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      Decolonization in a higher education STEMM institution – is ‘epistemic fragility’ a barrier?

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          Central to the decolonial debate is how high-income countries (HICs) have systematically negated ways of knowing from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and yet the paucity of empirical decolonization studies leaves educators relatively unsupported as to whether, and how, to address privilege in higher education. Particularly in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) institutions, there are few published examples of attempts to engage faculty in these debates. In 2018–19, we invited faculty on a master’s in public health course to engage with the decolonization debate by providing: (1) descriptive reading list analyses to all 16 module leads in the master’s programme to invite discussion about the geographic representation of readings; (2) an implicit association test adapted to examine bias towards or against research from LMICs; (3) faculty workshops exploring geographic bias in the curriculum; and (4) interviews to discuss decolonization of curricula and current debates. These initiatives stimulated debate and reflection around the source of readings for the master’s course, a programme with a strong STEMM focus, and the possibility of systemic barriers to the inclusion of literature from universities in LMICs. We propose the notion of epistemic fragility, invoking DiAngelo’s (2011) ‘white fragility’, because some of the responses appeared to result from the challenge to perceived meritocracy, centrality, authority, individuality and objectivity of the HIC episteme that this initiative invites. We posit that the effortful reinstatement of a status quo regarding knowledge hierarchies in the global context, although not a representative reaction, can lead to a significant impact on the initiative in general. Efforts to decolonize curricula require actions at both the individual and organizational levels and, in particular, a managed process of careful engagement so that fragility reactions, if and where they occur, are given the time and space to be navigated in the open. Based on our experiences, we offer recommendations for policy and practice for those engaged in this movement and potential research questions to explore epistemic fragility in higher education.

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          Most cited references 54

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          Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists

           Thomas Gieryn (1983)
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            Purposeful Sampling for Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis in Mixed Method Implementation Research.

            Purposeful sampling is widely used in qualitative research for the identification and selection of information-rich cases related to the phenomenon of interest. Although there are several different purposeful sampling strategies, criterion sampling appears to be used most commonly in implementation research. However, combining sampling strategies may be more appropriate to the aims of implementation research and more consistent with recent developments in quantitative methods. This paper reviews the principles and practice of purposeful sampling in implementation research, summarizes types and categories of purposeful sampling strategies and provides a set of recommendations for use of single strategy or multistage strategy designs, particularly for state implementation research.
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              Reflecting on reflexive thematic analysis


                Author and article information

                London Review of Education
                UCL Press (UK )
                2 June 2021
                : 19
                : 1
                Imperial College London, UK
                Author notes
                *Corresponding author – email: m.harris@ 123456imperial.ac.uk
                Copyright © 2021, Skopec, Fyfe, Issa, Ippolito, Anderson and Harris

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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                Figures: 3, Tables: 1, References: 70, Pages: 22
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                London Review of Education
                Volume 19, Issue 1

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