A Theatre of the Privileged Decolonial Café

performance with audience sitting around the stage

Image Source: “File:Augusto Boal nyc5.jpg” by Thehero is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Decolonising international and comparative education: privilege, power, and partnership allyship coalition


In this interactive Café, we use theatre, stories, and games to examine the mechanisms of colonial reproduction in the international and comparative education sector and identify ways to collectively transform them. This is a safe, brave and open space to have ‘both challenging and supportive’ conversations (Racial Justice Network, 2019) in relatively privileged locations about how the field reproduces coloniality and what we can do to challenge it with a touch of humour.

Following the recent Black Lives Matters protests, there is an increased interest among a large section of the international and comparative education sector in decolonising. This increased interest is evident in the surge in the production of solidarity statements, talks, blogs, articles, and events on the theme of decolonisation. However, as Tuck and Yang (2012, p. 1) highlight, “the easy adoption of decolonizing discourse… turns decolonizing into a metaphor”. There is a heightened danger of decolonisation turning into a tick box exercise and a slogan that reinscribes racial, epistemic, political, and socio-economic domination and that may even disguise neo-colonial agendas.  

In trying to ensure that our own decolonising efforts do not turn into this type of tick box exercise, we have developed the Theatre of the Privileged (ToP). The ToP is influenced by the Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal, 1985), and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1972). However, unlike Boal and Freire we do not focus on assisting oppressed people to recognise their oppression. Instead, the ToP is about people located in relatively privileged intersectional locations recognising their complicity in maintaining systems of domination.

Rooted in critical anti-racist standpoints, especially, bell hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy the ToP involves ‘reversing the gaze’ on research elites, identifying assumptions, silences, methods, epistemologies, and practices. The questions of ‘internalised colonialism’ as researchers (Smith, 1999, p. xvi) and ‘white gaze’ (Pailey, 2020), and how these shapes research, funding, collaborations and knowledge production are explored. In doing so, we will unpack how inherited discriminatory conditions, policies and procedures sustained by us as BAICE community lead to ‘symbolic erasure’ of our colleagues and partners such as Maha and Mai from the Centre for Lebanese Studies.

The ToP is decolonial. We collapse the distinction between speakers and audience and engage everyone in exploring, showing, analysing and transforming everyday practices in our field that sustain colonisation. It breaks the binary between experts and non-experts, dominator and dominated and makes everyone responsible for challenging and transforming unjust structures. 

Central to the ToP is the concept of ‘unlearning’: “an effort to forget your usual way of doing something so that you can learn a new and sometimes better way” (Cambridge, 2022). In seeking to advance ‘epistemic disobedience’ (Mignolo, 2009), we also recognise that these conversations are messy and require going beyond ‘partnership’ and ‘allyship’ to building coalition. As part of our commitment to anti-racist praxis, coalition is vital to reimagining transformative practices in the field of international and comparative education. 

The problem-posing cafe hopes to enable us to explore and co-construct practical tips and strategies to decolonise our ways of collaborating grounded in the ethical principles of ‘relationships, connections, reciprocity and accountability’ (Smith, 2021, p. xiv).

Please come and collaborate in reimagining transformative justice with us!


Boal, A., 1985. Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre Communications Group, New York. 

Cambridge, 2022. UNLEARN | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary [WWW Document]. URL https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/unlearn (accessed 2.22.22). 

Freire, P., 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Sheed and Ward, London. 

hooks,  bell, 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, New York. 

Mignolo, W.D., 2009. Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom. Theory Cult. Soc. 26, 8. 

Pailey, R.N., 2020. De‐centring the ‘white gaze’of development. Dev. Change 51, 729–745. 

Racial Justice Network, 2019. Unlearning Racism Course: anti-racist learning and practice from a position of racial privilege. 

Tuck, E., Yang, K.W., 2012. Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization Indig. Educ. Soc. 1. 

Tuhiwahi Smith, L., 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books Ltd., London. 


BAICE is a charity, registered in the UK. The BAICE Media Hub supports BAICE's charitable objective of stimulating and disseminating knowledge and research in the field of international and comparative education. Views expressed in outputs hosted on the BAICE Media Hub are those of the contributors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the BAICE Executive Committee or the wider BAICE membership.