Translanguaging as decolonial praxis

Pedagogic and epistemic thrusts in the politics of official knowledge


  • Desmond I Odugu Lake Forest College



translanguaging, online learning, decolonial, language, higher education, decolonial praxis


Epistemic ruptures in normative conceptualisations of language bring into sharper focus the absurdities of education in entrenched linguistic and disciplinary regimentations. At a time when neoliberal forces push educational processes farther from traditional disciplinary arrangements and towards nuclear marketisation of knowledge and processes of knowledge production, the convergence of epidemiological and social crises occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic forces educators to recalibrate pedagogical structures that have guided schooling processes for decades. Drawing insights from two emergency remote courses, this article examines the pedagogical and conceptual thrusts of translanguaging in US higher education. It outlines specific ways in which the institutional formations of knowledge – its (re)production, structuration and transaction – undercut the logic and political potency of translanguaging. Specifically, it locates translanguaging within a broader constructionist linguistic ontologism, which now provides conceptual tools for readjusting the epistemic aperture through which new cultural attitudes to knowledge – and to education – can materialise institutional transformations towards what Lewis Gordon (2021) calls ‘teleological suspension’. While public consciousness remains inured to the presumed cultural neutrality and political benignity of schooling as pervasive social practice, this study contends that it is precisely in the ubiquitous subtleties of institutional formations that the politics of official knowledge exercises most effectively its technologies of cultural control, and of exploitation. As such, the epistemic shifts which translanguaging and similar expressions of constructionist linguistic ontology invite extend far beyond language policy changes and point to radical social transformations.

Author Biography

Desmond I Odugu, Lake Forest College

Desmond Ikenna Odugu is Associate Professor of Education at Lake Forest College. His research explores linguistic practices, education and social change in the Global South, with fieldwork in several African countries and India. He also has active research on race, space and the educational and social experiences of people of African descent in the United States, with a pioneering digital humanities online archive on racial restrictive covenants in the Chicagoland area. He currently serves as Director of the Humanities 2020 Project, an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation to engage with issues of racism in the Chicagoland area.


Addey, C., Sellar, S., Steiner-Khamsi, G., Lingard, B. and Verger, A. (2017). The rise of international large-scale assessments and rationales for participation. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 47(3), 434–452.

Ajjawi, R., Bearman, M. and Boud, D. (2021). Performing standards: A critical perspective on the contemporary use of standards in assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 26(5), 728–741.

Allender, T. (2016). ‘Lessons’ from the subcontinent: Indian dynamics in British Africa. In P. Kallaway and R. Swartz (Eds.), Education and empire in Africa: The shaping of a comparative perspective (pp. 29–50). Peter Lang.

Apple, M. W. (1993). The politics of official knowledge: Does a national curriculum make sense? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 14(1), 1–16.

Apple, M. W. (2003). The state and the politics of knowledge. Routledge.

Bánovcanová, Z. and Masaryková, D. (2014). The docile body – Reflecting the school. Journal of Pedagogy, 5(2), 251–264.

Becker, A. (2018). What is real? The unfinished quest for the meaning of quantum physics. Basic Books.

Becker, J. C., Hartwich, L. and Haslam, S. A. (2021). Neoliberalism can reduce well-being by promoting a sense of social disconnection, competition, and loneliness. British Journal of Social Psychology, 60, 947–965.

Bhopal, K. and Shain, F. (2016). Neoliberalism and education: Rearticulating social justice and inclusion. Routledge.

Blum, S. D. (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virginia University Press.

Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.-C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society, and culture. Sage.

Brock-Utne, B. and Skattum, I. (2009). Languages and education in Africa: A comparative and transdisciplinary analysis. Symposium Books.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1997). Safe houses in the contact zone: Coping strategies of African-American students in the academy. College Composition and Communication, 48(2), 173–196.

Canagarajah, A. S. (2006). The place of World Englishes in composition: Pluralization continued. College Composition and Communication, 57(4), 586–619.

Canagarajah, S. (2012). Translingual practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. Routledge.

Carnoy, M. (1974). Education as cultural imperialism. D. McKay.

Chaka, C. (2020). Translanguaging, decoloniality, and the global south: An integrative review study. Scrutiny 2 (2020), 6–42.

Coates, R. D., Ferber, A. L. and Brunsma, D. L. (2018). The matrix of race: Social construction, intersectionality, and inequality. Sage.

Crowson, R. L. and Morris, V. (1985). Administrative control in large-city school systems: An investigation in Chicago. Educational Administration Quarterly, 21(4), 51–70.

de los Ríos, C. V. and Seltzer, K. (2017). Translanguaging, coloniality, and English classrooms: An exploration of two bicoastal urban classrooms. Research in the Teaching of English, 52(1), 55–76.

de Souza, L. T. (2021). Foreword: A decolonial project. In Z. Bock and C. Stroud (Eds.), Language and decoloniality in higher education: Reclaiming voices from the South (pp. xiii–xxiii). Bloomsbury Academic.

Del Noce, A. (2014). The crisis of modernity, translated by C. Lancellotti. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Desai, K. and Sanya, B. N. (2016). Towards decolonial praxis: Reconfiguring the human and the curriculum. Gender and Education, 28(6), 710–724.

Dewey, J. (1938/1998). Experience and education: The 60th anniversary edition. Kappa Delta Pi.

Djité, P. G. (2008). The sociolinguistics of development in Africa. Multilingual Matters.

Dussel, E. (1995). The invention of the Americas: Eclipse of ‘the other’ and the myth of modernity. Continuum.

Enright, K. A. (2011). Language and literacy for a new mainstream. American Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 80–118.

Faber, D. and Schlegel, C. (2017). Give me shelter from the storm: Framing the climate refugee crisis in the context of neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 28(3), 1–17.

Fanon, F. (1967). Black skin, white masks. Grove Press.

Ferreira, A. and Mendelowitz, B. (2009). Diversity, double-talk and (mis)alignment: Pedagogic moves for epistemological access. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 27(1), 77–92.

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison, translated by A. Sheridan. Penguin.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury.

García, O. and Alvis, J. (2019). The decoloniality of language and translanguaging: Latinx knowledge-production. Journal of Postcolonial Linguistics, 1, 26–40.

García, O., Flores, N., Seltzer, K., Li Wei, Otheguy, R. and Rosa, J. (2021). Rejecting abyssal thinking in the language and education of racialized bilinguals: A manifesto. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 18(3), 203–228.

García, O. and Kleifgen, J. (2018). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English learners. Teachers College Press.

García, O., Skutnabb-Kangas, T. and Torres-Guzmán, M. E. (2006). In O. García, T. Skutnabb-Kangas and M. E. Torres-Guzmán (Eds.), Imagining multilingual schools: Languages in education and glocalization. Multilingual Matters.

García, O. and Li Wei (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Gee, J. P. (2015). Literacy and education. Routledge.

Gordon, L. R. (2016). Disciplinary decadence: Living thought in trying times. Routledge.

Gordon, L. R. (2021). Freedom, justice, and decolonization. Routledge.

Grando, R. C. and Lopes, C. E. (2020). Creative insubordination of teachers proposing statistics and probability problems to children. ZDM Mathematics Education, 52, 621–635.

Gray, J., O’Regan, J. P. and Wallace, C. (2021). Education and the discourse of global neo-liberalism. Routledge.

Grosfoguel, R. (2012). Decolonizing Western uni-versalisms: Decolonial pluri-versalism from Aimé Césaire to the Zapatistas. TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(3), 88–104.

Heller, M. and McElhinny, B. (2017). Language, capitalism, colonialism: Toward a critical history. University of Toronto Press.

Hountondji, P. J. (1996). African philosophy: Myth and reality, 2nd ed., translated by Henri Evans. Indiana University Press.

Koffi, E. (2012). Paradigm shift in language planning and policy: Game-theoretic solutions. Walter de Gruyter.

Kupfer, A. (2015). Symbolic violence: Education as concealed power. In A. Kupfer, Power and education (pp. 26–40). Palgrave Macmillan.

Li, L. (2020). Education supply chain in the era of Industry 4.0. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 37(4), 579–592.

Liberali, F. and Swanwick, R. (2020). Translanguaging as a tool for decolonizing interactions in a space for confronting inequalities. DELTA, 36(3), 1–26.

MacSwan, J. (2017). A multilingual perspective on translanguaging. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 167–201.

Makalela, L. (2015). New directions in language and literacy education for multilingual classrooms in Africa. CASAS (Cape Town).

Makoni, S. and Makoni, B. (2009). Multilingual discourses on wheels and public English in Africa: A case for ‘Vague Linguistique’. In J. Maybin and J. Swann (Eds.), The Routledge companion to English language studies (pp. 336–349). Routledge.

Makoni, S. and Pennycook, A. (2007). Disinventing and reconstituting languages. In S. Makoni and A. Pennycook (Eds.), Disinventing and reconstituting languages (pp. 1–41). Multilingual Matters.

Mbembe, A. (2003). Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15(1), 11–40.

Mignolo, W. D. (2000). Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton University Press.

Mignolo, W. D. (2011). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: on (de)coloniality, border thinking and epistemic disobedience. Postcolonial Studies, 14(3), 273–283.

Mignolo, W. (2013). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: On (de)coloniality, border thinking, and epistemic disobedience. Confero, 1(1), 129–150.

Mignolo, W. (2017, January 21). Interview – Walter Mignolo/Part 2: Key Concepts. A. Hoffmann, Interviewer. E-International Relations.

Mignolo, W. D. and Walsh, C. E. (2018). On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Duke University Press.

Mulvey, G. and Davidson, N. (2018). Between the crises: Migration politics and the three periods of neoliberalism. Capital & Class, 43(2), 271–292.

Ndlangamandla, S. C. (2020). Language alternation in online forums: English monolingual normativity and multilingual practices. Scrutiny 2, 25(1), 43–63.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. J. (2018). Epistemic freedom in Africa: Deprovincialization and decolonization. Routledge.

Newheiser, D. (2016). Foucault, Gary Becker and the critique of neoliberalism. Theory, Culture & Society, 33(5), 3–21.

Odugu, D. I. (2020). Language revolution: Education and social change at linguistic crossroads. In A. W. Wiseman, Annual review of comparative and international education 2019 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 39) (pp. 279–304). Emerald Publishing Limited.

Odugu, D. I. (forthcoming). Epistemic fractures: Language, education, and development in critical dialogue. Routledge.

Odugu, D. I. and Lemieux, C. N. (2019). Transitional multilingual education policies in Africa: Necessary compromise or strategic impediment? Language and Education, 33(3), 263–281.

Ossewaarde, M. (2018). ‘Crises of Modernity’ discourses and the rise of financial technologies in a contested mechanized world. Philosophy & Technology, 31, 59–76.

Otheguy, R., García, O. and Reid, W. (2019). A translanguaging view of the linguistic system of bilinguals. Applied Linguistics Review, 10(4), 625–651.

Ouane, A. and Glanz, C. (2011). Optimising learning, education and publishing in Africa: The language factor – A review and analysis of theory and practice in mother-tongue and bilingual education in sub-Saharan Africa. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Association for the Development of Education in Africa (Hamburg).

Pathak, A. A. (2010). Opening my voice, claiming my space: Theorizing the possibilities of postcolonial approaches to autoethnography. Journal of Research Practice, 6(1), M9 (1–12).

Povinelli, E. A. (2016). Geontologies: A requiem to late liberalism. Duke University Press.

Ramirez, F. O. and Boli, J. (1987). The political construction of mass schooling: European origins and worldwide institutionalization. Sociology of Education, 60(1), 2–17.

Rodrigues, M. A. (2018). Translanguaging and autobiogeography as decolonial strategies for writing life narratives within displacement. a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 33(3), 621–642.

Santamaria, G. d. (2020). Challenges and drawbacks in the marketization of higher education within neoliberalism. Review of European Studies, 12(1), 22.

Santos, B. d. (2007). Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges. Review, 30(1), 45–89.

Santos, B. d. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice against epistemicide. Paradigm.

Sen, S. (2003). The politics of deracination: Empire, education, and elite children in colonial India. Studies in History, 19(1), 19–39.

Smetham, G. (2010). Quantum Buddhism: Dancing in emptiness – Reality revealed at the interface of quantum physics and Buddhist philosophy. Shunyata Press.

Snower, D. J. (2020). Fundamental lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved 12 August 2021, from Global Solutions: The World Policy Forum:

Spreen, C. A. and Cone, L. (2022). Global teacher movements contra EdTech: Taking on inequality and resisting neoliberal education reforms in the time of COVID. In K. J. Saltman and N. Nguyen (Eds.), Handbook of critical approaches to politics and policy of education (pp. 274–285). Routledge.

Stein, S. (2019). Beyond higher education as we know it: Gesturing towards decolonial horizons of possibility. Studies Philosophy and Education, 38, 143–161.

Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment for learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 758–765.

Suárez-Krabbe, J. (2021). Over our dead bodies: The death project, egoism and the existential dimensions of decolonization. In J. F. Carrales and J. Suárez-Krabbe (Eds.), Transdisciplinary thinking from the Global South: Whose problems, whose solutions? (pp. 153–172). Routledge.

Tenam-Zemach, M., Conn, D. R. and Parkison, P. T. (2021). Unraveling the assessment industrial complex: Understanding how testing perpetuates inequity and injustice in America. New York: Routledge.

Tett, L. and Hamilton, M. (2021). Resisting neoliberalism in education local, national and transnational perspectives. Bristol University Press.

wa Thiong’o, N. (1986). Decolonising the mind: The politics of language in African literature. East African Educational Publisher, James Currey, Heinemann and Zimbabwe Publishing House.

wa Thiong’o, N. (2009). Something torn and new: An African renaissance. Basic Civitas Books.

Wolff, H. E. (2016). Language and development in Africa: Perceptions, ideologies and challenges. Cambridge University Press.

Yngve, V. and Wasik, Z. (Eds.) (2004). Hard-science linguistics. Continuum.

Zamora, D. and Behrent, M. C. (2016). Foucault and neoliberalism. Polity Press.



How to Cite

Odugu, D. I. (2022). Translanguaging as decolonial praxis: Pedagogic and epistemic thrusts in the politics of official knowledge. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 3(1), 27–52.