Adrián Groglopo

This interview is part of the series Questioning the Notion of Neutrality.
Click here to read more about the project and to find more interviews.

Adrián Groglopo is a senior lecturer at Gothenburg University. He is a project leader of the research project DENOR – Decolonial critique in the Nordic countries – and is a member of Antirasistiska Akademin.

Interview – video

in English

Keywords / Overview

neutrality and the question of power

neutral vs. objective
neutrality as eurocentric myth

objective knowledge and debate

nazis as lecturers
freedom of speech/academic freedom and it's limits

"neutrality prevents the determination of truth"

liberal politics and university
structural violence

knowledge production and politics
erasure from history

geopolitical positions

universities and the European colonial project

Interview – transcript

in English

My name is Adrián Groglopo. I'm a lecturer at the Department of Social Work at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. I was born in Argentina, lived there for almost 20 years, and then I started to travel and finished here in Sweden. That's a very long story, very short… And in the last, I would say, 21 years, I focussed very much on the question of racism.

Neutrality and the question of power

Neutrality is actually… well, of course, you can deconstruct neutrality post-structuralistically. But neutrality is the idea, or is the position, not to choose a side of a conflict. I can regulate: For example, if you are struggling between the two of you, I can say, well, I'm neutral: “What do you say, Gloria, about this one? You have two minutes to say that.” “Well, now it's Ida's turn. What do you say, Ida, about that?” I can mediate and I can negotiate, can be neutral, in that situation. But in questions of validating opinions, the question is, can we be neutral to the validation of, for example, the Ku Klux Klan, or Nazi Germany? You can be neutral in a situation when you can mediate between different partners that have – sort of – an equal relation of forces. But if you don't have an equal relation of forces, then, well, neutrality just becomes an instrument to legitimize the oppressor. I think that being neutral in those situations it's like... say, you are neutral in the question of Israel bombing a Palestinian house, Palestinian people, or killing Palestinian kids. How can you be neutral? I mean, in that sense, what you are doing is taking the side of the powerful. And that's the thing: neutrality wants to take the question of power out of the understanding or analysis. So there is no question of power. That's one of the problems that we have: we have an ethical problem/a problem of ethics and a problem or question of analysis.

Neutrality, objectivity and a eurocentric myth

The idea of the academy has been created upon the idea of objectivity. Not so much neutrality; I wouldn't say neutrality, I think objectivity and neutrality are not the same thing. But the problem is that these two terms have been interchanged very much. What I think is that people, at least academics or researchers, are very much afraid of not being taken seriously in their objectivity. Objectivity is a way of observing or understanding something that you are concerned about. It depends on what your definition of objectivity is. A very big contribution to that question were feminist epistemologies of objectivity, and the question of where that objectivity is located. I mean, you have to be objective within the situation you are trying to study about. I will have to ask myself: am I objective enough in this situation in which/how I operationalize my methods or the methodology I use, with areas, with the research design, the methods I use, the way I connect to people, the way I understand the data and so on? There I can be objective. I can try at least, and I can show my cards and say, well, I depart from a Marxist understanding of society, or whatever – a feminist understanding, or even a bourgeois or liberal understanding of the market. That will give at least an idea. And from within the realm of this framework/point of departure, I am objective. But to say that I'm objective, [starting] from the idea of neutrality, that I have no or take off my ideological, social… clothes – that's mythology. This is a Eurocentric mythology, in the end, because what it actually means is, you are representing God as a human being. And this is very much part of Europe/Europe's understanding of itself.

Should teachers stop trying to be neutral?

I really like that question. I don't think we have that kind of neutrality. We can be objective in saying how the world functions. And then I can discuss with other people who think that the world functions in another way or who [for example] think that actually capitalism is good, that it gives – I don't know – a lot of vaccine to many people and so on and so on, or gets people out of poverty, etc, etc. And I can go against that with other data and that's a discussion – but neutral – the point is not neutral. The point is to try to find out what is objective knowledge and how I legitimize the knowledge I am claiming to be objective. I think neutrality is very damaging, actually. The idea of neutrality – in a conflict where there is no equal relation of forces – is only an instrument to legitimize the oppressor.

Academic freedom and the far right

With Jomshof 1, the case was that he was invited (among other parties – all the parties were invited) to give a talk about political communication at the institute for journalism. And, well, there was a lot of debate whether it was necessary to invite a party that has been created out of a Nazi movement. Even if today they say that they are conservatives etc: bullshit. This is completely b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t. They are Nazis. If they are not, I want to hear them say that they don't have that kind of ideology, and how they changed that. Anyway, that was the setting. And what happened was that students actually started to mobilize 2 not only the students, but [also] the staff at Gothenburg university to come out and protest against that, because otherwise this would have gone silent – it would have gone like any other lecture. The thing is that this was, I think, the first time (at least the first time since the Second World War) that I see an actual Nazi, invited by a university to come and give a talk. So that's a very serious situation. Then the liberal press and the conservative press came out – for example, Göteborgs Posten, the newspaper of the city, which is extremely reactionary I think. Reactionary in a sense that they go against any critical thinking, because “they” are Stalinist and crazy feminist etc, etc. (Not even talking about anti-racism: anti-racism is the worst...) [Anyway,] They came out saying that all this protest was against the academic life and it was against the freedom of speech and it was against the right of an accepted political party to come to give a lecture or present the way they “inform” people, etc. The good thing with all this protest was that it was backed up by many, by 500 academics around Sweden 3. A lot of professors and lecturers and researchers backed this up. So they were actually much more if you look at the relation of forces. Of course, you have the newspapers – very powerful, with their writers, but then you have 500 academics writing against Jomshof's lecture. Then, what happened is, with time it just disappeared. [But] now, what is going on is that some people or professors that were against this lecture started a project about writing on the question of freedom of speech: what is that? What is the question of neutrality? What is the question of having Nazis coming to lecture in the university, etc.

Neutrality prevents the determination of truth

Neutrality prevents the determination of truth. [For example:] I'm neutral, I can give you both [a chance to speak], and then I have some people outside who decide. I give both of you the possibility to come to terms with your ideas or questions, and then I just – I'm neutral, I don't say anything. So [that way] we can see both sides of the argument, but the attempt to understand the truth is frustrating and often leads to scepticism, and even further frustration. That's what is [also] going on in this case of Jomshof at the University of Gothenburg. You have all these actors of the university saying, “We are neutral.” And the response [result] of that was that there was a lot of frustration for some people [those protesting], and frustration even for other people – those that wanted to see Jomshof – because people were protesting. So what you are creating here is scepticism and frustration, and not actually giving the possibility to understand what is actually going on. And what I mean with that, well, the truth, the very material thing of, well, that someone with ideas that are... crazy – that guy was holding the Nazi flag in his youth – is coming to give a talk at the university. And you cannot see that if I'm neutral. If I'm saying, “Well, I'm neutral,” I am actually even saying, “I don't care what that guy wants to do with other people. It's not my problem.” And that's a very – I would say – unethical position. Even if we can question truth / the creation of truth, or what is the truth and so on… we know that there is a political party that this Jomshof is representing and, as we said, it's a Nazi. Everybody knows that it's a Nazi. He wants other people to lose their rights or to disappear from society. And that should be the main ethical and theoretical understanding of this truth that is just there.

We can say, “Well, [truth] is a social construct…” – yes, it has been constructed, of course, but it is being materialized in this way. So it's not only a social construction, it's very material. So I think that this neutrality is no neutrality, I think it's actually a way for these people that are saying they are neutral to keep their positions at the university and to keep this pondus [symbolic value] or this idea that they are objective. Because they need to legitimize their power positions in the institution they are representing. So I don't… I don't see it in any other way.

Knowledge production and politics

Universities are not outside the society, they represent the power relationships that are outside the university within the university too. At the end, universities are the representation of class society. If you look at what kind of knowledge and what kind of people are constituting the universities, you have the middle/upper class. The (Swedish) university has, since at least the end of the 80s until now, gone very, very liberal, a very centre-right way of teaching and creating courses and doing research and so on. Not to say that it is only that way, but the mainstream within Swedish universities is a liberal, highly liberal base. And with the liberal base comes also the understanding of being neutral. The liberal democracies say they are neutral. That's why 'we' are against the fascist, but also the communist. We are in the middle. We are the good guys! Yeah. And that's the position that Sweden has been taking very, very much for a long, long time. The position that can always say that “we” are neutral, because we are in the middle. And as long as you don't threaten to take down the government or the state, you can say whatever you want. But, so, there are limits, and that [threatening to take down the government] is one of those limits, or [saying] that you are going to terrorize people, and so on. But otherwise you can say whatever. The problem with that is that these definitions are not neutral, once again. Because what they are saying is, we are against terrorism, but we are okay with the structural violence. They keep it alive, you know. The segregation; extreme discrimination; a former Nazi political organization in the parliament. So… It's a very, I would say, a political position that actually, in the end, confuses, and generates a lot of scepticism and frustration – which is kept very much under very strict, and I would say very violent control. Liberal society needs very violent control of the people, in the end, to keep it. Because scepticism and frustration is grown the whole time. And that's often my explanation for why you have a fascist political party as the second largest political party in Sweden: because there is frustration.

Invisibilization / erasure of knowledges and histories

Knowledge is not neutral – especially in modern times. Or, not only in modern times – I would say, in capitalist societies. The production of knowledge in relation to what is going on in society is actually always a question of political stand. You have a political idea of what is the “good” society. And “knowledge” is very close to the political spectrum. And that is something that has been very much battled in history, and, I mean, it's nothing new, we're still in this struggle of making a point: what kind of society we want to have. So the political [aspect] is, how do we see, and what would we want of our society? And how we are going to understand it. When we look at history, one of the greatest thinkers, Karl Marx, for example, changed the whole way of understanding knowledge and understanding how knowledge within science was produced for (a) certain kind(s) of interest. And what he did was to change that. That instead of having an idea, we need to go from what people are actually doing, what is actually going on, what is there. And we're still in that. From the ‘90s onwards, in the Swedish universities all the questions of Marxism, or this Marxist critics and so on, are being erased. For example, [when] I want to give my students questions about the philosophy of science from the point of view of Marxism, written in Swedish. I cannot find [any]. There is none. You don't have this breadth. Suddenly, the main philosopher that is taken up by social science and humanities is Michel Foucault. Why? Not because Michael Foucault was a neoliberal or anything. But because he doesn't touch the questions of the economic system. That's the main [reason], the key for why, I would say. So with this, you can analyze institutions, relationships, and so on – very good, I mean, it's very interesting. And I'm not criticizing Foucault in this way. I'm just saying that I try to understand why suddenly comes Foucault to be the number one theorist of power while we have, I mean, whi le there is a tradition of ideas about power and power analysis, that goes back very, very much longer than Foucault.

Geopolitical positions and neo-colonialism

I would say that post-structuralism is a good instrument, a good base for analysis of certain things that we need to analyze. The problem is that we also have to understand in what region of the world and what geopolitical position we are analyzing things. Post-structuralism is about, for example, the question of gender, and post-structuralist thinking is that there is no gender, no sexes and so on, that it's a historical construction etc, etc. Or with culture is the same. And you can do that, in a [specific] geopolitical position, it's fine. But if you do that in another part of the world, where colonialism and capitalism have done much more harm “mot” [Swedish for 'against'] those peoples throughout history, and then you come and say, well, actually, there is no culture. You should question your culture, you should question your gender, you should question your family relationships and so on. I mean, then you are no longer a progressive voice. You are very much dominating and colonizing anew. Some philosophers from parts of Africa, e.g., from Kenya 4, or [also] from Latin America say that there is a neocolonial attack, again. In a different way: not anymore military in that way (although in specific countries, of course, that as well) but through ideas. You have what is called Islamic feminism 5 very much criticizing he European feminism as a colonial enterprise. It is a colonial enterprise because if you don't do things in the way that the feminists in Europe want, then you for example won't get any money for the organizations in Muslim countries if you don't start the organization with the basis of “our” understanding of feminism. Without understanding all the questions, all the other problems that colonialism has done in those countries, what you are doing is to colonize again: ideas about what is important for people and what is not and so on. So, these are issues.

History of universities in the european colonial project

It has been central to the European colonial project: universities have been central. But remember that within those universities there were also people resisting those ideas. So the Eurocentrism is not about the knowledge being produced in Europe, it is about what kind of knowledge is keeping and legitimizing capitalism and colonialism, patriarchy and so on. That’s the problem. It is not because there are no other people. There are a lot of people, but those people are erased from the history of knowledge. I think that colonization has become... has other forms today and another way of conducting it[self], but still, I think that a lot of [fields of study], for example, economics, are part of legitimizing a very unjust system around the world. And, I mean, they are getting Nobel Prizes. I was reading how nowadays, for example, anthropology studies or even social science at large has very much been used and scientists are helping military operations from the United States, military operations in what we call the Third World [Global South / Majority-world countries] to have other kinds of wars in order to first understand how the people there function, in order to come and create chaos or controversies and conflicts within groups, within a family, within you know, communities, or whatever you need to create. So [academia] is still very much used by imperialism and neo-colonization. Social sciences are a large part of the instrument, of their knowledge.

  1. For some context on the lecture and far-right Sweden Democrats party, see this blog post on the school's 'Global Studies' blog or this one 

  2. Protest and campaign “No SD lecture at GU” on Facebook; Link to a petition signed by many academics 

  3. Link to Swedish article published by over 200 academics on the debate (unfortunately paywalled) 

  4. Ngûgî Wa Thiong’o 

  5. Sirin Adlbi Sibai: La cárcel del feminismo - Hacia un pensamiento islamico decolonial