Decolonising critique in, against and beyond the business school


Emerging from a year-long process of dialogos de saberes (dialogue of knowledges) between the authors, this paper seeks to explore and draw attention to the possibilities (and impossibilities) of nurturing a kind of affirmative critique which we feel has a place and relevance both within and beyond the Business School as metaphor, materiality, and relationality. The purpose of such a critique is not simply to highlight the specific violent exclusion, elisions, and epistemic injustices co-constitutive of the modern/colonial (neoliberalised) University, but to affirm and nurture the continued existence/re-existencias of other(ed) ways of being and knowing. We draw upon our dark wisdoms and weave our text as decolonising critique through multiple literacies, poetry, decolonising and feminist pedagogical methodologies, story, and interpersonal dialogue. We question in the flesh as text, thought and relationship the logics of rationality and coloniality that undergird the University, while also seeking to affirm the possibility of an onto-epistemological being/becoming ‘otherwise’. Our approaches are grounded in the theory and praxis of embodiment, feminist decoloniality and critical pedagogy, and we seek to contribute to literature on the nature of critique, the role of the University in the modern/(de)colonial project, and the radical possibilities for dialogue, collaboration and kinship that can emerge when we move beyond the real and imaginary boundaries that the University creates to constrain our mind, bodies, and spirits.


I am Sara, born of displacement in a foreign land of unbelonging of all my ancestors, forever weaving threads of fragmented lineages of Colombian Chibcha/Muisca, Eastern European Jewish, and Celtic scattered to the winds of forgetting. My power and my pain emergent from the piecing together from impurity and multiplicity; of finding the languages with which to speak my name and know from whence I came; to heal the brokenness and (re)learn, with others, to create again and recuperate our territories into a belonging and homecoming otherwise. Arriving with my children to a distant Country to an estuary place where Awabakal and Worimi nations meet, where salt and fresh waters merge, that has received us with healing hands and loving hearts and finding myself choosing and chosen to occupy a Politics Discipline sitting in a Business School.

My name is Matt. I was born in Moonta, South Australia, on the land of the Narungga people, and I live and work in Newcastle, on the land of the Awabakal and Worimi people. My ancestors came to Australia from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and they connect me to a legacy of migration, white privilege, and to the colonisation of the lands where I live and work. For over a decade, I have been part of social and environmental justice organising, particularly in anarchist and autonomist communities. My professional work is performed at the intersection of economies and society and foregrounds the praxis of diverse economies and anti-capitalist economic organising. I am a student-scholar in the Australian Graduate School of Management, studying a Master of Business Administration.

Methodological commitments

This piece emerges as part of a broader embodied dialogue across difference. It is our desire to come to know the other in ways which do not seek to make same but to find where we can become in common (Braidotti, 2006: 69; Motta and Amsler, 2017; Singh, 2017) and, as Benedict and Schmidt (2007: 21) describe, in which we ‘create and afford space – extending to each other the freedom to explore rather than defend and justify’. In this tradition, we seek to critique in spirit and flesh the on-going onto-epistemological violences and practices of silencing of other ways of knowing as life enacted by the Business School. Our dialogue is thus deeply embodied and seeks to (un)learn this becoming in common through auto-ethnographic sharing of experiences of both the anti-ethics and violences of the Business School as well as practices of epistemological refusal and decolonisation within, against and beyond the borders of this institutionalised space of Power.

The dialogue has built on the extant practise of one of us (Sara) around questions of decolonising critique and becoming otherwise in thought and body (Motta, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018b). This work foregrounds and critically engages with divisions of emotional and intellectual labour in the reading and writing process, and we have sought to generate space for writing and creating otherwise, and transgressing/questioning boundaries and borders between academic and non-academic, creative and intellectual, emotional and rational. We have sought to refuse a detached and de-subjectified voice of universality and reason in academic writing and the production of (critical) theory, instead seeking a fostering of dialogue between and across difference, not as violently differentiated knowing subjects, but as two who are uniquely placed and engaged in co-constructing the conditions for dialogical spaces of possibility (Motta, 2016: 41; Benedict and Schmidt, 2007; Firth, 2016).

Resistance to the Business School, situated with the modern/colonial University, which has grown and developed from the hierarchical and dehumanising logics of coloniality and patriarchy must take new forms; forms which not only challenge those logics, but contest and disrupt the modes of reasoning and terrains of discourse upon which such debates and critiques take place (Motta, 2017, 2019, 2020; Roggero, 2014; McGregor and Knox, 2017). From our dialogues, thus, we decided that we did not want to focus merely on logics of negative critique, of exposing how the Business School reproduces violences and silences against the territories, knowledges, and bodies of those Othered, which has been articulated across the terrain of ephemera (i.e., Brandist, 2017; Cowan and Rault, 2014; Liu, 2018; Steinþórsdóttir et al., 2017; Tim-adical Writing Collective, 2017; Veijola and Jokinen, 2018). For – paraphrasing bell hooks – after one has resisted, one is left with a sort of emptiness, the absence of an alternative mode of life, living and knowing. And the reproduction of this emptiness in our analysis reproduces a one-sided rendition of who we are as raced and feminised peoples, in which to remain within this move is to reinscribe the colonised into the coloniser’s logics of representation and to assume that, as Lugones (2010: 748) describes, ‘(the) global capitalist colonial system is in every way successful in its destruction of people’s, knowledges, relations and economies’. Rather we must remember:

For 300 years she was invisible, she was not heard. Many times she wished to speak, to act, to protest, to challenge… She hid her feelings; she hid her truths; she concealed her fire… but she kept stoking her inner flame… a light shone through her veil of silence… the spirit of the fire spurs her to fight for her own skin and piece of ground to stand on, a ground from which to view the world – a perspective, a home ground where she can plumb the rich ancestral roots into her own ample mestiza heart. (Anzaldúa, 1987: 45)

Thus, we seek to bring a focus to this rich silenced ample mestiza heart to co-weave an affirmative critique as itself a moment and process of prefigurative epistemological (Motta, 2011) enfleshment of ourselves (in relation) otherwise (see also Turner et al., 2017 and their exploration of play as (affirmative) agency as opposed to (negative) critique). We also draw upon Ahmed’s concept of the ‘snap’ experience as opportunity for ‘a rearrangement of in/visibility and embodied perception’ (Antonakaki et al., 2018) in which (individualised) experiences of marginalisation and oppression can be (collectively) held and processed (Basner et al., 2018).

Some affirmative responses are pedagogical in nature, highlighting the essential knowing-capacity of all subjects and communities (Freire, 1996; Firth, 2016). Such pedagogical work is also epistemological as it is a call to challenge our notions of what count as valid forms of knowledge-production, knowledge, and knowing-subjectivities. In doing so, we invite the coming-to-being of new and decolonial subjectivities and epistemologies (Fanon, 1963; Ciccariello-Maher, 2010; Motta and Gonzalez, 2022). This path beckons towards multiple literacies of (critical) reason including story, poetry, song, dance, ritual – and silence (Motta, 2017, 2018b, 2022; Tynan and Bishop, 2019).

As part of our reflections, and emergent from our dialogue with extant critique and our auto-ethnographic space of becoming other as outlined above, we have identified three important themes. We have found that these help us to explore what an embodied and decolonising affirmative critique within, against and beyond the Business School means to us, and what bringing our different experiences of each might offer to the broader struggle of pluridiverse possibilities of affirmative practices of critique otherwise and the (im)possible struggle to decolonise the university. These themes are, firstly, borders, bordering practices and (the) border patrol subject(ivity), which allows us to foreground the onto-epistemological Othering and negation that are the co-constitutive underside of the modern/colonial University (see McGregor and Knox, 2017 for an interesting critique of the both material and immaterial borders and boundaries in contemporary Higher Education). Secondly, embodied reason and/as critique, which allows us to rite/write into text the affirmative critique, which we desire (see Tim-adical Writing Collective, 2017 for discussion of how power and resistance must be embodied). Finally, we have chosen silence to capture the differential responsibilities that we might have in such practices of decolonising critique when we are marched up to the razor-sharp edge of the border (see also Ruth’s (2017) discussion of the potentiality of ‘empty’ space as a sister praxis to our use of silence).

Affirmative critique from embodied otherness necessarily moves beyond the containments and codifications of White writing and representation (Motta, 2014, 2016, 2022; Gonzalez et al., 2022). For when we talk, as raced and feminised subjects or as other(ed) subjects more broadly, our speech is often rendered irrational, contained to and through identity, reduced to the ‘mere’ cultural, or denied as speech at all. As Lugones (2006: 78) describes, we are constructed ‘… as either invisible, not within the bounds of normalcy (that is without structural description or one as insane or deviant), as inferior, or as threatening because not ruled from within by modern rationality’.

As a necessity therefore, we have also had to move ‘to experimental modes of representation’ (Chertkovskaya et al., 2017: 737) and embodied forms of expressions to weave the threads of our onto-epistemological becoming common otherwise (see Motta 2016, 2018, 2022 for further explication of this).

Our critique

Our critique emerges from differential and distinct histories and presents of embodiments within patriarchal capitalist-coloniality and living on the stolen lands of so-called Australia[2]. It emerges too from different (dis)embodied placements within the Business School. We neither seek to reify a golden age of the lettered city of the Enlightenment model of the University nor deny that which is distinct about the particular forms that the violent logics of epistemological extractivism onto the territories of feminised and racialised bodies and subjects of neoliberalism take.

Where we begin, our herstories matter for what is told and what remains untold, unsaid, unthought, unthinkable and (im)possible.

Our genealogy of the University and the Business School within this thus begins with coloniality as the necessary underside of the project of the lettered city of the Modern University. This project is premised upon a logic and rationality which denies the knowledges, bodies and being of feminised and racialised (non)subjects (Mignolo and Vasquez, 2013; Lugones, 2010), and which is embedded and embodied in the figure of the scholar-academic, who, as depicted in Rodin’s sculpture ‘the Thinker’, is able to separate and tame the bodies and emotions of the Other within and without in order to obtain the necessarily (solitary) critical distance to be able to produce theory (Fisher, 2011; Schwandt, 2018). The thinker, or knowing-subjectivity of coloniality is a White, bourgeois, and masculinised subject that is embodied as and through the enactment of the hierarchical dualisms constitutive of patriarchal capitalist-coloniality between mind/body, masculinised/feminised, culture/nature, secular/divine, knowledge/folklore. This leads to research relationships which are alienated and alienating with clear divisions of labour and knowing-being between subjects who ‘know’ those ‘to-be-known’ (Liu, 2018: 87; Motta, 2011, 2017). This is (dis)embodied through a logic of conquest, mastery, extractivism, annihilation, elision and theft dressed up in the language of Reason, Truth and Law and its irrationalities as (re)produced in the modern/colonial Business School (Motta, 2017, 2018b).

Coloniality and the knowing-subject(ivity) of coloniality manifest equally in the pedagogies and bureaucratic rationalities of the Institution, which reinscribe a figure of reason and professionalism deeply cut off from their own humanity and complicit in relationships and practices of dehumanisation towards the raced and feminised other (Abolition Collective, 2019; Ahmed, 2007). Such a subjectivity and institutionality is necessarily monological, with a Speech which is in reality a form of muteness as it is disconnected from active listening towards the other and difference, and as it practices a dis-membering and unhearing which reproduces the violence of the (non)being of coloniality (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018; Rutazibwa, 2018; Motta, 2017). Relationships of teaching often reproduce these logics of mastery and provide contexts in which the Other(ed) are object to symbolic, ontological, and epistemological violences in which their knowing-being and herstories are denied, devalued, and elided. Here, reason is disembodied and is dissected into a cognition of displacement, (dis)possession and (un)reason (Motta, 2018a).

The Institution as the (dis)embodiment of a particular Subject of Knowing of coloniality is thus deeply enmeshed with the (re)production and perpetuation of ontological, psychic, and epistemic violence through the exclusion, delegitimization and complicity in the annihilation of racialised and feminised subaltern bodies, subjects and knowledges/lifeworlds (Bhambra et al., 2018: 114; Hall, 2014; Tynan and Bishop, 2019: 223). An ‘ideal subject’ of the new neoliberal reality emerges from this coalescence of extractive and violent logics, subjectivities, and practices (McGregor and Knox, 2017; Du Gay and Morgan, 2013); this subject is ‘…grounded in individualisation, infinite flexibility, precarious commitments, orientated toward survivalist competition and personally profitable exchange’ (Motta, 2012). Such a subject is ideally without caring responsibilities, disabilities, embodied needs; if it has a body, it is one that is White, cisgendered, masculinised, bourgeois (Motta and Amsler, 2017).

In order to manage the disjuncture between, and displacements enacted by, this ideal subject and/towards the messy physical/psychic reality of living bodies, those who engage with the Business School can find themselves (re)internalising the command to create and extract value, and to (continue to) subsume – as opposed to liberate – their own needs, desires, knowledges and be-ing to those of the University and the broader logics of patriarchal capitalist-coloniality in which it sits and (re)produces (Hall, 2014; McRobbie, 2015). For instance, there is a gendered (intersectional) imbalance of the emotional labour required to (re)produce academic content (Steinþórsdóttir et al., 2017; Veijola and Jokinen, 2018), and an expectation of constant availability; of performing labour at home, in spare time, on weekends (Lynch, 2010). However, this incursion of neoliberal logics and commands into life outside and beyond formal work occurs in only one direction; individualised (yet structurally created) issues such as caring responsibilities are required to be hidden and separated in order to adequately perform the role of ‘professional’ (Munn-Giddings et al., 1998; Motta and Amsler, 2017) and the knowledges and wisdoms that might come from these realities of care and caring, of displacement and dispossession, dis-re-membered even as their creativity is extracted, (mis)named and tamed.

In this and many other examples, we can see the results of a particular system of discipline, ordering containment, bordering practices and unreason within the University, and the intensification of an extractive logic in which all subjects are either reduced to their productive capacity as generators of ‘value’, both in terms of economic surplus and in terms of the performance of a valuable transaction with students/customers and/or are stripped of their being-knowing. Stripped of its (im)possibility as a site for freedom and decolonisation, the University transforms both education itself, and the people within it, into commodities and (re)produces the logics of non-being/knowing of the Other(ed).

I sit in this frozen landscape, resisting my own numbing as I read a beautiful compas-hermanas work of storytelling collective knowledge processes of autonomous movements. I am called to respond from heart, soul, body, and I reflect:

I sit in this gentrified heartless space of our new panopticon building reading the stories of shared, horizontal dwelling on knowing and knowing as becoming. It takes me to you, and a you as collective, it re-minds me to turn my head, away and beyond the cold steel stems of this building and the kind of codified alienating logics that it seeks to impose upon our bodies, minds and souls. I feel-hear-listen to the words and the affects, the intensities and the bodies, and I reflect upon the taking back of the dispossession of our bodies and our subjectivities, of how this is a bridge in the cracks of the margins of possibility, in which I might dwell, however temporarily, again, and again, in a kind of freedom, that is not meant to be here, in this space and time, a kind of freedom that leaves a thread that leads me an other way, and allows me to re-member, the pieces of my be-ing, to touch you, me, life.

And I re-member that there is always space to recover, to re-turn, and take back our loving-lives and dwelling spaces of otherness, that ‘they’ cannot take this away from us. Thank you A.

To engage with the joyous and healing challenge of articulating desires, visions, and embodiments for critique and/as decolonisation in the Business School, we seek a critique that begins with differently placed bodies and embodied experiences with power, resistance, and survival, and which has a deliberate and political orientation towards transgressing the borders and boundaries which underpin the Business School. For as Roggero (2014: 517) writes, ‘subjectivity is a battleground: capitalist subjectivation is always at a tension with autonomous subjectivation’. These borders and boundaries, inscribed and articulated along lines of hierarchical binary power relationship, now find their expression in the marketisation of universities. As we have argued, this marketisation is but a recent expression of a deeper structuring logic, which is that universities remain in the thrall of the logics of coloniality and the (un)reason of ‘othering’ – in which the raced and feminised subaltern, while putatively included and accepted into institutions in the liberal-democratic system, remain epistemically subjugated by the hegemonic and euro-centric nature thereof (Motta, 2019; Abolition Collective, 2019; Hoofd, 2010; Ahmed, 2007; Puwar, 2004). Yet such differently and differentially (dis)placed bodies, voices and wisdoms remain; creating, resisting, surviving in the(ir) absent present/ce. In the Business School, where logics of marketisation and onto-epistemological negation are reproduced and implicit, we share an embrace of refusal through engaging in a dialogue of deep-epistemological listening, storytelling, re-membering and bringing to presence in a way that critical spirit/flesh is brought into be-ing and is expressed in words and deeds as embodied critique.

Borders, bordering practises and border patrol subject(ivity)

I think it was the second time I went to the ‘new’ building. It was a weekday but not in term time. I was with my two youngest children, maybe two and 10 at the time. I didn’t have my ID card as with the ‘new’ building we now need identity cards to enter the building and then to gain access to the open plan desks. I got through the first doors and took the lift onto the 7th floor. I think I had a number of plastic bags with me with toys for the children and maybe a bit of shopping, and I was dressed in jeans and top or something like this. I tried knocking on the glass door to attract the attention of a colleague or friend. Instead, a woman came out from another set of glass doors and asked me what I was doing there. I was taken aback at the same time as expectant that this would happen. I breathed and answered her that I was trying to get into my office. She asked me where I worked. I answered in Politics. She told me there was no Politics in the Business School. Here we were, again, in the interrogation stage. I took a breath and told her that yes there was a Politics Discipline in the Business School as I worked as part of that Discipline. She told me that she needed to see photo Id before she could let me in. I told her she could look at my expert page, at which point a rage of humiliation welled up inside and I told her sorry I am not going to do this. You have no right to be asking me these questions and that I was going to contact another colleague. I had to bite my tongue to not tell her to fuck off as I knew they’d probably end up calling security on me if I did. My 10-year-old started to try to pull me away and tell me to be quiet and not to say anything more.

The woman took a step back as though she were talking to a wild dog who might attack her, and I took out my phone to ring a friend to see if he was there. He picked up and I began to cry, and I told him that this bloody woman wouldn’t let me in, was enacting the borders and exclusions embedded in this place and asked could he come down and let me in. During some point the woman disappeared. My toddler began to cry, and my daughter tried to distract him as I was crying. My friend came down and walked me into the ‘staff’ space behind the glass doors and another woman came to see why I was upset. I explained to them both what had happened, and my friend said, ‘oh some people’, whilst the other woman colleague told me ‘oh she was just checking, perhaps she was having a bad day’. I didn’t even try to explain or say anything.

Instead, I took my bags, my babies and I left.

Later I wrote a poem, ‘Thoughts on the Micro-Authoritarianisms of the University, or Shhh Be Quiet’.

This poem would subsequently become part of a militant enquiry in which we reoccupied the Business School for an afternoon. The day of our reoccupation, the poem recorded in the voice of one of my older white male colleagues with BBC English accent, blasted out over loudspeakers.

Sara’s narrative illustrates how the subject of analysis and critique when we speak of the Business School is not only (re)produced through an extractive logic, but that the epistemic violence of (de)subjectification is played out in a multitude of everyday ways and through the (hidden) intimacies of embodied (non)encounters. As Jonsson (2011) paraphrasing Sara Ahmed (2007) describes, ‘When white bodies dominate institutions, the bodies and the institutions orientate towards each other, and white bodies become ‘habitual’ in these surroundings – whiteness becomes that which ‘lags behind’, unnoticed’ and when bodies lag behind ‘they extend their reach’. This empowers those who perform Whiteness to intervene and extend their reach comfortably and without regret or responsibility onto others. The Black body becomes an object of misrecognition and a space invader (Puwar, 2004). She is at once invisibilised and illegible on her own terms whilst also made hypervisible and suspect thus legitimising border interventions (Motta, 2016)

Sara’s narrative reveals how the Business School and the broader Institution in which it sits as a network of borders and boundaries, both visible and non-visible, also continually works to obscure these violent workings of power on bodies and subjects, who transgress their rules and logics. Adherence to specific protocols becomes a priority, yet the grounds and conditions are continually shifting – the building cannot be accessed without a card; there is no politics in the business school. The structure itself, the physical business school of Sara’s account, is aggressively non-human and alienating; it is difficult to imagine the harsh lines, cold edges and fluorescent lights admitting any possibility of being/becoming human, or even of allowing Black bodies to enter. Stuck fast to a single plane of possibility, and trapped in an endless cycle of self-replication, the Business School will readily and always-already police its own employees into the non-existence of assimilation. The experience for the Black bodied scholar is here one of on-going ‘restriction, uncertainty, and blockage’ (Ahmed, 2007: 161).

But it does not feel sufficient to speak of these movements and bordering practices in abstraction, since they are also the concrete operations of power and control, which occur between subjectivities and bodies. So, it can also be said that accounts such as this are predicated on a fear, both institutional and individual, of the feminised and racialised subaltern subject occupying legitimate positions of Scholar, Teacher, Academic. Sara’s emotional embodied responses of both repressed rage and then sorrow and then flight become legible when we understand how

spaces we occupy do not ‘extend’ the surfaces of our bodies… Having been singled out in line, at the borders, we become defensive; we assume a defensive posture, as we ‘wait’ for the line of racism, to take our rights of passage away. If we inherit the failure of things to be habitual, then we might also acquire a tendency to look behind us. To be not white is to be not extended by the spaces you inhabit. (Ahmed, 2007: 63)

After all, it is only through the erasure and delegitimising of such subjects and epistemologies that the knowing-subject of coloniality, the producer of knowledge as mastery, can be constructed and upheld. The disbelief of colleagues is also salient, and perhaps reflects the silent, passive underside of White supremacy within the business school, which occurs within the glass doors of the office and does not necessarily question who and what is on the other side or their positioning on the inside (Rodríguez, 2018). Oppressions and micro-violences are individualised, relegated to the realm of the interpersonal and non-systemic. Sara is told her experience is not one of structured and repeated oppressions and systematic racialised, gendered and classed border-enactment that occur each and every day, no, Sara, no, one has momentary encounters with officials who are temporarily having a bad day. Remember that Sara, imprint it onto your skin.

What is the university for? What is the business school for? What is it good for? And how can we move beyond narrow conceptions of what constitutes Critique to bring forth a praxis of opening, of new potentialities, of radical pedagogies and deep openness to the (an)other? Sara’s narrative gives one example of this, one which simultaneously reveals the University’s authoritarian and violent White face to itself, while bringing to life other possibilities and knowing-bodies for/of/as the space. The great lie of Institutions is that their power over us is absolute – on the contrary, it is rigid, brittle, fragile, even as re-traumatising. And we must re-member:

…she was invisible, she was not heard. Many times she wished to speak, to act, to protest, to challenge… She hid her feelings; she hid her truths; she concealed her fire… but she kept stoking her inner flame… a light shone through her veil of silence…the spirit of the fire spurs her to fight for her own skin and piece of ground to stand on, a ground from which to view the world — a perspective, a home ground where she can plumb the rich ancestral roots into her own ample mestiza heart. (Anzaldúa, 1987: 45)

Our life-affirming, creative and embodied responses to the business school and university do not thus seek to supplant and replace the power-operations of these Institutions with imagined Alternatives, but rather trace and embody the time-spaces of possibility for non-monological dialogues, critical enfleshments, refusals, celebrations of survival and nurturing of the untameable wildness of our knowing-being otherwise.

Image 1: University under (de)construction. Matthew K. Allen, 2020.

My experiences of (dis)embodiment trace a trajectory that begins before my birth. I inherent White privilege from my settler-colonist ancestors, and thus come into the world as both being, and not being, of the place we know as Australia. My adult life so far characterised by experiences of being subjugated/(in)visibilised as a working body without a mind, and an academic/intellectual mind without a body.

I remember working with a team of brasiliero labourers on a construction site; for them/us, the working day was a game of avoiding supervisors, and our labour was one of solidarity and collective responsibility. Absent workers were always covered for, and a complicated rostering system employed to lengthen break-times to one, two, three hours. Even when we had to work, we sung, played, and performed impressions of the supervisors. There was a refusal to allow even a moment of intellectual and emotional capacity to be appropriated by this workplace to which we held no loyalties. We sabotaged equipment and committed other acts of resistance where we felt it necessary. My experience was that there was a kind of resistance present in pushing my alienation from labour, and my temporary precarity, to an extreme – I hired my body out for toil but allowed the transaction to encompass no more than that.

As I’ve begun to work and study in situations where intellectual engagement is a condition of employment, I feel that I’ve experienced the flip side of this disembodiment, exemplified by the experience of being a student/scholar ‘mind without a body’ in the business school. My experience is both literal and symbolic disconnection from the physical and embodied; the course is available completely online. The logic of the business school, as Sara and I have explored in our critique, also reproduces further disembodiment that ripples out from the institution itself. In the curriculum, there is a marked absence of knowing-subjects such as Indigenous Australians, the beneficiaries of social-purpose business activities, and other knowing-subjects whose accounts cannot be expressed within the terms of a White business discourse. These subjects are rendered starkly visible through their absence as equal participants in discourse, and through their treatment as abstract objects of study.

It is impossible to talk about these experiences without reference to the dynamics of privilege that shape them; as an Australian-born White labourer, I experienced precarity and the possibilities for resistance in vastly different ways to the temporary migrant worker on the construction site. While I could (and eventually did) leave, for others, this possibility may have been foreclosed, or fraught with tensions and challenges. Similarly, there is an element of choice to my engagement as a (dis)embodied subject of the Business School; although I am physically absent, I also have ‘presence’ in the space through embodying some approximation of the ideal (male, white, middle-class cisgender) subject to which the hegemonic order has reference. The experience of erasure is not mine, but the absence of those othered is the premise of my (dis)embodied presence in this space.

Through Matt’s narrative borders as separation between places and roles and peoples, between mind and body and between reason and flesh are foregrounded. In which hard labour is de-intellectualised as both a form of assumed refusal but also as the potential to negate the possibilities of enfleshed reason that might emerge from that place and its encounters and solidarities. There is a hollowing out of wholeness which enables survival, at the same time as micro resistances, and a silent-presence within the dominant and critical script of the political and critique that has potentially both liberatory and alienating consequences. This is not the figure of immaterial labour but its underside; the always-already precarious raced and feminised (non) formal worker (Motta, 2017; Federici, 2019).

Into the space of the Business School, conversely is the ‘choice’ to disembody the body from the workings of the mind and reason; a displacement that is enacted in a kind of no-place in which embodied encounters with others are superfluous and relationality an unnecessary extra. As McGregor and Knox describe:

HE institutions as orderings of human bodies within brick and mortar campuses are deterritorialized through digital technologies on the one hand, and are reterritorialized on the other, as distance learning programmes and open online courses offer new avenues for institutional market expansion. (2017: 518)

This professionalised and marketized exclusion of the body (as the student) and the place (as the encounter with the bricks and mortar of the University) from the production of knowledge is accentuated in such a virtualised scenario. It imbricates smoothly with, and perhaps ironically makes more visible to the newly precaritised W(w)hite subject, the logics, and rationalities of coloniality in which all othered bodies, subjects, knowledges, and lands are and continue to be (as the constitutive underside of the Modern University) relegated to objects of study and research interventions or elided as a presence/t altogether.

In this scenario of de/reterritorialization and (dis)embodiment, the learner is forced to take on deeper logics of micro-management of the self to ensure that they keep to the time of the clock of assignments and assessments; to ensure self-mastery. Whilst those ‘lacking the requisite flexibility… to generate the necessary activity, or otherwise engage, communicate, market, innovate… have little hope of success’ (Du Gay and Morgan, 2013: 24). Conversely/perversely, in the situation of informalised construction work, the worker seems forced/chooses (our lens of (dis)embodiment matters what can be seen here, arguably confines ‘us’) to remove mind and spirit from their place of labour. Does this at once enable survival whilst simultaneously blocking the possibility of co-creating the conditions of mutual flourishing and collective resistance?

Who becomes master and slave in these (dis)placements?

One without the other. A we that is at once dignified and broken. A separation that serves the capitalist machine of alienated/ing labour and the disembodied unreason and nonbeing that the University (re)produces. Where are the points, possibilities, and tensions from which a meeting with self and/as other might take place? In the refusals to work and study to the clock?[3] In the bringing of the embodied into the self-understanding of the worker-scholar? In the telling of our stories to rupture the myths of the consensual construction of the networked city and the smooth functioning of the global (modern) university?

Embodied reasons as/and critique

As Lorde (2012: 372) describes: ‘Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought’. It is the way we here bring to thought and word the unspeakable and the silenced absent-presence of all that is rendered undesirable, deviant, and unintelligible by the dominant logics and rationalities of the business school and the University of which it is a part. Our words are the means through which the embodied experience of violence that criss-crosses in intersecting and differential ways our bodies, relationships, and the land on which we walk can find speech and meaning. This is an other kind of speech to that of Mastery, control and containment. A form of illegibility, a refusal of the ‘too many words to the wrong people’ which Fleming (2013: 629) argues is the premise of the reproduction of (neoliberal) capitalism and subjectivities. Instead, it is a speech (silence) of the fire and water of our serpents’ tongues; a co-becoming of other literacies of (political) reason. It is an act of art as (direct) and embodied activism (de Monthoux, 2014). Our words are small stitches in which we bring together the fragments and re-member our possibilities for a being-knowing otherwise; they are the raindrops and the embers that foreshadow the emergence of another way beyond the onto-epistemological borders that for so long have separated us from ourselves, each other and Country/Madre Tierra

Epistemologically divine

Grief stricken eyes
hidden behind smiles
that hint
to the tender eye

the layers of a life lived
scars faintly visible
covered with
the sleave

of professionalism;
a professionalism
that disavows
love, vulnerability, desperation, joy.

A dank smell 
of freshly sanitised lies
and Global designs
no sign

of the richness
we walk
bearing our children
upon weary shoulders.

Left outside
in the sunshine
with butterflies and ice creams
hidden truths and ancient whispers.

Drawing maps on our bodies
to size us to fit
mould our children into line
craft the perfect storyline.

running through the cursing
blood in our veins
corroding with that

White gaze of the Knower.
I once was, too
detached, deplaced
erasing and erased.

An internal exile
so sublime
no realisation of the crimes
committed in the name

of reason, truth,
excellence, objectivity
until long lost sisters
in a faraway land

once upon a time
took me
by the hand
stood with me

behind burning lines
a glimmer of what was mine
a glimmer of all
I’d denied.

A heretic in flesh and word
transgressing borders
that divide us
from ourselves

and each other.
leaves little

to the imagination.
Confessionals with
the new priests of performance review
as the milk stains

peak their little heads
out from under
their buttoned up bed
and a tenderness

of our relating
freezes that deplaced time
into a deeply felt

of an other place
embraced in the
messiness of the knowing
of our mothering.

Motherhood as
epistemologically divine
with blossoming flowers
of a wisdom

collectively lived
and made
with the little hands and feet
and adolescent pains

and shames 
making kaleidoscope conceptualisations
of emancipation
as healing

of teaching as
of sentipensamientos
tan diversos

they cannot be named
in the language
that maimed us
but rather

multiple tongues
breathing fire
that nurture

an other way
an other path
of becoming mother, scholar, lover
of becoming Other.

Sara C Motta, 28 March 2016

Secret knots

This is for you,

Whether or not you know who you are

I’m trying to bring us all together like gravity guiding around stars

Because I’m not bringing down the government,
But I’d kind of like to start

So try to remember,
Whenever you dream of freedom,

Leave some signs or marks

And then when we see them,

We’ll know for sure we’re not so far apart

And that there are secret knots connecting us no matter how lost we are

These ties, close to the heart

Just want to stay tight but we can’t fight with the tide or the growing dark

Now you’ve wandered so far

My heroes, my friends, nobody knows where they are

And so this is for them –

The long lost, the people I once knew

For as long as you’ve been gone, I’ve wondered if I’ve been gone too.


We’re called upon to dream about reclaiming our lives,

I know we’ll struggle and we’ll fuck it up,

We’re doing it blind, but

We’ll be guided by dreams and maybe see our seeds grow

We know we’ve walked the earth alone,

But walking side by side sometimes we might forget it’s so

And then forgetting that we get scared,

Perhaps we’ll let ourselves have hope

And you know I wish I could’ve been there

But I saw that wall where you wrote

We’ll turn all our fears into stones

And we’ll catapult them straight at the places where tyrants make homes

Now that’s some heavy ammunition

And a load off your chest

And another night the cops are getting no kind of rest


I call upon the spirits now

Of the ones who never bowed down

Cover up our faces before the sun comes around

Because this place is an illusion,

Sometimes I feel I barely exist, but

I tear a hole in the walls of the city every time my pen slips,

And it’s as jagged as a window that’s been smashed with a brick

A line of flight or an escape, a place where fear loses its grip

And we might even feel the gates of freedom budge another inch

If it feels like fighting back

Perhaps that’s what it is.

Matt Allen, august 2009


There are many forms of silence: to be silenced, to not find words because it is unspeakable, the silence that enables survival and a silence as dwelling that nurtures the possibility of our speech (Motta, 2018b: 28–39). Just as we have sought to trace the contours of an affirmative critical praxis through the narrative-language of lived experience, and through the music-language of poetry, we here seek to imagine the generative possibilities of the spaces between the lines, the intake of breath, the listening, the possibility-language of silence.

There is a silence through which ‘we’ take off the burdens we have carried since our enslavement and attempted erasure; the removal of a historic and ancestral burden that raced subaltern women have always been made to carry. This removal means that we stop trying to please the Master, stop trying to appear, appease or be recognised within the dominant script of reason and the intelligible (Halberstam, 2013). This includes letting go of the burden of desiring recognition within and by the ‘critical’ theoretical and subject of critique for there have been too many silenced betrayals. It involves cultivating our discernment and our recovery through unlearning of the internalisation of self-hate and thus re-membering our right to safety and recognition on our own terms (Motta and Bermudez, 2019).

Our appearance as knowing-subjects is necessarily viewed as violent into the Whiteness of reason, and thus we have the responsibility to ourselves to refuse speech on these terms. This does not imply a refusal of the work of bridging, but it does imply that this work can only happen if the grounds for deep epistemological listening and (un)learning of the knowing-subject of coloniality are actively embraced by both. This is an affirmative rejection of being subjected to categorisation as (re)inscription of power relations (Risberg and Pilhofer, 2018) and of rendering (our)selves intelligible to ‘a constellation that will never accept the preconditions of what (our) voice means’ (Fleming, 2013: 629). For our (epistemological) freedom we no longer need to suffer, sacrifice, and self-subjugate.

The project of coloniality and the Modern University strives for an erasure/assimilation of difference, rendering difference itself unspeakable. Bridging and working in solidarity across difference and diversity cannot be premised on the assumption that we come to being together in a power-neutral context (Christensen et al., 2018: 867). In navigating the complexities of privilege, voice, and presence, we can find ourselves allowing/enforcing/policing a silence that obscures and assimilates difference (Cobussen, 2003: 280). When those of us who are able to do so eventually fall back on our systemic privilege at the expense of our comrades and allies and chosen kin, we betray ourselves, and expose the hollowing-out of solidarity and kinship that occurs where we cannot name/accept differences and systemic privileges (Seppälä, 2017). There is a particular silence that surrounds the betrayal of allyship/kinship, which is also a betrayal of the individual and collective self, and a betrayal of what worlds are made possible when we become serious about the work of decoloniality (Ulus, 2018; Tuck and Yang, 2012). How can it ever be safe for peoples with differential embodied systematic and repeating experiences of power and/as (un)reason to work in solidarity with one another when those differences and diversities are unspeakable? What experiences of power and/as onto-epistemological erasure and annihilation remain still unspoken and silenced?

Silence is thus a deeply necessary component of our dialogical practice of working across differences and differential experiences of power. Our project has, in many ways, been an attempt to foster and nurture a space of generative silence into which we can come to speak, think-feel, and co-create embodied meaning. What we are/have been/will be seeking is a coming to know the ‘other’ without imposing a form of Knowing that erases and assimilates difference, a process of experimentation and (un)learning on the contested terrain of labour-division, knowledge-production and (non)being-becoming in, with, and beyond the Business School.


Through our writing, we have sought to work against, within and beyond our expectations and assumptions regarding who are the subjects of critique, what is critique and who must be given space to speak into the silence so that critique does not reproduce the coordinates of knowing-(non)being and unreason of coloniality. We hope for this practice of writing ‘otherwise’ to be particularly disruptive in the context of the business school, which mobilises a logic of unreason and non-being in the service of producing ‘useful’ knowledges pertaining to the government of people and organisations, the erasure of other(ed) bodies, knowledges and lifeworlds, while also attempting to produce ideal (neoliberal) capitalist colonial consuming/producing self-governing subjects and subjectivities. This is an invitation to become an active reader as opposed to a consumer of an ‘exotic’ and ‘erotic’ text that merely reinforces a mirror of the hegemonic (critical) ‘self’. It pushes against and through a logic of (non)being in which we are made to account for ourselves in terms not of our own and plays with practices in which the work of kinship is to share some of the labour of (un)intelligibility. It demands a process of accountability in which the terms of the conversation premised on the elision and disavowal of raced and feminised others’ epistemological medicines and wisdoms are ruptured and exposed for the violences that they are.

We wrote this for ourselves – because writing can be a form of reinvention of the self/emergence of the other, and writing together can be a form of solidarity, kinship, and healing. Our silence and moments of silence are the enfleshment of ‘empty’ space which seeks to be generative of the interrogation of all that is (un)said, (dis)allowed, and mis(named) in the dominant script of the heteronormative capitalist colonial Business School and its (ir)rationalities of reproduction. We wrote this for you – not in order to convince you of any particular way of thinking, but as an invitation to listen, (un)learn and open to the other(ed) within and without.


[1]       We use the business school in this text as a means of speaking to and about structuring subjectivities, logics, and (ir)rationalities, rather than as a critique of specific institutions and institutional forms as the apotheosis or instantiation of such structurations of power. We do so with a playful methodological attentiveness in which we honour our/a right to opacity (Glissant, 1997) and in recognition of the lived relationships and relationalities and (im)possibilities of inhabiting particular business schools with modern/colonial (neoliberalised) Universities from our different places/positionalities.

[2]       Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived on the continent now known as Australia for over 65,000 years, with more than 500 groups speaking 250 languages and 800 dialects. In recognising that the act of naming is one that reinforces colonial claims to ownership and the legitimacy of state power and control, we take it as our responsibility to engage in a (contingent, partial) refusal of our participation and complicity in such.

[3]       It is fruitful here to think with/dwell in the ideas/reflections offered by Ruth (2017) as regards refusal to occupy and use (the office/university) space as prescribed; or those of playful affirmative critique of encounters, disruptions and laughter developed by Turner et al. (2017); or the ideas of self-care and slow encounters offered by Motta and Amsler (2019) in their work about becoming mother and scholar otherwise.

[4]       As I was editing my poem, I was going to keep her small, and semi-hiding, and then I thought f*** it I am still (in) hiding. I added that spaces between the lines, breathed and took up space, surrendered into a spaciousness of the (im)possibility of my passing.


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the author(s)  

Sara C. Motta is a proud Mestiza-salvaje of Colombia-Chibcha/Muisca, Eastern European Jewish and Celtic linages currently living, loving, and resisting on the unceded lands of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, NSW, so called Australia. She is mother, survivor of state and intimate violences, poet, curandera, bare-breasted philosopher, popular educator, and associate professor at the University of Newcastle, NSW. Sara has worked for over two decades with raced and feminised communities in struggle resistances/re-existencias in, against and beyond hetero-patriarchal capitalist-coloniality in Europe, Latin America and Australia and co-created numerous decolonising projects of radical healing. She has published widely in academic and activist-community outlets. Her latest book (2018) Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation (Rowman and Littlefield) winner of the 2020 best Gender Theory and Feminist Book, International Studies Associate (ISA).

Email: sara.c.motta AT


Matthew K. Allen is a person of Scottish and Celtic lineage, currently living on the unceded lands of the Awabakal and Worimi people in Mulubinba/Newcastle, New South Wales. He is an anarchist, facilitator, and sailor, and works as a Research Associate at Monash University and Senior Research Assistant at The Yunus Centre, Griffith University. His work and activism focus on social and solidarity economies, anticapitalism, consumption, waste, and critical pedagogy.

Email: matt.allenk AT