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Research Article

Holding up the researcher’s mirror to decolonize knowledge generation: a critical examination of researchers’ positionality beyond the ‘Global North’/‘South’ divide

Received 09 Aug 2022, Accepted 17 Jan 2023, Published online: 25 Jan 2023


In this article, we scrutinise the importance of researchers’ positionality vis-à-vis the ‘Global South’/‘North’ binary in the field of international and comparative education. Accounting for the different places we speak from, we reflect on our past experiences as doctoral researchers examining teachers’ role as agents of peace and/or conflict in divided and (post-) conflict societies. In doing so, we challenge the rigidity of the ‘North’/‘South’ demarcation as a singular marker of insider/outsider status. Instead, we propose hybrid positions that are susceptible to change over time and in relation to socio-political contexts and structural power relations. To conclude, we situate our experiences along an intersecting insider-outsider and decoloniality continuum.


To paraphrase an African proverb, ‘it takes a village to complete a doctorate’. As we reflected in this paper on our experiences and lessons learned as doctoral researchers, we want to thank everybody who contributed to or shaped our journeys. In particular, we are grateful to our supervisor and to former colleagues at the Centre for Research on Peace and Development, as well as to all education officials, school principals, teachers and students in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire who participated in our research. We learned a lot from all our interactions, both as researchers and as persons. Line would also like to thank Pulchérie, whose support in Côte d’Ivoire has been invaluable. Finally, our thanks go to the editors of this special issue and to two anonymous reviewers, who shared stimulating comments and suggestions that helped to strengthen the paper.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).


1 In this paper, we use the terms ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘Global North’, ‘Global South’ as references to social and economic disparities between countries, instead of referring to a particular grouping of nations (see e.g., Ndlovu-Gatsheni Citation2021 for similar usage).

2 Whereas positionality was discussed in our doctoral theses (see Ibrahim Citation2021; Kuppens Citation2018; Nfundiko Citation2020), this paper is the first to compare our experiences.

3 Our respective projects were funded by two types of scholarships from the Flemish inter-university development cooperation (VLIR-UOS) and the Interfaculty Council for Development Cooperation, which support partnerships between universities and university colleges in Flanders (Belgium) and the ‘South’.

4 This was a desktop-based research, involving no fieldwork visits to Kenya.

5 According to Justin, this refusal needs to be understood in the context of a culture of silence that is promoted in DRC when it comes to issues of the violent past.

6 14-year-old, Christian male student identifying as ethnic Akan.

7 It is likely that the student is indirectly refering to an earlier documentary on xenophobic sentiment in Côte d’Ivoire (‘Côte d’Ivoire, poudre identitaire’) that was released in 2001 by a Belgian sociologist, Benoît Scheuer.

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