Research as a game of empire

Dr Luca Morini is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Learning Education and Attainment of Coventry University.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Education and Communication, obtained researching into the social, cultural and pedagogical dynamics which occur in Do-It-Yourself amateur game design communities. A bit like punk rock, but geekier.

His current areas of interest intercultural education, critical pedagogy, systems thinking and the globalisation of higher education (HE).

Luca tweets from @LucaMorini11.


First of all, an introductory note: to propose a one-size-fits-all definition of colonialism would be itself quite a colonial approach, and I would instead prefer to point you at this extensive reading list.

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

For the purpose of this article, it will suffice to say that colonialism is about the oppressive domination of lands and people as much as it is about those people’s alienation from selves, identities, historical heritages and ways of knowing, to paraphrase Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Decolonisation is therefore an effort towards deconstructing structures of oppression as much as it is about making visible the deep histories of identities, cultures, knowledge and institutions (which in turn makes accusations of “tearing down history” either misinformed or disingenuous).

If you would prefer to explore this field of work with a specific focus on the University, pick up “Decolonising the University”, edited by Gurminder Bhambra, Kerem Nişancıoğlu and Dalia Gebrial.

My contribution is nothing more than an attempt to open those conversation to researchers in general.

Second, a necessary disclaimer: I am yet another white, European, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, decently salaried guy. While I undeniably benefit from past and present forms of colonialism, I also think that they immeasurably impoverish all of us. Indeed, they impoverish the whole world, simply by “ruling out” alternative ways of existing. While this is true in all fields, my experience most closely pertains to the field of Higher Education and Research (and, more specifically, Research on Higher Education), which is particularly dangerous due its positioning as a key engine of social replication and production.

It’s a colonially structured research community, and research assessment and funding criteria can’t help but perpetuate colonial patterns of inequality.

While I have previously discussed the impact of competitive dynamics on staff wellbeing, this post focuses on competition in research and, in particular, its colonial dimension. Again, my argument will echo the language of game design, one that is both accessible and, for historical reasons, replete with colonial metaphors. This approach seems even more fitting when discussing research, with all its pervasive scores, rules and rankings, or as I have started to call them the ‘Three Colonial Rulings’. Read more of this post