Public Intellectualism & Decolonial Epistemologies in Contestable Political Imaginations

On the afternoon of September 21, 2022, the Sub-Saharan Africa Research Group of the Institute for International and Area Studies of Tsinghua University (“IIAS”) held the first lecture of the 2022-2023 fall semester on Zoom, entitled “Public Intellectualism & Decolonial Epistemologies in Contestable Political Imaginations.” The speaker was Dr. Joseph Kasule, Research Fellow of Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in Uganda. Dr. Kasule wrote an article specifically for the lecture and sent it two weeks in advance to the faculty and students of the research group. The lecture was hosted by assistant professor Gao Liangmin of the IIAS, and attended by other faculty members and doctoral students of the Institute, outside scholars and students from at home and abroad, and general public interested in the topic.

The lecture consisted of three parts: the debate on the decolonization theory, the key role of citizen intellectualism in the decolonization discourse, and the methodological issues and methods of decolonization. Dr. Kasule began by proposing that citizen intellectuals (also known as public intellectuals), like academic intellectuals, were key participants in the decolonization discourse, because they, as musicians, artists, poets, curators, or social critics, etc., had the ability to explain social issues in the public space. Many universities see seasoned scholars and academics as best fit for theorizing and studying the knowledge system of decolonization, but in the course of social transformation, the leading role of scholars is overestimated while the complementary role of non-academic public intellectuals is neglected or even denied.

Dr. Kasule moved on to explain the similarities and differences between modern universities and traditional universities in terms of decolonial epistemologies and contemporary debates centered on university intellectuals. He cited the Puerto Rican sociologist Ramón Grosfogel to introduce the perspective, basis and birth of decolonial epistemologies. In thinking about decolonization, he argued, one needed to overcome and transcend the global “North-South” dualism. Decolonial thinkers believe that colonialism exists not only in all social forms of colonized countries in the South, but also in the metropolitan space of the North. In other words, colonialism exists in various forms, and it varies in different South countries, such as the stark contrast between colonialism in Latin America and that in Africa in terms of degree and manner. But such phenomena receive little attention because non-Western spaces occupy the center of critical thinking of next-generation academic research. If we cannot break away from the dualism effect of colonial powers, the knowledge thus generated would only end up being derivatives at best.
In the second part of the lecture, Dr. Kasule explained the key role of public intellectuals in decolonization. Public intellectuals, he argued, were involved in shaping public sentiments – the way they felt, thought, and talked – because they were closer in social spaces and intertwined with social relationss. They contributed to the idea of decolonization through various paths and media, and had strong inclination to act upon it. These paths would ultimately inform the behavior patterns of established or emerging norms and practices.

In the production of the decolonization knowledge system, the role of academic scholars, though they are important participants, is overestimated. Non-academic public intellectuals could make use of platforms for knowledge production and dissemination to strike resonance with the specific everyday life of community residents. To further highlight the transformation of non-colonial knowledge discourse in social and political practices, the significance of academic theories is diminished. Therefore decolonization should strike a balance between thinking and acting; that is, it should be advanced by public intellectualism, unfettered by ideology and intellectual dogmas.

In this sense, there are certain political conditions for the production and dissemination of knowledge, and although Western coloniality dominates global colonization knowledge discourse, we should admit that coloniality takes up different forms in different social spaces. Therefore, there should be singular, not plural epistemology about decolonization, and this epistemology should transcend and overcome the global South-North dualistic tendency, and further liberate mankind from the colonization mentality. For colonialism exists not only at the “center,” but also on the “periphery,” including North and South.

The third part summed up the common decolonization theories. Dr. Kasule suggested that we needed to first identify a method for investigating the form of colonial power and its impact. Second, before identifying specific or peculiar attributes of different groups based on the critical thinkers’ advantages, it’s important to identify colonial ways of thinking and practices shared across regions. Third, social proxies should be allocated to individuals close to society as a whole, making them the main actors in the non-colonial dialogue. Fourthly, a truly universal theory of decolonialism requires the building of a working vocabulary, and categories such as “North” and “South” are colloquial legacies of colonial modernity, the use of which is often contested by decolonial theorists.

In this regard, Dr. Kasule argued that scholars of decolonization studies should make effective use of research institutes and their networks to exchange and share knowledge. In this course, they should identify and interact with public intellectuals, to share with the latter their studies on decolonization and win the latter’s recognition.

Following the lecture, Dr. Kasule fielded questions from the audience about the role and use of Uganda’s native language in education, the role of Buganda culture in Uganda’s decolonization, the research direction of decolonization, and how to get the public to think and talk about the decolonization process, etc.


Dr. Joseph Kasule, Research Fellow of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), obtained his PhD in Social Studies from Makerere University. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science (International Relations) from Makerere University in 2006 and a Master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights from Coventry University in the UK in 2008. From November 2008 to September 2011, he worked as a law fellow at a law firm in London; from October 2011 to December 2012, as a lecturer at Cavendish University Uganda. From January 2013 to 2018, he joined a PhD program at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, and received the Interdisciplinary PhD in Social Studies. From 2019 till present, he is Fellow of MISR, member of the Academic Council, chief adviser and manager of Uganda Parliamentary Savings and Credit Cooperative Association (SACCO). His research interests include but are not limited to: violence, power, social and cultural norms in pre-colonial and post-colonial African societies, and political science and political anthropology. He is the author of Islam in Uganda: The Muslim Minor Question, Nationalism & Political Power, Historical Dictionary of Uganda, and a number of papers published in Ahfad Journal, MISR Review, CUU Journal, and Research Africa, etc.

Text editor: Dong Hui
Typesetting editor: Cheng Yao
Proofreader: Sub-Saharan Africa Research Group