Decoloniality or decolonialism is a school of thought used principally by an emerging Latin American movement which focuses on untangling the production of knowledge from a primarily Eurocentric episteme. It critiques the perceived universality of Western knowledge and the superiority of Western culture. Decolonial perspectives see this hegemony as the basis of Western imperialism.:174
The decolonial movement include diverse forms of critical theory, articulated by pluriversal forms of liberatory thinking that arise out of distinct situations. In its academic forms, it analyzes class distinctions, ethnic studies, gender studies, and area studies. It has been described as consisting of analytic (in the sense of semiotics) and practical “options confronting and delinking from [...] the colonial matrix of power":xxvii or from a "matrix of modernity" rooted in colonialism. It considers colonialism "the underlying logic of the foundation and unfolding of Western civilization from the Renaissance to today," although this foundational interconnectedness is often downplayed (Mignolo 2011:2). This logic is commonly referred to as the colonial matrix of power or coloniality of power. Some have built upon decolonial theory by proposing Critical Indigenous Methodologies for research.
Although formal and explicit colonization ended with the decolonization of the Americas during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the decolonization of much of the Global South in the late twentieth century, its successors, Western imperialism and globalization perpetuate those inequalities. The colonial matrix of power produced social discrimination eventually variously codified as racial, ethnic, anthropological or national according to specific historic, social, and geographic contexts (Quijano 2007: 168). Decoloniality emerged as the colonial matrix of power was put into place during the 16th century. It is, in effect, a continuing confrontation of, and delinking from, Eurocentrism (Quijano 2000: 542).
Decoloniality is synonymous with decolonial "thinking and doing", (Mignolo 2011:xxiv) and it questions or problematises the histories of power emerging from Europe. These histories underlie the logic of Western civilization (Quijano 2007: 168). Thus, decoloniality refers to analytic approaches and socioeconomic and political practices opposed to pillars of Western civilization: coloniality and modernity. This makes decoloniality both a political and epistemic project (Mignolo 2011: xxiv-xxiv).
Decoloniality has been called a form of "epistemic disobedience" (Mignolo 2011: 122-123), "epistemic de-linking" (Mignolo 2007: 450), and "epistemic reconstruction" (Quijano 2007: 176). In this sense, decolonial thinking is the recognition and implementation of a border gnosis or subaltern (Mignolo 2000: 88), a means of eliminating the provincial tendency to pretend that Western European modes of thinking are universal (Quijano 2000: 544). In less theoretical applications—such as movements for Indigenous autonomy—decoloniality is considered a program of de-linking from contemporary legacies of coloniality (Mignolo 2007: 452), a response to needs unmet by the modern Rightist or Leftist governments, (Mignolo 2011: 217), or, most broadly, social movements in search of a “new humanity” (Mignolo 2011: 52) or the search for “social liberation from all power organized as inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and domination” (Quijano 2007: 178).
Decoloniality is often conflated with postcolonialism, decolonization, and postmodernism. However, decolonial theorists draw clear distinctions. Postcolonialism is often mainstreamed into general oppositional practices by "people of color", "Third World intellectuals", or ethnic groups (Mignolo 2000: 87). Decoloniality—as both an analytic and a programmatic approach—is said to move "away and beyond the post-colonial" because "post-colonialism criticism and theory is a project of scholarly transformation within the academy" (Mignolo 2007: 452).
This final point is debatable, as some postcolonial scholars consider postcolonial criticism and theory to be both an analytic (a scholarly, theoretical, and epistemic) project and a programmatic (a practical, political) stance (Said 1981: 8). This disagreement is an example of the ambiguity—"sometimes dangerous, sometimes confusing, and generally limited and unconsciously employed"—of the term "postcolonialism," which has been applied to analysis of colonial expansion and decolonization, in contexts such as Algeria, the 19th-century United States, and 19th-century Brazil (Mignolo 2007: 87).
Decolonial scholars consider the colonization of the Americas a precondition for postcolonial analysis. The seminal text of postcolonial studies, Orientalism by Edward Said, describes the nineteenth-century European invention of the Orient as a geographic region considered racially and culturally distinct from, and inferior to, Europe. However, without the European invention of the Americas in the sixteenth century, sometimes referred to as Occidentalism, the later invention of the Orient would have been impossible (Mignolo 2011: 56). This means that postcolonialism becomes problematic when applied to post-nineteenth-century Latin America (Mignolo 2007: 88).
Decolonization is largely political and historical: the end of the period of territorial domination of lands primarily in the global south by European powers. Decolonial scholars contend that colonialism did not disappear with decolonization.
It is important to note the vast differences in the histories, socioeconomics, and geographies of colonization in its various global manifestations. However, coloniality— meaning racialized and gendered socioeconomic and political stratification according to an invented Eurocentric standard—was common to all forms of colonization. Similarly, decoloniality in the form of challenges to this Eurocentric stratification manifested previous to de jure decolonization. Gandhi in India, Fanon in Algeria, Mandela in South Africa, and the early 20th-century Zapatistas in Mexico are all examples of decolonial projects that existed before decolonization.
"Modernity" as a concept is complementary to coloniality. Coloniality is called "the darker side of western modernity" (Mignolo 2011). The problematic aspects of coloniality are often overlooked when describing the totality of Western society, whose advent is instead often framed as the introduction of modernity and rationality, a concept critiqued by post-modern thinkers. However, this critique is largely "limited and internal to European history and the history of European ideas" (Mignolo 2007: 451). Although postmodern thinkers recognize the problematic nature of the notions of modernity and rationality, these thinkers often overlook the fact that modernity as a concept emerged when Europe defined itself as the center of the world. In this sense, those seen as part of the periphery are themselves part of Europe's self-definition. To summarize, like modernity, postmodernity often reproduces the "Eurocentric fallacy" foundational to modernity. Therefore, rather than criticizing the terrors of modernity, decolonialism criticizes Eurocentric modernity and rationality because of the "irrational myth" that these conceal (Mignolo 2007: 453-454). Decolonial approaches thus seek to "politicise epistemology from the experiences of those on the 'border,' not to develop yet another epistemology of politics" (Laurie 2012: 13).
Quijano summarizes the goals of decoloniality thus: to recognize that the instrumentalization of reason by the colonial matrix of power produced distorted paradigms of knowledge and spoiled the liberating promises of modernity, and by that recognition, realize the destruction of global coloniality of power (Mignolo 2007: 452).
Examples of contemporary decolonial programmatics and analytics exist throughout the Americas. Decolonial movements include the contemporary Zapatista governments of Southern Mexico, Indigenous movements for autonomy throughout South America, ALBA, CONFENIAE in Ecuador, ONIC in Colombia, the TIPNIS movement in Bolivia, and the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil. These movements embody action oriented towards the goals expressed in above statement by Quijano, to seek ever-increasing freedoms by challenging the reasoning behind modernity, since modernity is in fact a facet of the colonial matrix of power.
Examples of contemporary decolonial analytics include ever-expanding applications and conceptualizations of feminism and queer theory, as well as ethnic studies programs at various educational levels, including those at the K-12 level recently banned in Arizona, as well as long-established university programs. Scholars primarily with analytics who fail to recognize the connection between politics or decoloniality and the production of knowledge—between programmatics and analytics—are those most likely to reflect "an underlying acceptance of capitalist modernity, liberal democracy, and individualism" (Juris & Khasnabish 2013: 6) values which decoloniality seeks to challenge.
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