What is Abolition Science?
It's your hosts here! Atasi Das and LaToya Strong. If you are an educator, activist or lover of learning, check out this new podcast series. Abolition Science Radio is a bi-weekly podcast series investigating all things science and math and their relationship to colonialism, oppression, resistance, education and liberation.
In this episode, we introduce ourselves and discuss our ideas around science and mathematics in the classroom and in society.
Transcription (please excuse any errors)
LaToya (T): And, we’re back. Well, we’re back, [A: Yeah, We’re back.] We’re back. You’re- if you’re a listener, you’re here for the first time. Uh, so this is our very first episode of our Abolition Science Radio.
Atasi (A): We’re so excited.
T: We are super excited. Uh, we’re gonna start off the way we intend to start off with all of our guests. Atasi why don’t you tell us what you’re listening to?
A: That’s an interesting question because I think, uh, at the moment, I am not listening to music as much as I’m listening to podcasts. [T: Haha] And uh, I’m listening to like a lot of, YouTube videos on how to do a podcast. There’s so many steps. But, yeah! That’s what I’m listening to. What are you listening to?
T: Uh, also listening to a bunch of YouTube videos on how to edit Garage Band, but musically, um I’ve been listening to Blitz the Ambassador. He is someone that I constantly come back to. He’s a Guinean American rapper based out of Brooklyn. Um, his rap, I guess you could classify as like pan-Africanism, he talks about a lot of social issues. Um, not a mumble rapper by any means. [A: Ha, a mumble rapper] Um, so check him out. Ha ha ha.
A: Cool. Well, today I think we’re going to be talking a little bit about what this podcast series is about. Um, so, it’s called Abolition Science. Um, what do you think about- what is- does it mean to you? What does Abolition Science mean?
T: Uh. It means- so I guess I first started developing these two terms together aft- at, was it 2016? 2015?
A: Yeah, 2015 I think.
T: Uh, after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’s um, Reconstruction in America and he had this Abolition Democracy and I was like, ok what does this mean? Or what could it look like uh, for science? And so, just thinking that, not everyone benefits from what science is supposed to do. And not only do they not benefit, they’re you know, the stepping stones to create, but they don’t benefit from, so there’s a lot of exploitation and oppression and so how do we dismantle this part of it and start to look to something that is liberatory for all people.
A: Yeah, uh, and- I think we’ve, we’ve talked since about 2015 around these um ideas, and looking critically at science and math. And how the discipline itself is so problematic in many ways but also, it includes so many, unrecognized or silenced aspects of knowing. So, for me Abolition Science is um, a position of, like really thinking through that. Um, critiquing and deconstructing. But it’s also hopefully a project that you know there’s things that we can do that we can actively be a part of in our communities, maybe in our teaching, um, and, I’m still figuring it out. Like, I’m- I’m you know, have been an educator, uh, in elementary classroom and have been thinking about science and math for some time. Not just science and math, like, I wouldn’t say I have that hat solely. [T: Ha ha ha] But, uh, yeah, I think Abolition Science is this possibility of radically rethinking and redoing how we engage and how we understand science and math. And it’s- and for the purpose of - of, um, like human life. Of, of, making it, uh, a more just and a, um, just something that we want for ourselves and our children and our future generations and so. Yeah, that’s what, that’s where I am right now.
T: Cool, so we have Abolition Science as a stance and a project. And the podcast is part of this project. So can we delve into a little bit more of the nitty gritty. When we talk about, you know, these issues within science and math that need to be dismantled. Uh, do you wanna start off with, since you do more math, um, and talk to us a little bit about that?
A: Yeah. So, um, what- when I’m talking about mathematics, um, I know it’s mm- typically thought of as- in terms of, um, oh man. Ha, it’s typically thought of in terms of, um, formulas and algorithms and you know, graphing calculators and, I’ve been trying to think of mathematics more from the position of really it’s like a way of understanding and knowing the world around us. Uh, a way of interpreting it, a way of explaining and doing something, and at this moment, and that- and that is historical. It’s like a very social, a political and a historical process. Mathematics, isn’t one thing, it’s not coming from only Greece. You know there’s like mathematical practices all over the world and so people have been thinking about how to make sense of the realities around them for the purposes of how they related to them- each other and in nature, in the en- in the environment. So, I’m coming from that standpoint of mathematics as being this social practice. That’s what I mean by that, and um, it’s really diverse. So that, you know, it’s not only like there’s one way of doing mathematics or thinking of mathematics or what it- or defining what it is, but, it’s uh, because it’s so contextual, because it has to do with humans making sense, interpreting, explaining, and acting in the world, um, it’s something that also changes. And, I wanna think about how is math a part of a, a kind of change, a social change that benefits most of humanity as opposed to right now, which I feel like, it’s really about a hyper-exploitation and control of bodies and human life, globally. And, many people of color, particularly.
T: Yeah, uh, you. Uh, gave us a lot to think about but I wanna hone in on one particular thing that you said and that was the math as a social practice. And I’m thinking about my own students and when I was a student and going through the math classes and you’d inevitably always hear, ‘well, what am I gonna use this for?’ [A: Mhmm.] Like, I still, I still have not used many many many of the things I’ve learned in math in math class and so you’re saying we need to shift how we’re thinking about math and make it more relatable?
A: Yeah, and that we do it. We, as, as I think of it as, it’s not necessarily if you’re not schooled in a particular math, you’re not doing it. You are! In, in engaging with like, how much collecting whatever or making sense of whatever. You’re already engaging in what some people would consider mathematical practices. So, some people consider themselves like ‘I’m not a math person’. Like I- that idea um, I think denies the fact that or, what I see as, um, really people make sense in a lot of different ways. Maybe it’s not the exact same counting. The math- not not the exact same like grouping, or how they- how you might add or subtract or whatever that is, but, um, it’s a part of who- how we- how we walk and how we make sense and what we do, um, every single day, so yeah. That’s -
T: So, even down to how we’re even understanding what math is needs to shift?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it, it really. There’s such a power. I mean- I really- from elementary students to adults, there’s such a fear around mathematics and around numbers themselves that you’re categorized as either being um, proficient and by proficient it’s like you dominate, like you can control and do things. Or, you’re, you’re like drowning. You know, like, ‘I just don’t get this.’ You know, like ‘Don’t explain it to me’. And I think that, that’s something that’s really problematic. Like, why, why does that either/or thing, like you’re either ‘Yeah, I got this’ or ‘I don’t’ exist. [T: Mhmm] So, I wanna investigate that and I think, I think that that’s also a part of this project in thinking of what’s an Abolition Science. Yeah. Well, what about for you? How would you- how do you think about science?
T: Uh, so I- I really tried to understand like, the science that we practice today rooted in it’s historical birthing, ha, I guess you could say. Um, and I think the world could have taken many paths in regards to how we understand and explore like, natural and biological um, occurrences or phenomenon, but because western modern science was so entangled with colonialism and imperialism, um, we’ve had only one re- like, one trajectory in which we consider a valid way to produce um, knowledge. Or to understand, or to understand the world. Uh, so, what I’m really trying to make a distinction between is what I like to think about as like ‘big S’ Science and ‘little s’ science. And I think cultures around the world historically and currently and presently all practice elements of science, but these practices that they have are connected to the needs and wants of that particular culture or society. But, these practices have historically and currently, you know, they get labeled as- as, you know, subjective. You know, if we think about traditional healing practices, they get labeled as traditional healing practices, um, and as something that is subjective or culture-based whereas western modern science um, gets to be objective uh, and doesn’t ever have to contend with the culture that is western modern science. And we look at the culture of western modern science, it’s embedded in colonialism and imperialism and capitalism, so all these, you know, all this modernity that science was supposed- that science should have given us, not everyone benefits from. Um, and so, who gets science practiced on them and who benefits from science are not the same. So, if science was this truly universal thing, the risks and the benefits of what happens would be distributed equally across all people. Uh, and it’s not.
A: So interesting that you, when you’re talking about it right now, um, it’s- it, you’re really helping me think through this idea of like, and object- you know, like the labeling of objective science and subjective science and so, can you tell me- uh- like, talk a little bit more about the different, like how- how do you differentiate how that’s labeled. I’m not sa- I don’t think, that you’re saying that there is an objective and a subjective science and what does that have to do with culture? Like, what is? Yeah.
T: Yeah, I mean, science is- it’s neutral. It’s objective. You know, I think Neil De Grasse, he- he has this quote. What is the quote? It’s like, it’s something along the lines of ‘the beautiful thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.’ Um, but what western modern science does and all the proponents of western modern science have been really good at is not understanding the culture that western modern science is embedded in. And so we can’t talk about science without talking about capitalism. We can’t talk about science without talking about colonialism. We can’t talk about, um, science, without talking about imperialism. Um, and so science is, uh subjective. It’s just that we’ve all been taught and learned, and it’s been indoctrinated in us, that it’s objective and it’s these other things that are, um, subjective. So if science had a different culture, maybe the world would look different. So maybe if science, if the purpose of- if the purpose and the culture of science was about uh, the liberation of all people of the well-being of all people and all, and the planet and all living things, we would be somewhere different than where we are.
A: Yeah. And, it’s a, I- I think that uh, yeah it really helps me think about what I mean when I say culture. And I think, there’s similarly, cause I heard you say thing like culture as it, as it’s like, imperialism steeped in colonialism, so it’s like how do people relate to one another? [T: Mhmm, absolutely.] Cause I think, you know, for example, in schools, when you talk about culture, it’s really about, I mean it focuses on elements like music and art, which are expressions. But it’s’- which have a, a connection to the rela- those deeper relations but, I think that we’re really coming at this as looking at culture as, like what are those relations between, between groups of humans? [T: Absolutely.] And the created groups, yeah.
T: Absolutely, that’s the other thing that western modern- so it disconnects itself from like, here’s the sciences and there are the arts. Whereas for many cultures, it’s like all these things are entangled and connected together cause how can you compartmentalize the society in which you, in which you live?
A: Right. So, I’m excited cause we get to explore this.
T: Yeah, I’m excited too!
A: And, uh, hopefully, we’ll cre- we’ll come back together to talk about how um, some of our guests um, and people who are practicing and thinking about similar things help- that we help each other kinda help define and craft what we’re gonna do in this project of Abolition Science. So..great.