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 Decolonizing Western Epistemology/Building Decolonial Epistemologies WA LT E R M I G N O L O The maintenance of life is an expression of knowledge, a manifestation of adequate behavior in the domain of existence. In the form of an aphorism : ‘‘Once we have accepted that there is no possibility of making testable claims about an observer-independent reality, the fundamental change in our epistemology has been completed. All forms of observation and explanation are now expressions of the system’s operation with whose production we may now deal. A re-orientation has come about, a change from Being to Doing, a transformation of the classic philosophical questions.’’1 IN GENERAL: THE L EFT A ND THE D ECOLONIAL What shall we understand by decolonizing Western epistemology and by building decolonial epistemologies? In answering these questions my essay is an attempt in conceptual elucidation. The words ‘‘decolonial’’ and ‘‘decolonization’’ have been used widely since the second half of the twentieth century, during the Cold War, to describe processes of liberation mainly in Asia and Africa. ‘‘Liberation’’ and ‘‘decolonization’’ were synonymous words. From the Algerian Front de Liberation (1954–62) to the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (1994) the word ‘‘liberation ’’ prevails. However, these movements shall be distinguished from the Colombian Ejército de Liberación Nacional (1964), which was founded on Marxist-Leninist principles. The Algerians’ Front and Zapatistas ’ Ejército have in common a decolonial horizon, not a Marxist-Leninist PAGE 19 ................. 18125$ $CH1 09-19-11 07:51:49 PS 20 兩 w a lt e r mi g n ol o one. What are the differences? And does it really matter for the issue at hand? Decoloniality is a double-faced concept. On one side, it points toward the analytic of coloniality, the darker side of modernity. On the other, it points toward building decolonial futures. In the first case, it is analytic and theoretical. In the second it is utopian. However, the analytic procedures are already decolonial: Coloniality is always already a decolonial concept, a concept that was not created by any other way of thinking, discipline, or ideological frame than decoloniality. The first sentence of the announcement that Roberto Esposito was to deliver a lecture on biopolitics at ICI (Institute for Cultural Inquiry)-Berlin2 stated that in the past few decades no global-political phenomenon could be explained without the concept of biopolitics. One can say also that in the last few decades no global-political, epistemic, and aesthetic phenomenon can be explained without the concept of coloniality. And more so: The same phenomena can be explained by both biopolitics and coloniality. One will be a eurocentered explanation; the other a decolonial one. For that reason, decolonizing epistemology is the first step toward building decolonial epistemologies. In the last analysis, to build future decolonial epistemologies implies to begin by decolonizing Western epistemology. However, that will be another essay and another argument. For this essay my intention, as stated in the title, is to remind the reader that decoloniality is always a double-faced concept.3 The Algerian uprising and final outcome were not inspired by Marxism -Leninism but by more than a century of French colonialism. The recent upheavals in North Africa and the Gulf are not the outcome of reading Marx and Lenin, but of the simple fact that living is knowing and knowing is living. And when living is no longer possible, it requires a different epistemic path. In Algeria in the fifties and in North Africa and the Gulf in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the upheavals are decolonial responses to the persistence of coloniality. Certainly, Egypt and Tunisia were not lately colonized by the British and the French. But both countries had governments that were local regimes taking the place of colonial posts of yesterday. For this simple reason, the upheavals are both against the local dictators and against their Western supporters (the European Union and the United States of America). Not only are a few governments changing, but, more radically, a certain way PAGE 20 ................. 18125$ $CH1 09-19-11 07:51:49 PS d e col o ni z i ng w e st e r n e p i st e m ol o g y 兩 21 of sensing and knowing is changing. Knowledge is not created by political theorists, philosophers, or ethicists, but by the global political society. The struggles were not and are not against capitalism, not directly, but against Western...


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