Mignolo, W. (2011). Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option: A Manifesto. TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.5070/T412011807 Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/62j3w283

Dave Harris

He met with Escobar at Duke to discuss critical theory and decolonisation, especially whether Horkheimer's critical theory was still relevant given the complexity and diversity of the various revolutions that have taken place and how modernity had developed. There had been several earlier articles and theorists, including Gramsci, and Negri and Hardt. Decoloniality was appearing as a key category and the issue was its relation with modernity and colonialism, and whether it could widen the frame of discussion. Quijano was key in breaking new ground, arguing for the limits of Eurocentrism as a hegemonic structure of knowledge and belief, and that there was a further necessity to extricate the exercise of power from these linkages, where power meant decisions not made by free people — requiring epistemic disobedience or epistemic delinking. This led to the possibility of decolonial options as a whole set of projects based on experience of colonisation whether it was appropriation of land, the experience of authority, military enforcement the colonisation of knowledge or of subjectivity. Delinking was necessary because Western categories of thought offered no way out of coloniality — hence epistemic disobedience rather than the search for some new option, some post-modern turn, a different beginning, not back to Greece, but back to imperial conquests of America and Africa.

Coloniality 'is constitutive of modernity'(45), which includes its 'salvationist rhetoric', and some of its authorised decolonial projects, such as the Millennium Plan of the United Nations, which question some of the consequences of modernity, but never its ideology, or condemn terrorism, but never 'the logic of coloniality… That… Necessarily generates the irreducible energy of humiliated, vilified, forgotten or marginalised human beings' (46). Decoloniality breaks with this. Some of its manifestations may be undesirable, such as terrorism and 'the traditional, barbarian, primitive, mystic' as defined by modern rationality. [No absolute definitions then?]

Decolonial thinking emerged at the same time as modernity, as its counterpoint, in the Americas and in other indigenous thinking, in Asia and Africa as a counterpoint to more recent modernity, and then concurrent in the Cold War and US leadership. It is not the same as postcolonial theory which is located in French post-structuralism specifically .Quijano again stresses that it is not just a matter of negation, but extrication of the links between rationality and power, the instrumental isolation of rationality in particular. Decolonial practice arises '"naturally", as a consequence as domination is exercised, and is therefore found best in colonies, in the Americas initially and then as a result of British and French Imperial expansion. It makes an early appearance in Hispanic viceroyalties [lots of examples about early protests about slavery in 1787 that they 'opened a space for the unthinkable in the Imperial genealogy of modernity' (47). A border thinking soon emerged from records of colonisation in South America and of African slavery in the Atlantic — protest against slavery was not initiated by European protesters. This did offer a serious challenge to conventional European political theory based on European experience.

What was revealed by this experiences was colonial memory, 'the colonial wound', 'other types of truth' (48), difference, colonial and imperial, and necessary exteriority constructed by the inside, a challenge to 'the spell of the rhetoric of modernity, from its Imperial imaginary articulated in the rhetoric of democracy '(48). [I think that this is the crucial experience that no amount of European critical theory could provide, is the argument, because it all went on within the horizon of colonialism]. Intercultural communication is essential to construct another rationality, to replace the pretension that a particular ethnic group's vision can ever be universally rational, even if the group is Western Europe.

The rhetoric of maternity hides coloniality in its three classic spheres — 'civil/political society, state, market' (49), none of which are autonomous, and which are all related through the national configuration of the state and the market. There is also the transnational, for example 'manifested in migrations' [well, trade first]. Tensions also arise in these areas — what is also apparent is 'cruelty, rationality, youth [rebellion?] and immigration that must be controlled by police and military power'. None of the reformist proposals oppose coloniality, which spreads increasingly in the world. Consequences spread increasingly too. The left has not yet grasped decolonial thinking, they have not yet engaged in 'delinking from the modern'(50).

Decolonisation movements have failed in the past, although they have left any impact. Native elites have appropriated them, for example in Haiti, or India. In other cases Marxism has steered efforts [Lumumba is the example]. No one has managed to develop 'a world that would fit many worlds… Reaffirm the conviction that another world is possible' (50), including Chavez and Da Silva. They have just followed the familiar path where, say, the USA supports the decolonisation of the French and English colonies, but this decolonisation only lead to further colonisation, as a further twist of the logic of modernity.

Decolonial thinking still exists in a dialogue with European political theory. Border thinking is one result. It is different from modern critical theory, including Frankfurt school. It de-links itself 'from the tyranny of time as the categorical frame of modernity', which is shared by postcolonial theory in French thinkers like Foucault Lacan or Derriuda. Decolonialism builds from different sources, from indigenous languages and memories, from memories and experiences of slavery as well as from elements of postcolonial critique. There is still a tendency to valorise European thoughts, however, in the form of implicit prejudices. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that the entire planet, with the exception of Western Europe and the USA have had to confront invasion, and this has produced a 'planetary' genealogy of decolonial thinking referring to individuals and social movements.

A South American intellectual, Waman Puma,  was able to offer a thesis to Philip the third of Spain [maybe] as an example. What he was able to see was that there were differences between people that were not adequately recognised in Christian theology [maybe]. His argument was dealt with in several ways — he was seen as lacking intelligence, he was seen as being silenced in the interests of others in the area, and finally he was seen as one of the founders of indigenous thought, a kind of indigenous Plato or Aristotle. These differences apparently appear in debates in the constitutional assembly in Bolivia, where the indigenous position still has influence against the liberal model which privileges European notions of the state. The same goes for Ecuador, where there is a rival to the state university structure still based on Napoleonic notions. Puma was able to develop his views having mastered Castilian and local languages and the notions of subjectivity that accompanied them: 'the Castilians assumed that their local history and epistemology was universal'(54). Puma occupied an epistemological border, unavailable to any Castilians, and was thus able to understand subjects 'that inhabit the house of the colonial wound', and did much to attempt to recover Andean cosmology and bring it into dialogue with Christian cosmology. He was silenced, simply because his arguments were incomprehensible.

He was actually proposing a new government based on a new understanding, but the political projects of the Castilians was based around classic European history, not linked to Puma. Puma developed 'a constant and coherent ethical political critique' (55), equally critical of Castilians, Indians, blacks, Moors and Jews. Cuzco at the time was multicultural, but within a colony, with Indians, Castilians and Africans and different categories of mixed races. Puma's political theory critiqued all the identifiable human groups, but was based on Christianity — in his time (end of the 16th century) there was no extensive secular thinking. He saw Christianity in Europe as a regional version of certain general principles, not the private property of Western thought but a principle of good living without an owner. A good government would consist of all righteous individuals regardless of their identity. It was to be located within a definite place [Tawantinsuyu], and was to be a place of border reason and decolonial thinking [apparently Tawantinsuyu means '"four sides or corners of the world, diagrammed as the diagonals of the square, an Incan notion where the centre was occupied by Cuzco. It is very puzzling, because it is also some scheme of government or the pontifical world with Philip the third in the centre, 57, so that it is a transnational space of coexistence].

Life within this mythical structure is then described as a life of harmony and it is contrasted with capitalism which was already showing 'a disregard for disposable human lives' and exploitation. The model was relegated to the notion of a fantasy of disoriented and un-educated Indians, but Mignolo sees it as 'a (historically) fundamental project of decolonial thinking'.

[There is a very informative article about this figure in the Encyclopaedia Britannica] [See also the wikipedia article on the Inca Empire -- the literal meaning of

Another indigenous thinker is Cugoano, an ex-slave, one of four, arriving in England around 1770 from the English Caribbean, freed after a decision to liberate runaway slaves in England. He published a 'decolonial political treatise'. He has a clear mastery of the English language. Again he draws on Christianity and refers to excesses and brutal exploitation of slavery, which he compares with the dehumanisation of Castilian colonies. Mignolo claims this indicates a decolonial turn [although he uses Christian terminology], because all imperial nations are alike, there is no colonial difference. Human life becomes disposable material, anticipating much later critiques of, say, the Holocaust. This genealogy is almost unknown. Another key thinker was Cesaire [he of negritude?], who sees Hitler as but a continuation. Indians and black people 'had already known since the 16th century' that lives were disposable, but this was part of blindness for white people [really? They had not seen the poor starving in the streets?]

[The wikipedia article on Cuguoano has some useful references to further comments and links to his treatise]

There are correlations with the sensing body and with body politics. The emphasis in European philosophy has always been about what was thought not from where one thinks, the assumption of universality, the ability to put oneself in some universal place, Athens perhaps. The European perspective saw some kinds of inequality and natural, while other kinds were moral or political. Thus while Rousseau, for example condemned slavery, he could not accept full equality of African black people  Cugoanao offered a more radical critique of this tradition, mentioning the likes of Hume, Smith and Pope, criticising them in the name of Christian ethics, in a way that marks 'delinking, an opening in the field of political theory' (62) by arguing that the fundamental natural right was to be free and equal in relation to other human beings, without the state being involved in the relation. This could no longer maintain the inferiority of black people [within the notions of legal and political freedom].

Other key thinkers are Gandhi and Fanon. Again the link is provided by the 'planetary space of colonial/imperial expansion' (63) not the temporal trajectory of European modernity running from Greece to Western Europe and the USA. The epistemic disobedience of the likes of Puma and Cugoano took place on the horizon of monarchies before the modern bourgeois state and the three secular imperial ideologies, where theology was still the Queen of knowledge. More modern developments [were to be explored in the second volume, to take in the more secular knowledges]. Each knot in this genealogy should be  delinked and opened, 'reintroduced languages, memories, economies, social organisations, and at least double subjectivities… The colonial wound… The degradation of humanity… The inferiority of the pagans, the primitives, the underdeveloped, the nondemocratic'. We need to revive decolonial thinking to articulate these genealogies and revive these others.

Notes on Mignolo, W. (2011). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: on (de)coloniality, border thinking and epistemic disobedience. Postcolonial Studies. 14 (3): 273 – 283. DOI: 10.1080/13688790.2011.613105

Dave Harris

Decoloniality arose with the Third World, especially when the three world division was collapsing. The impact was similar to the introduction of the idea of biopolitics. Coloniality moved to the centre of international debates in the non-European world as well as in what was Eastern Europe, while biopolitics moved to centre stage in Western Europe and the USA. Decoloniality appealed mostly to people of colour in developing countries, to migrants, and to the 'vast quantitative majority' whose life experiences and categories of thought are alien to those who think of biopolitics as the main mechanism of control and state regulation [vast windy generalisations here!].

Modernity and its heirs are rooted in the enlightenment and the French Revolution, but the coloniality is grounded in the Bandung Conference of 1955, attended by 29 countries from Asia and Africa aiming to find a common ground for the future neither capitalism nor communism, but 'decolonisation'. It was to involve de-linking from the two major Western macro narratives. The conference of non-aligned countries followed in 1961 and several Latin American countries joined. Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth was also published in 1961, an essential part of the foundations of decoloniality. That now appears 'all the way down', but not as a new universal, but 'as an option' (273) [weasel] to open up a new way of thinking to delink from the old epistemes or paradigms [which include Newtonian science, quantum theory and the theory of relativity as well as modernity] (274). Decolonisation is concerned with global equality and economic justice but rejects democracy and socialism as the only two ways. It promotes the communal.

Western imperialism is seen as interfering with local histories, so 'border thinking is the epistemic singularity of any decolonial project… The epistemology of the anthropos who do not want to submit to humanitas but at the same time cannot avoid it' (274) [pseud]. Decoloniality cannot be Cartesian or Marxian, which links it with 'border thinking/sensing/doing'. There is an obvious connection with immigrant consciousness in Europe and the USA.

The geopolitics of knowing sensing and believing can be traced through points of origination and routes of dispersion. Fanon expresses the basic categories of border epistemology as a constant questioning, and ingrained politics of knowledge anchored in the body and in local history, arising from dispersion, migration [maybe — there is a lot of literary stuff here]. These are conditions for delinking from territorial and Imperial epistemology and thus from theological and enlightenment politics [referred to here as egological politics,, the 'suppression of sensing and the body' and of its location, leading to its claim to develop universal knowledge] (275).

Border epistemology leads to delinking, from capitalism, communism and the whole enlightenment political theory including liberalism and republicanism, from political economy and from its Marxist opposite. After delinking you go back to ways of life and ways of thinking that 'have been disqualified by Christian theology'. You will not find a way out in the 'reservoir of modernity' — classical civilisation, since that is the source of modern colonial racism which intends 'to rank as inferior all languages beyond Greek and Latin and the six modern European languages' and institutions and thoughts that derive from them. Rational thinking that could not be expressed in these languages were a sign of inferiority. Those who could not speak them were forced to accept inferiority or attempt to learn them but only as a second class speaker. Border thinking and border epistemology is the third option.

Instead, think of belonging to the category of the anthropos. This is the classic 'other'. It is a discursive invention connected to the construction of the same, the result of an enunciation, an invention, requiring an agent, an institution that can impose its invention and manage a discourse. This anthropos has dominated the lives of 'men and women of colour, gay and lesbian, people and languages of the non-Euro/US world'. Their inferiority has been invented by this 'territorial and Imperial epistemology' (276) . Delinking is a way to refuse to accept or assimilate. Bandung showed the way to de-colonise, at least within political and economic delinking.

The epistemic question was raised later in the context of dependency theory. It follows from 'the invention of the Third World' , an invention of the first world . Dependency theory produced the myth of development and modernisation, and was initially opposed by some Caribbean economists and sociologists — 'the New World group' attempting a form of border thinking. They were however writing in English, but this still provided suitable conditions for border thinking — the same grammar can still inform people who 'inhabit different bodies, sensibilities, memories and overall world sensing' [he prefers world sensing rather than world vision which privileges vision as in western epistemology]. Experience is what nourishes border thinking not the actual terms used in the language [might be arguing that research methods can be similarly neutral?].

We others live and think in the Borders. Delinking means to be epistemically disobedient. There is a price because the academic world is territorial. Modern languages are Imperial and when we use them we are aware that we do not belong or belong partially. We must accept not to 'aspire to become humanitas', to delink from it, to become disobedient, to live in the Borders.

There are lots of examples. Fanon left an important legacy, especially with the concept of sociogenesis which 'embodies all delinking, border thinking and epistemic disobedience', breaking with philogenesis and ontogenesis, dichotomies like territorial and modern thinking. It is a hybrid concept, not based on the logic of denotation but on the logic of 'being classified' on a kind of 'epistemic and ontological racism' of being inferior ontologically and therefore epistemically' of being aware that you are a Negro not just because you are black but because you've been made a Negro by a discourse, allocated a place in the racial imaginary, unable to complain. This concept could not have originated from the European experience except from immigrants [on the contrary, it is common to all members of inferior classes]. Existing disciplines in social sciences could talk about Negroes and describe their experience, but they could not think as a Negro because they have not been made a Negro by the Imperial imaginary. To be sure the Christian imaginary already had images of black people, but it was re-made with the slave trade [but not when the slave trade ended?] . Sociogenesis means we can delink from Western thoughts and engage in epistemic disobedience. Fanon showed us how. It is a thorough break with philogenesis in Darwin and ontogenesis in Freud and more radical than just some sort of epistemic break in Foucault (277).

We come to realise after questioning dominant enunciations that knowledge itself is anchored in 'historical economic and politically driven projects' (278) [including epistemic disobedience?]. We can now recognise the Imperial dimension of Western knowledge, coloniality, hidden behind all the epistemic breaks and paradigmatic changes, rooted in a conception of knowledge originating in the Renaissance and developing through the enlightenment [pretty broad brush then, includes idealism, materialism, Marxism, liberalism]. All the concepts such as modernity, epistemic break, paradigmatic change are rooted in Europe and its history. They are not universal. Local European history became global. They are exported to other countries. Concepts are enunciated differently in those countries [for example post-modernity is identified as something different in Argentina or China] and associated with complementary concepts. Even 'alternative or subaltern modernities' can be made compatible: what is difficult is to refer to the 'non-modern',  or to claim a decolonial 'our modernity' as an option, not some inevitable unfolding of history.

The concept of postcoloniality follows a similar path, invented by Western theorists, but also embraced by non-Europeans [lots of rival theorists are then presented in terms of whether they are closer to decolonisation or post-colonialism approaches]. Post-colonialism seems easier for European intellectuals to endorse, and it is harder to think in terms of decolonial approaches.

So there seem to be three futures: re-westernisation and the completion of modernity; dewesternisation and the end of modernity; decoloniality and the emergence of a global political society delinked from both of the options above. The first two options are apparent in struggles over authority and the economy such as those repairing the damage in the Western world caused by recent American policy, rivalled by the politics of emerging economies in the far east. There are complications, but we can still see three major projects. Border thinking is still necessary for both of the second two even though their aims will be different [and then a rather confusing piece about the need for exteriority as some kind of critical space, some theoretically unlimited space — all very broadbrush stuff again] Marxism apparently does not provide the tools to think in exteriority because it is confined to struggles within Europe and cannot adequately break with colonial matrices of power and develop border epistemology.

The globalised movement of people itself strengthens border thinking, and there is a 'worldwide emerging political society' (282) rejecting easy assimilation and promoting decolonisation. There is increasing epistemic disobedience. This is not some abstract project to improve the earlier projects, but a third force delinking from both and claiming to build a future that will aspire to be something different. It may turn into some new abstract universal, or remain as some coexisting force that can never be properly managed. It may be too early to say who will triumph.

Mignolo, W. (2020). On decoloniality: second thoughts. Postcolonial Studies. 23 (4): 612 – 618.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13688790.2020.1751436

Dave Harris

[This must be some introduction to a larger volume or some sort of review symposium?

He is not an indigenous person but was born in America. He was enlightened by reading Anzaldua

And then Kusch which looked at the indigenous thinking of people in Argentina and Bolivia which led him to interrogate Heidegger to engage modern European thinkers including Kant, Hegel and Habermas, especially the latter on modernity. Indigenous thinkers are concerned more with 'the politics of epistemic and aesthetic reconstitution' rather than just illuminating 'the colonial matrix of power'(612) (CMP)

Anzaldua helped him discover immigrant consciousness and also the 'geopolitical dimension of her thoughts' (613), and how the Third World was constructed emerging from the Cold War, that colonisation emerged from world disorder, that colonisation was immersed in a whole CMP. This settles into a struggle between real westernisation and de-westernisation. Indigenous struggle can be seen as involving domination and exploitation and conflict combined with the engine of modernity. Not all indigenous responses will be the same because there is no homogenous global design. Perhaps epistemic disobedience and discursive delinking is central, a matter of liberation of the mind, expressed in decolonising art and aesthetics, but this must be extended to the colonised land and space, or, 'decolonisation of the body'.

Not all Imperial or colonial expansions are the same and they are differently inscribed. For example Japan and China and Russia are not Western even though they have a similar Imperial veneer and their rules have been established by Western modernity – but they have their own civilisations. Nevertheless, 'their cosmologies are still overwhelmed by Western scholarly knowledge, mass media and the hegemony of the English language grounded in Western cosmology' (614), despite different 'ancestralitty' [no contradictions then?]. But China and Russia are also 'the movers of de-westernisation, and have de-linked and reemerged as nation states, even as 'civilisation states in their own terms. State communism rejected ancestrality and disputed the content of CMP but within the same cosmology, but de-westernisation is a further delinking from Western Universalism. Iran can also be seen 'in this picture' because it is grounded 'on a long civilisational Persian history'.

Indigenous cosmologies and philosophies also can guide delinking. Such thinking 'prioritises space over time' Nahuatl philosophy has a movement 'that organises what Westerners call space and time, based on 'the universe as an entity regulated by laws though life [sic] in constant flux', while space and time appear 'in the fixity of Western thought' [really? Pre-Einstein?]. Progress and development, 'anchored in the privilege of time is meaningless in indigenous languages and communal life whose goal is balance, equilibria and plenitude'. [So they are rooted in myth and mechanical solidarity, unable to deal with fundamental social change?].

Other contributors have discussed citizenship and raise the problem of different frames. These might be used to see how CMP works. The point is there is no single model. There is 'a pedagogical parallel with psychoanalysis' (615). [The CMP appears to be the equivalent of the unconscious, ever productive, ever shaping the story].

There is no simple answer for what decolonisation is. It is necessary to critique European paradigms of rationality and modernity, but it is not enough simply to negate all the categories. One has to extricate oneself from the linkages between rationality modernity and coloniality, and from power, from instrumentalisation of reason and knowledge which limited the liberating possibilities. Epistemological decolonisation is required to permit new intercultural communication is the basis of another rationality [quoting Quijano].

We do not have an universal model but rather 'an orientation to a praxis of living', to extricate and delink as a goal, which may take specific forms, to pursue intercultural communication as the basis for some new universal rationality rather than develop a specific cosmic vision, and to develop [proper] subjectivity. The task has to be pursued on many fronts, recovering land and place, rebuilding indigenous epistemology and aesthetics, engaging in specific struggles, but also recognising limits in a world dominated by massive money and other markets. [There is also a paradoxical risk of re-colonisation if anyone were to build an alternative global power structure] (616).