Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Privilege to Choose Global Perspectives


Reading Time: 5 minutes

I tweeted out this quote from a response to a annotation of mine (check out this month’s article on healing and trauma in the classroom btw):

The idea of Taylor saying “more Bali (i.e. global perspectives)” made me first of all, really proud…but later also really pensive…and thank you Taylor for using me as an example…and for making me think deeper about this.

Yes, we all need global perspectives

Of course we do. Whether they have immediate benefit or not. One of the things I absolutely hate is reading research done in a v narrow context and authors concluding “even though our sample was [insert v narrow non-diverse sample] we expect our results to resonate [insert absurd universality]”. Similarly, any team of people aiming to make change for a wide range of people who have none of those people on their teams cannot possibly achieve this properly. They may do research and try to imagine, but nothing beats equitable participation from start to finish.

But…we also need local perspectives

However – local matters. Every global South scholar knows that all the global scholarship is enriching, but sometimes you need to focus local and construct local knowledge…which brings me to…

Who has the privilege to choose to have global or local perspectives

Those of us (at least English speaking educated people especially academics) NOT in the global centers (aka US and to a lesser extent Europe) are, by default, “global”. We cannot be otherwise. The definition of what it means to “be” educated, intellectual, scholarly entails English fluency, familiarity with scholarship coming from English-speaking countries in English-language journals under control of the publishers and editorial boards from… got it…that part of the world. What comes out of our part of the world is…less. Less recognized. And you either follow the dominant standards or your approach is seen as less scholarly, less rigorous…the works.

But if you are in the US, your career will survive completely even if you never read a single article by someone not from your culture, not in your language.

For global South scholars, our local perspectives will always be slightly informed, influenced or even colonized by the Western perspective. Resisting this is a huge effort. Specific to me: I read Arabic fluently but reading academic Arabic is extremely difficult for me. Thankfully (ha?) lots of important local scholarship is published in English. Sigh.

Would a journal accept my article if it had ZERO references by Western canon?

But would a journal ever reject an article for lacking diversity of references? Huh?

Case in point: all the horror stories on indigenous people that had 100% white speakers.

Another case: a CfP about inclusion/equity in edtech that cited exclusively white male authors.

Can someone from US have a career while never attending a conference in a different country keynoted by someone from a different country?

Now can an Egyptian scholar have a career like that?

Who bears responsibility to make the effort for global perspectives to be heard?

By now, I will stop referring to global from both perspectives. I will follow the spirit of Taylor’s comment. I believe he meant “we (Americans?) need to (listen to?) perspectives of Others”.

The fact that he chose my name per se signaled something significant that I don’t think he intended. And it is this: the reason my name comes to mind for some people is what a friend once said about me as the “token international”. And this is nobody’s fault, really, but it needs reflection.

Thinking about the guilt I carry by being a loud voice in my community (niche open ed and digital pedagogy and edtech) comes from my knowledge that many others do great work in these areas but are less heard than me. I am heard because I play the game. I blog, I tweet, I publish, I f*%$ing invade conferences with Virtual keynotes and presentations and conversations and I join and initiate collaborations and I speak that language and I build those relationships. So you can all *see me* and you can all *hear me*. And I write and speak in ways that bridge the local and global so that you can *understand* and *value* what I am on about. I perform. All the time. I took it upon myself to live this way. But global South voices should not need to do all of this to get noticed.

There is so much wrong with how academic reputation works that works against global North scholars feeling like listening to and incorporating global South voices is necessary, required, or even desired in recognized ways.

I do not call it “diverse” if I keynote a conference that has 5% or less minorities of any visible kind (total) present.

Whose fault is it that global perspectives are not heard?

I am not saying anything earth shattering here. But, just for clarity

  1. Structural inequalities baked into academia prevent global South voices and scholarship from gaining prominence. Where conferences are held, how expensive registration is (as if travel alone wasn’t a deal-breaker), who is constantly chosen to speak at plenaries. What if journal quality was measured by how international its authorship was? How would that affect editorial board diversity? What if conferences were not allowed to be called international unless 40% of participants came from more than 10 other countries? How would this work financially?
  2. Individual scholars can resist this by actively seeking out obscure work by global South scholars. It will take longer to find, they may be harder to read and understand…but once there, it opens a whole new world…and you can cite them. Heck, I am a global South voice and I am very intentional about citing minorities of different kinds regularly in talks and writing. And yes, I cite myself because sometimes I have said something before…but to a different audience…sue me.
  3. Global South scholars can help themselves and each other. So many ways to resist together

What do “global” people do?

I had a couple of articles a few years ago along those lines. One is directed at global South scholars, one is directed at the North.

I have been told that MozFest is among the best at fostering equity. Already, they offer loads of travel stipends which presenters can apply for. They have large signs onsite about community guidelines and what do if they are breached. The team of people working on Mozilla Open Leaders and those chosen to be mentored is extremely diverse. The requirements allow for diverse financial and technical abilities. So so rare in a tech environment, even within open culture. I know there were other strong Arab and Muslim and POC voices there and even though I could not go this time, I am pretty sure it was quite a diverse conference all in all.

So anyway. I need to publish this post, and I want you to think of this (particularly if you are global North, as the majority of my audience is…uhhhh). How much effort did I make for you to be able to listen to me? And how much effort did you make? Can you make more effort to listen to more people *like me* (or at least *not like you*) in terms of profile and background but who are not as active in channels you already frequent? Is it worth it? What do you need to do differently in your practice to make yourself more actively and intentionally hospitable towards this?


  1. Maha…thank you for pushing the conversation (and my admittedly, perhaps unavoidably, myopic POV).

    “Can you make more effort to listen to more people *like me* (or at least *not like you*) in terms of profile and background but who are not as active in channels you already frequent? This is the core question for me, and yes, I think we can all make more effort. As you said though, locality should have a seat at the table. As most things are, I suppose it’s a balance 🙂

  2. So true Maha. That’s why I really appreciate my Proseminar in Post-secondary Education by Dr. Shahjahan @HALEatMSU. He deliberately chooses readings by non-Western scholars. He calls it globalscapes perspective. Our minds are blown. How many doctoral programs do that?

  3. Change really happens locally … I agree that we need focus on both — the larger narratives (expanded networks) and the smaller communities (this is where we live).

  4. Your name certainly is not shorthand for global AND your work to organize Virtual Connecting has fundamentally made conferences global (from New Hampshire to .gh in open Ed — and *that* has made all the difference

  5. Thank you for sharing this,….I’ve read this sentence over and over…”I blog, I tweet, I publish, I f*%$ing invade conferences…”…invading to be heard

  6. Thank you for this Maha. As ever you make me think and do. I feel I am in a spiralling into period of retreat but this makes me want to do more.

  7. Good questions! 👉🏿”What if journal quality was measured by how international its authorship was? How would that affect editorial board diversity? What if conferences were not allowed to be called international unless 40% of participants came from more than 10 other countries?”

  8. Thank you for this important read and reminder, will share this. I was a reviewer for a journal recently and did send a paper back requesting more diverse references 🙂

  9. “Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?”

    Bell Hooks

    (Does “Diversity” underpin or undermine supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure?)

    (Diversity matters?To whom? For whose purposes. Diversity or University?)

    “And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”
    Martin Luther King Jr.

    Academia… today a [global] reputation economy”?

    [Supremacist, capitalist, class structure]

    “[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.
    Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

    [Academia] Is Academia Obsolete?

    (A provocation)

    Isn’t the point of academia to distract people from asking basic critical questions and the point of prison to stop people taking action?

    • Sounds very Foucauldian. I have said before that you are the Foucault of 21st century edtech Simon 🙂

      • I take that as a compliment 🙂 (provisionally)

        • It is meant as a compliment for the most part 🙂 meaning intellectually stimulating complex multidimensional thinking about power.. But sometimes difficult to understand prose

          • Thanks for the compliment and feedback Maha 🙂
            I suppose I mostly am laying down personal trails for reflection which are often inhospitable to myself and to others and maybe sometimes simply incoherent 🙂

            I suppose that “incoherence” is a means of glimpsing freedom/lack of freedom.

            We always come back to the impenetrable maze which amazes or alienates or brings purpose to faith.

            • “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude, to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
              The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”
              ― Kate Chopin, The Awakening

  10. Sounds like a great challenge to search for difference, the inexplicable or to ignore the recommended as a way of interrupting the flow of probable outcomes. Instead of diversity we might better stir the various to see what emerges?

    A book I’m reading:
    Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders
    by Jennifer Garvey Berger, Keith Johnston

    “What is usual is not what is always, the day says again.
    It is all it can offer.
    Not ungraspable hope, not the consolation of stories.
    Only the reminder that there is exception”

    Jane Hirshfield

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