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Open Access Capstone

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Critical analysis of the complex interplay between development ideals and local conceptualizations of knowledge forms and education methods are essential if we are to promote holistic, responsive, and culturally appropriate development efforts. Since the end of World War II, and the independence movements that greatly changed geopolitics in the 1960s and 1970s, development prevails as the dominant paradigm in current relations between countries of the North and South (Escobar, 1995; Rahnema & Bawtree, 1997). Development, intrinsically linked with neo-liberal policies and globalization (Peet, 1999), defines not only how Northerners perceive the South, but also, how Southerners perceive themselves, their ways of knowing, and their possibilities for the future. While development has undergone significant changes since 1945 to promote grassroots participation and encourage the insights and contributions of project beneficiaries, without a full understanding of the complexities of the intersection between indigenous and exogenous knowledge, and the impact of the development discourse on their worldview, we are doomed to reproduce a hegemonic Eurocentric model inappropriate to and irreverent of local realities, ways of knowing, and social arrangements. This paper presents an exploration of these complex realities as they exist in a rural area in southeastern Senegal.

In local communities, and indeed throughout the world, people simultaneously operate in multiple spheres of knowledge in both purposeful and unintentional ways. While the binary positioning of “traditional”/”indigenous”/”African” and “modern”/”exogenous”/”Western” help us to understand these concepts in a pure and intelligible form (Hall, 1997), these binaries are misleading in the concealment of the complex and ambivalent nature of people’s realities. Particularly in a developing context, the history of colonization and contemporary pressures of post-colonialism and globalization lead to interwoven realities and cultures. Cultural hybridization accurately reflects how people combine elements of both traditional and modern realities in Bhabha’s articulation of a “third space” (Kraidy, 2005; Garcia Canclini 1995; Rutherford, 1995). This notion of cultural hybridity functions as a key component of the theoretical framework for this study.

This small-scale research study in a rural zone in Senegal attempts to understand people’s conceptions of knowledge within the larger system of existing realities that constitute lived experiences in a post-colonial environment. My findings demonstrate that while people continue to participate in traditional activities and espouse traditional values, they have internalized the development discourse and its Eurocentric ideals. This results in the articulation of a negative view of their own culture in preference for Western culture and values. I shall also attempt to demonstrate that people make choices in relation to the harsh economic and political realities that they confront on a daily basis. Accounts will show how the preference for formal schooling is a survival mechanism in a globalized world where neoliberal forces prevail.

This study takes place under the auspices of a small American NGO in cooperation with a larger international NGO (INGO). Its mission is to recognize and promote grandparents – grandmothers in particular – as a resource and partner in development efforts. The precise project, from which emerged the small-scale study presented here, involves the identification of alternative rites of passage through a gradual process of cultural revitalization that encourages positive practices and the simultaneous abandonment of harmful practices. The most obvious harmful practice that the project hopes to weaken is female genital cutting. The project works primarily through a series of community discussions on intergenerational learning and efforts in local school systems to create a space for discussion of cultural issues. A key component of the project is to integrate possessors of indigenous knowledge into the school curriculum.

The topic of this small-scale research study emerged out of my work to develop a game activity that teachers in village primary schools would implement to facilitate discussion of traditional culture into the classroom. During a period of two weeks, I performed a series of tests in four primary school classrooms, one middle school classroom, and with one group of community members, two groups of teachers, and one group of personnel and collaborators at the INGO. Many of the comments I heard indicated feelings of inferiority and dismissal about Senegalese culture as well as a sense of cultural loss. The work presented here is an analysis that arose from observations of game trials within the schools and community, as well as semi-structured interviews with educators involved in the project. The location of the work was three rural villages and one district school located in the regional town. The majority of communities in the villages were Halpulaar, while the population of the town also included Wolof, Sarakhole, Bambara, Mandingue, Sereer, and Diola students.

The presentation of this paper occurs in four parts. I begin with an overview of forms of education in Senegal. This includes the history of Western-based schooling initiatives during the period of French colonization as well as a discussion of indigenous modes of education. I conclude this section with a critique of current schooling practices and its effects on traditional forms of education. The second section of this paper introduces the post-colonial theory as the framework that will guide the analysis of findings. I invoke Escobar’s notion of the development discourse and its internalization. The concept of cultural hybridity, deriving from the work of Bhabha, Kraidy and Garcia-Canclini, also contribute to this paper’s analysis. The third section provides a description of the paper’s methodology and a presentation of key ethical considerations to this study.