- The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South by Boaventura de Sousa Santos
The end of the cognitive empire (TECE) is not an easy book to summarize given that it sets out to challenge and subvert the dominant epistemological foundations that many of us take for granted. As Santos states in an opening passage, the challenge presented by epistemologies of the south is twofold.
First, they provide an ontological challenge in that they seek to expose and validate "nonexistent knowledges" (p. 2) that dominant ways of knowing are unable and unwilling to acknowledge. This involves following what Santos has for some time elaborated as a sociology of absences: the making present of subjects that exist in the struggles against capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Second, they provide a methodological challenge in that the epistemologies of the south proceed via collective subjects that reject the separation of knowledge from the embodied experiences of social practice. Moreover, the sociability through which southern ways of knowing are embedded is located on the other side of the abyssal line outside the hegemony of the "Eurocentric epistemological North" (p. 6).
The aim is not for epistemologies of the south to replace epistemologies of the north based on a theory of southern vanguardism. Rather, it is to dissolve this and all normative binaries via rearguard theories that promote intercultural translation and strive towards the fostering of an ecology of knowledges that validate and recognize the co-existence of multiple ways of knowing.
TECE is an immensely rich book that generously deals with a broad array of knowledge practices that have been deployed in the attempt to counter northern epistemologies. It should be stressed that Santos's north and south are not geographical (in a Cartesian sense) but are based on the hierarchies structured around the abyssal line, centered on the triad of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Santos acknowledges the importance [End Page 312] of ways of knowing that have been generated around nonabyssal exclusions, those struggles against capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy that have been made visible and legitimized in the global north (e.g. workers; fighting for the welfare state) but that do not challenge the ontological exclusion of epistemologies of the south that are not yet visible, let alone validated. Yet epistemologies of the south exist through "abyssal exclusions" and aim not at 'better and more inclusive forms of colonial regulation' (p. 21) but at the complete elimination of the ongoing violent appropriations of lives and resources produced in the intersection of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.
TECE marks an important advance from his previous Epistemologies of the South (2014) by providing more clarity over the pragmatic steps that could be taken in pursuit of the epistemological struggle advanced by Santos. It thus contains fascinating chapters on cognitive decolonization, the production of knowledges to be used in struggles; nonextractivist methodologies, via the fostering of an epistemic minga; and the deep experience of the sense, on the embodied, corporal nature of ways of knowing, among others.
No doubt some would like further clarification on how to do epistemologies of the south and others will have issues with how Santos generously but at times abruptly pushes to one side previous attempts to develop a radical epistemological practice, particularly when emerging from the dominant side of the abyssal line. Given the collective and nonextractivist ontological foundations of epistemologies of the south Santos is reluctant to lean too heavily on any individual thinkers, although names such as Frantz Fanon, Orlando Falsa Borda, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Paolo Freire are regularly cited with approval. He previously highlighted Mahatma Gandhi as "arguably the thinker-activist of modern times who thought and acted most consistently in nonabyssal terms" (Santos, Epistemologies of the South, 2014, p. 134) and in TECE dedicates a whole chapter to him.
But rather than get bogged down with Santos' critical engagements...