Feb. 14-15: Online Days
Feb. 18-22: On-site Days in Washington DC

Comparative and International Education: Reflecting on Extractivismo, Epistemic Genocide, and Theoretical Colonialism

José Cossa

Pennsylvania State University

Improving education requires a problematizing of what it means to “improve,” in addition to what constitutes an education, given the colonially-imposed meaning of both concepts and, what I have come to call as, attempts at epistemic genocide that manifest also in theoretical colonialism (Cossa, 2020). If Comparative and International Education can be understood as the application of theories and methods in the social sciences and humanities to study education globally (Epstein E. , ca. 2002), how the field chooses to explain reality (theories) and to study reality (methods) is crucial and must be understood in the historical-social context of its existence. Therefore, a re-historicizing and decolonializing (my term) of the field presents a challenge that requires our reflection and reflexivity on what it means to re-historicize, decolonialize, and educate. Since history, education, social development, and the colonial are informed by philosophical and theoretical traditions, this reflection and reflexivity will require reflecting on the role of philosophy, theory, and methodology in the field of comparative and international education and on how African perspectives might inform the field.

In the field of Comparative and International Education, Africa has been a subject of study and Western scholars have claimed expertise about the continent and, in some instances, such expertise was corroborated by having been on the continent. An instance of that can be seen in Bereday’s editorial decision, while an editor of the Comparative Education Review (CER), to reject an article written about Africa on the basis that the author had written on Africa without ever having been on the continent (Cossa, 2016). On the other hand, perceptions of expertise on Africa that favored Western scholars, thus confined to modernity’s perception of “the educated” and to the colonial perception of the Western scholar as the expert of Africa, were evident in Altbach’s selection of the CER Board, which precluded any African from being asked to serve (Cossa, 2016). For Bereday, it was important to travel to a country in order to understand it and such travelers should “concentrate on presenting eyewitness point by point accounts which will be respected as vital primary sources by more specialized scholars” (Bereday, 1958). The concept of “more specialized scholars” is evidence of how the field conceptualized a hierarchy of scholarship that would obviously be advantageous to Western scholars studying non-Western societies and would shape how comparative and international education research would be conducted in Africa and about Africa. Moreover, Bereday’ s emphasis on the importance of (Western) research methods, inspired by Jullien who is considered “the father” of Comparative and International Education (Gautherin, 1993), authenticated a modernistic approach to scholarship in the field, which precludes any other form of knowing by elevating a criterion for reaching a “high level of scholarship” characterized by requiring methodological expertise viewed as scientific by Western scholarship. Obviously, this modernistic perspective of scholarship and the elevation of Jullien to the status of “the father of the field” ruled out the possibility of viewing as early comparativists and perhaps among the predecessors of the field such African scholars as Leo Africanus (Maalouf, 1992) – also known as Joannes Leone de Medici, Yuhannah al-Asad, or al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan, – and Olaudah Equiano (Equiano, 1794), also known as Gustavus Vassa, whose writings were already comparative and international in 1526 and the eighteenth century, respectively.

An online search of the Comparative Education Review (CER) revealed that 4627 articles were published in the CER from 1957 to 2022 and out of these articles, 827 had the word “Africa*”[1] in their title. Assuming that the presence of this word in the title reflects the articles’ foci on “Africa*” as keywords (since the system did not allow for a search by keyword), we can safely conjecture that the top authors of articles addressing “Africa*” are non-African scholars (see Table 1). This is not to say that there are no African comparativists writing about “Africa*” and publishing in other journals that might not be primarily considered high impact journals focused on the field of Comparative and International Education. However, as the leading and doorway journal in the field, it is imperative that this point is highlighted herein because most researchers are likely to search the CER for what they might perceive as cutting-edge scholarship in the field, the historicizing about its regional societies and the practice of Comparative and International Education in such regions.

Table 1: Top authors by number of articles mentioning Africa
Author # Author # Author # Author # Author #
Raby, Rosalind Latiner 8 Carnoy, Martin 6 Fuller, Bruce 5 Evans, David R. 4 Snyder, Conrad W Jr 4
Altbach, Philip G. 7 Silova, Iveta 6 Hans, Nicholas 5 Kazamias, Andreas M. 4 Stromquist, Nelly P 4
Foster, Philip 7 Yates, Barbara A. 6 Psacharopoulos, George 5 Kelly, Gail P 4 Takayama, Keita 4
Heyneman, Stephen P. 7 Brickman, William W. 5 Benavot, Aaron 4 la Belle, Thomas J. 4 Zachariah, Mathew 4
Meyer, John W. 7 Epstein, Erwin H. 5 Clignet, Remi 4 Ramirez, Francisco O 3 Anderson, C Arnold 3

The question of who publishes about a given field in its prominent journals has implications on who shapes the field and its ontological, epistemological, and axiological perceptions (Cossa, 2016; Epstein E. H., 2016). Theorizing is a critical aspect of such perceptions and the shaping of the field, yet the field has relegated Africa to a non-theorizing space and imposed Western theorizing on African reality. The question of theorizing is also connected to the question of how the human is conceptualized in the field and how the citizenship status of such a human is articulated in discourses that the field feeds into the spheres of research, policy, and practice. Citizenship status is tied to perceptions of nationality, which in turn derive from perceptions of nation. Just as it ought to be with education, if one’s perception of being human is tied to land and one’s perception of citizenship is tied to an abstract concept inherent in the modernistic construction of State and its violation of native/original nations while imposing randomly constructed nation-states, the field of Comparative and International Education must pay attention to the pervasive colonial and neocolonial perceptions of “nation” and “international” (Cossa, 2021). The field must address the fact that “national,” as a construct that is historically used by its scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners, is a violation of “national” as understood by existing nations outside the perceptions of “nation” imposed by colonial practices (Meneses, Khan, & Bertelsen, 2018) such as what Moira Millan has called terricidio (Copley & Millan, 2012; Millán, Mujer mapuche. Explotación colonial sobre el territorio corporal, 2011).

Improving education requires a reckoning with the lingering presence and dominance of the colonial in our field, albeit discourses of decoloniality and epistemic/epistemological justice. The most recent literature on theories in Comparative and International Education, even that produced by those who are perhaps considered (or consider themselves) to be radical scholars in our field, continues to demonstrate a lack of interest, recognition and respect for philosophizing and theorizing that is exterior to modernity. When engaging with exterior to modernity philosophical and theoretical articulations, we often confine them to postmodern philosophical and theoretical spaces and, consequently, subjugate them to Western interpretation of truth, reality, and values – this was evident when President N’Dri Assié-Lumumba called for uBuntu as the theme of our conference and we saw a proliferation of evident extrativismo (in presentations) interpreting uBuntu as an African appropriation of humanism rather than a philosophy in its own right that was a recalling of ancestral African philosophy with a nuanced understanding of human. This reminds me of Moira Millán’s cry against el extrativismo cultural in Eszter Salamon’s choreographed performance in Kunstenfestivaldesarts that took place on May 5 of 2017 (Millán, 2020) and unless we, too, say “Basta!” to such extractivismo, our field will continue to colonize, extract, and appropriate instead of acknowledging, respecting, and learning from exterior to modernity philosophies and theories. Consequently, instead of speaking about improving education, we ought to be aiming our efforts toward acknowledging, respecting and learning from non-modernistic educational systems and practices that provide alternative ways of engaging the world and doing comparative and international education.

In my previous work (Cossa, 2020), I have used the metaphor of the box, which I equate to modernity, to explain the relationship between modernity and the exterior to modernity world. Using the same metaphor, the status of our field can be explained in terms of “the inhabitants of the box” who stand in comfort within the confines of the box and watch the struggle of those upon whom the box imposes its ways (p. 36) while creating theories, policies, and practices to re-colonize the exterior through neo- forms of economic nationalism (e.g., establishment of new extractive economies) and through intensifying epistemic violence (Vázquez, 2011) and attempts to epistemic genocide (my term). I have used the term epistemic genocide to emphasize the link between the genos and the epistemic because the erasing of the epistemic is intrinsically linked to the erasing of a people. To stop its contribution to epistemic genocide, we need to reflect, critically and soulfully, on our role in legitimizing efforts inherent in colonizing/re-colonizing projects formulated in the name of modernization, development, progress, and improvement, which at the onset undermine the epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies of those modernity labels as the other… and we often do, too, as we collaborate with modernity in its inclusion efforts without ever asking inclusion to what or if the so-called other ever wanted to be included. A luta continua!

[1] This includes Global Africa categories such as African American.



Bereday. (1958, October). “Letter to Gerald Read” . Comparative and International Education.

Copley, F., Millan, M. (Writers), & Copley, F. (Director). (2012). Pupila de Mujer, Mirada de la Tierra [Motion Picture]. Argentina: Cruz del Sur CINE. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ8UH8Q027o

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Cossa, J. (2021). Cosmo-uBuntu theorizing about the global citizen in modernity’s frontiers: lived experience in Mozambique, United States, Swaziland, South Africa, and Egypt. In S. Wiksten (Ed.), Enactments of global citizenship education: social justice in public spheres of education (pp. 14-27). Retrieved from https://www.routledge.com/Centering-Global-Citizenship-Education-in-the-Public-Sphere-International/Wik

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