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Safe language when discussing colonialism and decolonisation

This article emphasises the importance of safe language and respect for all learners when discussing colonialism and decolonisation.

When discussing topics around colonialism and decolonisation, it is inevitable that we will touch on sensitive issues.

While it is important that we remain open to debate and differing perspectives, we also must recognise that certain kinds of racist, dismissive or demeaning language can cause real harm and psychological distress.

Content note: please do be aware that we will inevitably need to draw on resources, images and information around the violence of coloniality in this course. This may include engaging with stereotypical and violent images and histories. Some of this material is likely to be distressing.

Decolonisation spans a number of intellectual schools of thought. You can find some of the key terms which you will come across over the next four weeks below.

Colonial matrix of power

A term coined by Aníbal Quijano to describe the legacies of colonialism in structures of power and control, as well as in systems of knowledge. The colonial matrix of power emphasises that many institutional, social, and cultural power relations today can be traced back to structures and cultures implemented during the colonial period.


A concept to describe the social, cultural and epistemic impacts of colonialism. Coloniality refers to the ways in which colonial legacies impact cultural and social systems as well as knowledge and its production.


A movement that identifies the ways in which Western modes of thought and systems of knowledge have been universalised. Decoloniality seeks to move away from this Eurocentrism by focusing on recovering ‘alternative’ or non-Eurocentric ways of knowing.

Epistemic injustice

Discrimination against certain forms of knowledge or knowledge, including based on race, gender, sexuality, culture, social background and other similar factors.

Epistemic injustice results in the exclusion of certain people from the process of knowledge production. It invalidates their ability to be seen as having knowledge or systems of knowledge of their own.


The ways in which we come to know, understand and perceive the world through formal (educational institutions, the state, religious institutions, the media) and informal (families, communities, public opinion) forces. Epistemology relates to the ways in which we are socialised to experience and view the world through certain prescribed lenses.

Global South

A phrase that usually refers to Asia, Africa, and South America. It identifies them as broadly less economically developed and as politically or culturally marginal. The term has become prevalent in recent years as a replacement for terms like ‘Third World’, ‘periphery’ or ‘developing world’.

It is a comparative term that juxtaposes the South to the North and has its roots in ideas that modernity, wealth, and power are located in the West.

Global North

A phrase that usually refers to Europe, North America and Australia. It broadly identifies them as economically, politically and culturally dominant global regions. The term has become prevalent in recent years as a replacement for terms such as ‘First World’, ‘core’ or ‘developed world’.


The process of supporting, enforcing or allowing the expression of one cultural, ethnic, social or religious group to the exclusion of others.

Monoculturalism encourages assimilation, where members outside of this dominant group may be expected to adopt its behaviours and practices.

Reparations / reparative justice

The process of making amends for injustices and human rights violations. Reparative justice is a process that might include: symbolic reparations (acknowledgement or apology and memorialisation); guarantees that the offence will not be repeated; compensation; rehabilitation (compensation beyond economic or financial repairs such as providing care and wellness services); and restitution (taking measures to bring the wronged parties into the position they would have been in had the injustice not occurred).

© University of Bristol
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Decolonising Education: From Theory to Practice

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