No later than December 12, 2022


Assata Zerai, Ph.D., The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA; Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Ph.D., The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA; Ronelle Carolissen, D.Phil., StellenboschUniversity, Stellenbosch, South Africa; Saajidha Sader, Ph.D., The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Ingrid Bamberg, Ph.D. The University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Nonhlanhla Mthiyane, Ph.D., Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa

Conceptual Rationale:

Research has established that women academics and particularly Black women academics continue to be marginalised in universities (Mahabeer et al. 2018). They are the statistical minority within academia (Mabokela & Mawila 2005; Mabokela & Mlambo 2017), and when they do occupy academic posts, their collective successes in universities are significantly constrained. Reasons for this include frameworks of inclusion in higher education, which have partially supported their access to academic careers but have done little to facilitate their flourishing as academics in universities that are increasingly neoliberal in practice, a system fuelled by patriarchy and white hegemony. Within this context, individualistic, market-driven logics of neoliberalism drive individual performance metrics in a university system assumed to be based on the myth of meritocracy (Feingold 2011) that profoundly impacts academics’ career identities and sense of self-worth. Moreover, barriers to Black women’s success include lack of mentorship, poor promotion trajectories, huge teaching loads and expectations to provide emotional support to students and colleagues. Furthermore, dominant, deficit narratives about Black women academics proliferate especially in South Africa and USA contexts that ascribe to affirmative action policies (Khunou et al. 2019). Women experience institutional cultures as exclusive, detrimental to their (mental) health and wellness and uncaring which impacts their capacities to work optimally (Makhuba, 2022). These trends intensified during Covid. Women academics published less, had more domestic responsibilities and felt more exploited in academic institutions (Ronnie, 2022). Given these challenges for Black women in higher education, innovative frameworks for understanding and intervening to support Black women to remain and prosper in higher education are necessary. We draw on strands of decolonial feminist and ethics of care approaches to suggest a generative theoretical foundation for Black women’s advancement in HE.

What is feminist decoloniality?

Feminist decoloniality is a relatively new concept coined by Lugones(2008; 2010). It draws on strong traditions of decolonial theory that critiques the nature of Western knowledge production that focuses on “othering” marginalized groups by designating them as voiceless subjects for investigation through a colonial lens of Western knowledge production (Mignolo 2007). Decolonial feminism highlights the intersections between coloniality, racism, gender, geospatial location and modernity in producing particular kinds of feminisms in different contexts of oppression with a strong focus on justice. There are four key foci of decolonial work relevant to our focus on Black women in higher education. It acknowledges gender as a power asymmetry that structures our experience and primarily argues for a rehumanizing and reparative engagement in HE (Ipadeola 2017; Mirza 2014). It secondly aims to disrupt the politics of knowledge production dominated by Euro-American normativity to generate ecologies of knowledge that focus on experiences narrated by and about women in the Global South. Thirdly, it centres geospatial, historical and political contexts for academic women in the Global South. It fourthly draws on critical feminist methodologies such as critical reflexivity, and the value of lived experience. As such feminist decoloniality is an important lens through which to understand the contemporary historical moment in which academic women in the Global South are located.

Aligned with this understanding, this Agenda issue also adopts an approach that foregrounds an ethic of care as central to our conceptualization of relations in higher education and contemporary society and the place of women generally, and black women in particular, therein.

What is an ethic of care?

Our approach to an ethic of care is informed by the work of Joan Tronto (1993). Fisher and Tronto (1990) define care as an activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves and our environment, all in a complex, life-sustaining web of which we seek to interweave (Fisher & Tronto1990; Tronto 1993). Tronto’s work is valuable since it considers care as an ongoing relational process and moral imperative that takes the “concerns and needs of others as the basis for action’ (1993, 105). All humans, the animal and material world are vulnerable and dependent on care but can also give care. As non-paternalistic and democratic caring (Tronto 2017), this is not only an interpersonal or individual activity but also a systemic and institutional activity. According to Tronto four moral elements make up non-paternalistic care. Firstly, attentiveness to a need involves caring about someone or something. Secondly, responsibility, or taking on the task of responding to a need, thirdly caring competence implies having some skill to care and fourthly, responsiveness to the needs of the person. More recently, Tronto (2013) added solidarity, where we can take collective responsibility and where citizens can be seen as both receivers and givers of care in society.

Tronto (1993) does offer critiques of care as potentially paternalistic as it generates power asymmetries when others are vulnerable in relation to our decisions about care. She also highlights parochialism in care as problematic when we care for only those who are similar to us (Tronto 1993). In this Agenda issue, we seek contributions that challenge or speak to such paternalistic care.

Linking feminist decoloniality and an ethic of care as a foundational framework

Decolonial feminism is a conceptual lens that has an implicit assumption of an ethic of care but does not formally theorise the nature of caring. It is therefore important to draw on frameworks of care that may extend the work of decolonial feminism theoretically and in applied ways. Finally, there is a strong focus on a rehumanizing imperative and disrupting gendered power asymmetries in both decolonial feminism and Tronto’s ethic of care. Finally, this conception of care is contextual, relational and systemic; a commonality central to both feminist decoloniality and care. The fact that we are concerned about minimal caring in institutional cultures in higher education institutions makes these conceptual strands valuable. The integration of an ethic of care with decolonial feminism is also focused on understanding and praxis; how do we develop imaginative and valid interventions to address gender asymmetries in HE?

In this special issue, we seek to make a unique intervention as interdisciplinary researchers and activists to explore feminist decoloniality as care from a social scientific perspective that includes praxis.

We seek contributions that address questions such as: How do we create spaces in which Black women academics can flourish to stimulate critical consciousness within our students to promote their decolonial turn in the westernized university? How do we nurture and care with and for Black women academics who are engaged in the decolonial feminisms within the context of the westernized university? How do we build a community of practice centering feminist decoloniality as care, both in our scholarship and praxis?

We, therefore, invite authors to analyse the ways in which women understand and contribute to scholarly debates and interventions in HE that draw on decolonial feminisms and an ethic of care. We welcome papers that explore the ways in which scholars who are Black women and nonbinary understand, respond to, and resist the gendered policies, structures and
processes in universities, particularly the ways in which this is reflected in their scholarship, curriculum development, decision-making, and community engagement. We call for articles, essays and reflection pieces, poetry and artistic contributions written or presented from decolonial feminist care perspectives that articulate positions, experiences, research and praxis on the following topics and any other relevant issues.

  • Decolonial feminism and care
  • Decolonial feminist research methodologies
  • Decolonizing the curriculum in higher education
  • Gender and curricular transformation in higher education
  • Decolonial feminist transnational solidarities and care
  • African(a) decolonial feminisms and higher education
  • Feminist care ethics
  • Participatory research as decolonial research methodology

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Tronto, J 2017,‘There is an Alternative: HominesCurans and the Limits of Neoliberalism’, International Journal of Care and Caring, vol 1, no 1, pp. 27-43,

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