Is ‘decolonisation’ a legitimate and appropriate value in biomedical research and teaching?

A A Van Niekerk


This article investigates the claim that decolonisation is an appropriate and legitimate value in the process of current-day biomedical research, particularly in Africa. Can we expect that the nature and effects of the decolonisation of research will be comparable and similar for all scientific disciplines (obviously including the biomedical disciplines), or does the claim to significant differences between the ‘natural’ and ‘human’ sciences have notable implications for our understanding of both the nature and the effects of decolonisation, as well as for our understanding of the biomedical disciplines themselves? In this article I firstly analyse the notion of decolonisation. Secondly, I investigate the legitimacy of holding and maintaining a conceptual difference between the natural and the human sciences. I do this in conversation with Charles Taylor and Jürgen Habermas, who have produced invaluable contributions in this regard. Thirdly, I apply these insights to the question as to whether the decolonialist project (the general legitimacy of which I accept) is equally applicable to both the natural and the human sciences in their traditional formats. Finally, I discuss the relevance of this debate for both the nature of the biomedical sciences and the question as to the extent to which the biomedical sciences can and ought to be successfully decolonised – a question that is answered in the affirmative.

Author's affiliations

A A Van Niekerk, Centre for Applied Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2019;12(1):4-7. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2019.v12i1.652

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-07-03
Date published: 2019-07-03

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