Thinking about how ““first” is just another word for colonialism”

Recently, I have read a bit about how claiming to be the first to do/research/find/describe/discover/explain is really a form of colonialism, not the proof of excellence we commonly think it is.

Claims of being “the first” are rarely true (tons of examples here: most prominently Columbus discovering America, but also fossils/species/phenomena being long known to indigenous people but then presented and claimed as “firsts” on other continents, …)

I really like the last paragraph in ‘s “Firsting in research”:

“Firsting in research, then, is not about being first to a place, first to know something, first to discover something. It’s a mark of hubris of not realizing every knowledge is partial, constructed within a regime of imperceptibility. It is a proclamation of power to make property in someone’s home, to put your own name on otherwise shared or common knowledge. It’s a proclamation of the privilege to not see others, cite others, or acknowledge others. Firsting is about the power to discard. To paraphrase Zoe Todd, “first” is just another word for colonialism.”

I also recommend this infographic by Lawrence & Williams (2023) as a quick start into the topic.

If we want to decolonialize our teaching, we also need to decolonialize what we value in research.

Leave a Reply