On the surface, appeals to rationality are relatively hard to argue with. However, the way in which these are used and what they are contrasted against is important to critically evaluate. Stemming from western Enlightenment principles, the term acts as an antithesis to the spiritual (and emotional) that occludes the ways in which these can inform our understanding. Furthermore, these principles continue to be weaponised against those who draw on other bodies of knowledge in their theory and practice. Reason and rationality become the enemies of emotional attunement and empathy, rather than companions in practice, leading to a sharply-drawn distinction between these two ways of knowing that ultimately results in a false binary and less than holistic understanding of and approach to urgent questions that need our attention.

Read critically, those that invoke “rationality” to argue against histories and narratives that centre the stories of the underrepresented are less interested in appealing to reason and objectivity than to continuing to exclude critical voices and experiences. As such, the term as it is used in historical narratives, particularly in museums, should be contextualised appropriately, rather than positioned in opposition to alternative knowledge-systems.

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