically sustain the project of settler colonialism and deny ongoing Indigenous sovereignty. I’m currently building on these ideas in a new project that seeks to explore what reparations and reparative justice looks like in education systems, this time focusing on racial and class injustices in the UK context.
- What led you to apply to the Fobzu UK-Palestine Academic Links (PALS) fellowship?
I had never been to Palestine or conducted research on the region. However, I had done some reading and introductory teaching on education in Palestine for one of my courses, motivated by anti-racist and anti-colonial solidarity. So I applied to the PALS fellowship very much as someone who had a lot of learning to do and was thirsty for it. Given my previous work in Australia, I came with some understanding of settler colonialism, but I wanted to gain better insights into its specific formations in Palestine – and this was something that we were able to see and learn about in many different ways.
- Your work focuses on the politics of education and development. In what ways do you see education in Palestine as relevant to your research?
One of the subfields of my research is education and international development. I have spent a number of years critiquing the active erasures of coloniality and racism in this field. Too often, problems of educational inequity are framed without due acknowledgment of the deliberate political systems that got us here: land left, dispossession, exploitation, racist dehumanisation. I think one of the most powerful contributions of Palestinian education scholarship (I’m thinking here of work by Fasheh, Qato, among others) is that it has been cleared-eyed on these politics and histories. It renders frames like ‘development’ or ‘peace studies’ insufficient at best and violent at worst. So I think there is an enormous amount to be gained, globally, from learning from the theory and praxis of educators and scholar-activists of Palestine.
- Could you tell us about your experience of the PALS fellowship tour and what you feel it achieved?
I think I’m still digesting just how generative the PALS fellowship tour has been. Over five days we were able to meet with academics and civil-society organisations working in the domains of human rights, education, criminal justice, among many others. At Birzeit University I was particularly inspired to hear about the Right to Education Campaign. We also went on walking tours in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa which gave us insights into the histories and ongoing politics of different Palestinian cities. It was wonderful to learn alongside such an engaged and diverse group of academics who had joined the PALS fellowship too. We met so many wonderful people and listened to their stories, we danced and sang together, and we ate the most delicious food. I have no doubt that the PALS fellows will continue to be in touch with each other and with colleagues who we had the privilege of meeting in Palestine.
- One of the goals of the PALS fellowship is to promote academic collaboration between UK and Palestinian universities and scholars. Now you are back in the UK, how do you hope to build on some of the connections you have made?
I have number of plans to build on the connections and learning facilitated by the PALS fellowship. Firstly, I plan to embed more scholarship on education in Palestine in my teaching; the PALS fellowship expanded my knowledge of the field and I’d particularly like to create opportunities for greater visibility of Palestinian education scholars within seminars, reading groups, and courses. I’m also in early conversations about collaborative research with Palestinian academics and another member of the Fellowship – so I hope we will be able to develop our ideas in the coming months together. And, finally, in the longer-term, I’m working on an 8-year project on global movements for anti-racist education which I hope will be able to learn from and amplify the struggles for education and justice in Palestine.