This year’s Debating Development series initiates a reflection on the role of universities for social transformation and building solidarity towards social and environmental justice. For this it is key to understand the nexus between power and knowledge production in the academy. This requires us to critically reflect on the values that underpin our universities and the role of staff and students in either reproducing or dismantling hegemonic status quo conditions. 

In this opening session, invited speakers will reflect on the notion of “impact”, “transformation”, “sustainability”, and other buzzwords that universities often use in defining their social mission statements. Such vocabulary illustrates how conventional academic and scientific language often risk being used as vehicles for epistemic violence and legitimization of status quo ‘development’ in an era of growing ecological and social injustice. In doing so, the session invites us to reflect on whether there is such a thing as a “neutral” or ”objective” knowledge that can be produced in isolation of existing power geographies and social conditions. The speakers will also reflect on the roles and responsibilities university staff and students have in pushing for social transformation, and how the “language of dissent” and critical notions such as “decolonization” and scholar-activism are often disciplined through cooptation and trivialization of their meanings.

Invited speakers

Amber Murrey is an associate professor at the School of Geography and the Environment of the University of Oxford since 2018, having previously held academic positions at the American University in Cairo, Clark University in Massachusetts and Jimma University in Ethiopia. Her research on resistance and social change in Africa is empirically grounded and integrates the political geographies of environmental and socio-political struggles with decolonial theory and resistance studies. She is the co-author, with Patricia Daley, of Learning Disobedience: Decolonizing Development Studies (2023) and editor of A Certain Amount of Madness: The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara (2018).

Willem Schinkel is Professor of Social Theory at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His work centers on social and political theory, specifically on issues ranging from migration to racial capitalism and fascism in Europe. Next to various Dutch books, he is the author of Imagined Societies. A Critique of Immigrant Integration in Western Europe (Cambridge University press, 2017). At Erasmus University Rotterdam, he coordinates and teaches in the master’s program Engaging Public Issues.


Swati Kamble is an anti-caste intersectional feminist researcher-activist. Her research focuses on human rights, social justice movements, decolonisation and intersectionality. She has a  PhD in socio-economics from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva. Currently, she is researching the digital activism of Dalit women and middle-class Dalit women’s mobility in the Indian neo-liberal market. She is also collaborating with Dalit, indigenous and marginalised groups and organisations in India on a project around mapping and archival of indigenous forms of knowledge and decolonisation.