International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 18 - 20 July 2016
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Transforming the knowledge store: The social justice implications of the policy and practice of curriculum renewal

Arlene Harvey, Gabrielle Russell-Mundine, University of Sydney,


This paper describes a strategy that involves embedding cultural competence across the curriculum in a large Australian university. Essential to the university’s understanding of cultural competence is a commitment to lift the profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, experiences and histories through curriculum renewal. Embedded in the approach to this renewal process is the critical question “what knowledge(s) is important for inclusion in the contemporary curriculum” (Case, 2015). Effective cultural competence is located in a social justice paradigm and requires intentionally creating space for the inclusion of different perspectives. In the Australian context embedding Indigenous knowledges in the curriculum is particularly pertinent and contributes to calls to decolonise the academy, a process which goes to the heart of the question about which knowledges are included. The process of decolonising addresses barriers to the inclusion of non-Western epistemologies and voices and helps to dismantle a system dominated by Western culture and thought. Rather than merely making space for Indigenous knowledges, however, decolonisation requires a genuine valuing of non-Western types of knowledge along with engagement in a new space where one epistemology is not uncritically replaced with another. The ultimate aim, therefore, may not necessarily be to merely add to our current “store of knowledge” (Case, 2015) but to also transform the way in which the store is currently conceptualised. We explore here the opportunities and challenges for our institution and the extent to which disciplines steeped in Western world-views may be willing and able to undergo a potentially radical shift in thinking, e.g. by engaging in emancipatory approaches to critical thinking, incorporating non-problematising approaches to problem-solving (especially around Indigenous issues), and embracing critical self-reflection. We argue that more explicit links between the capabilities required for cultural competence development and our institution’s new graduate qualities will allow for better integration of cultural competence into the curriculum. In exploring the implications of our university’s goal, we consider the importance of action that liberates and ensures that multiple perspectives are heard. The challenge is how to ensure we, individually and institutionally, effectively engage in this important and overdue social justice endeavour.


Link to Full Paper


Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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