Own Voices Interviews: Philosophising with Nathan Tang

By Janelle Koh in conversation with Nathan Tang | 16 Dec 19

Can you tell us a bit about the workshop/s you ran at the Own Voices Storytelling Festival, and the idea behind it?

I ran a discussion group called “Small Talk with Big Ideas”. It was an opportunity to talk philosophically in an accessible and down to earth way. Philosophy has an ivory tower reputation; its material is often dense and requires savviness with specific technical terms to understand. The heavy use of jargon in philosophy and the prevailing Western privileges in the academy have limited accessibility for culturally and linguistically diverse people in the discipline. Thus, the idea behind “Small Talk with Big Ideas” was to begin to decolonise the discipline of philosophy by making it accessible to a wider and more diverse community.

The Own Voices Storytelling Festival is aimed at youth, but is open to all members of the community. How important is it that youths and the communities they come from are empowered by creative practices?

For me, creative practices are not just cathartic in the face of injustices; they are empowering in that create systems of knowledge to challenge those injustices. Youth are traditionally sidelined from the mainstream discussions on justice; this is evident by parliament’s lack of consultation with youth and matters of climate and refugees. By giving the youth the tools to create, they can manifest their stories when no one else will.

What is it about your particular practice or craft that you think promotes social justice/ human rights?

Philosophy gives one the ability to analyse and dismantle systemic barriers to justice. Where necessary, philosophy also allows one to create new and fairer systems to remedy imbalances in power. Though traditionally done through essays and policy, philosophy today is practiced through a variety of mediums.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to human rights at the moment, either within or outside your practice of the same?

The biggest challenge to the recognition of human rights in philosophy is that philosophy is still a very white, upper class, male space. This homogeneity is most evident at the top positions of the practice. The problem is not that white, upper class men do not understand human rights but that their privileges are obstacles in their ability to empathise with others. This knocks on towards how they conduct their business in the academy; who they see as desirable co-workers in their faculties, who they see as prize pupils and so on.

What is your biggest hope for human rights at the moment, either within or outside your practice of the same?

My biggest hope for philosophy is that the leadership of the discipline would begin to reflect the diversity of its constituents. With diversity in philosophy, I believe that there would be increased representation in the field of human rights due to a larger diversity of people being able to use the tools philosophy provides. Public philosophy is becoming a more common project taken up by people both within and outside of the academy.

Produced by Community Arts Network (CAN) as part of the Lotterywest Story Street project, the Own Voices Storytelling Festival was a free two-day intercultural celebration of storytelling which ran from 30 November to 1 December in Girrawheen, WA. Run in partnership with the City of Wanneroo, the Festival aimed to cherish all identities, all forms of storytelling, and all languages within a community setting. Workshops run involved empowerment of youth through children’s stories, art, philosophy, poetry, zines, intercultural solidarity. You can find out more about the work of CAN here.