Highlighted Selections from:

The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference


Mignolo, Walter. “The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference.” Praxis Pública (2010): 1–27. Print.

p.1: According to Dussel, postmodern criticism of modernity is important and necessary but it is not enough. The argument was developed by Dussel in his recent short but important dialogue with with Giattimi Vattimo's work, which he characterized as a "eurocentric critique of modernity" (Dussel 1999, 39). What else can be there, beyond a eurocentric critique of modernity and eurocentrism? Dussel responds to this question with the concept of tranmodernity, by which he means that "modernity" is not a strictly European but a planetary phenomenon to which the "excluded barbarians" have contributed. Transmodernity also implies a "liberating reason" (razón liberadora) that is the guiding principle of Dussel's philosophy and ethic of liberation. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.1: The colonial difference will allow me to expand on Dussel's "transmodernity" and Quijano's "coloniality of power" and to further elaborate on Dussel's search for non-eurocentric critiques of Eurocentrism. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.1: My first step then will be to distinguish two macro-narratives, that of Western Civilization and that of the Modern/Colonial World System. The first is basically a philosophical narrative, whereas the second is basically the narrative of the social sciences. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.2: First, "modernity" is associated with literature, philosophy, and the history of ideas, whereas the "modern world-system" is associated with the vocabulary of the social sciences. Secondly, this first characterization is important if we remember that both concepts, since the 1970s, have occupied more or less defined spaces in academic as well as public discourses. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.2: Furterhmore, it underlines a spatial articulation of power rather than a linear succession of events. This spatial articulation of power, since the sixteenth century and the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit, is what Quijano theorizes as "coloniality of power." -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.3: It is relevant that the "modern/colonial world-system" can be described in conjunction with the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit (Mignolo 1999). Such a conceptualization could be clarified through the notion of "colonial difference(s)". The colonial difference, in short, refers to the changing faces of colonial differences throughout the history of the modern/colonial worldsystem, brings to the foreground the planetary dimension of human history silenced by discourses centering on modernity, postmodernity, and Western civilization. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.4: Dependency theory was a political statement for social transformation from Third World countries while world-system analysis was a political statement for academic transformation from First World countries. This difference, implied in the geopolitic of knowledge described by C. Pletsch (1981), is the irreducible colonial difference between "center" and "periphery"-i.e. between Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism and knowledge production emerging from the needs and problems of dependent areas of the world whose local histories were shaped by the historico-structural order of the modern/colonial world system. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.5: In other words, the planetary expansion of the social sciences implies that intellectual colonization remains in place, even if that colonization is with good intention, from the left and supporting decolonization. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.5: Fals Borda's argument was concerned not only with a project in the social sciences for the liberation of the Third World; rather, it concerned a project of intellectual liberation from the social sciences and, in the case of Dussel, of philosophy. Here again is the irreducible colonial (epistemic) difference between leftist social sciences project "from" the First World and liberation "of" the social sciences (and philosophy) from the Third World. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.6: Dussel framed this distinction in terms of the geopolitics of knowledge: the first is from the North, the second from the South. The South is not of course a simple geographic location but a "metaphor for human suffering under global capitalism" (Santos 1995:506). The first discourse is grounded in the second face of modernity (industrial revolution, the Enlightenment). The second, that of philosophy of liberation, is grounded in the first face of modernity and from the subaltern perspective, i.e. not from the colonial/Christian discourse of Spanish colonialism, but from the perspective of its consequence: Amerindian repression, African slavery, and the emergence of a Creole consciousness (both white/mestizo mainly in the continent, and black in the Caribbean), in subaltern and dependent positions. From this scenario, Dussel points out that while in the North it could be "healthy" to celebrate the twilight of Western civilization, from the South it is "healthier" to reflect from the fact that 20% of the planet population consumes 80% of the income of the planet. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.7: The first is that of the ratio between places (geo-historically constituted) and thinking. If "being" could have been thought out in Western philosophy, the "coloniality of being" needs to be philosophically conceptualized in order to give density to the experience of colonial oppression, to which Frantz Fanon has so greatly contributed. In this sense, Fanon is the equivalent of Kant, just as Guaman Poma de Ayala, in colonial Peru, could be considered the equivalent of Aristotle. One of the reasons why Guaman Poma de Ayala and Fanon are not easily perceived as equivalents of Aristotle and Kant is "time." -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.7: Since, the Renaissance--the early modern period or emergence of the modern/colonial world--"time" has functioned as a principle of order that increasingly subordinates "places" relegating them to "before" or "below" from the vantage point of the "holders (of the doors) of time." Arrangements of events and people in a "time" line is also a hierarchical order, distinguishing primary sources of thoughts from interesting or curious events, peoples, or ideas. "Time" is also the point of reference for the order of knowledge. The discontinuity between "being and time" and "coloniality of being and place" is what nourishes Dussel's need to underline the difference (the colonial difference) between continental philsophy (Vattimo, Habermas, Appel, Foucault) and philosophy of liberation. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.8: Deloria makes a simple, albeit fundamental, point: "Conservative and liberal, terms that initially described political philosophies, have taken on the aspect of being able to stand for cultural attitudes of fairly distinct content. Liberals appear to have more sympathy for humanity, while conservatives worship corporate freedom and self-help doctrines underscoring individual responsibility. The basic philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives are not fundamental, however, because both fit in the idea of history a thesis by which they can validate their ideas" ([1972] 1994, 63). One could add "socialist" to conservative and liberal, thus completing the political-ideological tripartite distribution of the late nineteenth century North Atlantic political and ideological spectrum. These three varieties of secular political ideologies are also in the same frame of Christianity. For all of them, time and history is the essence of their cosmology. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.8: The "fundamental difference" is indeed the "colonial difference" since it is not just a case of incommensurable cosmologies or worldview but a difference articulated by the coloniality of power. Consequently, the two are historically and logically linked to each other in a relation of dependency. This is a dependency related to the universality attributed to "time", in domestic ideology, and the particularity attributed to "place" in the same movement. "Place" of course is not naturally particular but historically so according to the location attributed to "place" by hegemonic discourses, assuring the privilege of "time" and "history." -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.9: Let me begin my explanation by quoting Deloria: "Western European peoples (and of course later U.S. people) have never learned to consider the nature of the world discerned from a spatial point of view ([1972] 1994, 63)." The consequences of such a statement, which once again underlines the colonial difference, are enormous for religion, epistemology, and international relations. Time and history allowed for global designs (religious, economic, social, epistemic) that emerged as responses to the need of a given "place", and which were assumed to have universal value across time and space. The "experience", in which global designs emerged, has been emptied when a given global design was exported and programmed to be implanted over the "experience" of a distinct place. However, this project (that was the project of modernity from Renaissance Christianity to contemporary global market), is no longer convincing. "Space generates time, but time has little relationship with space" (Deloria ([1972] 1994, 71). Consequently, the universal ideology of disincorporated time and history reached the point in which space and place can no longer be overruled. The world, therefore, is not becoming, nor can it be conceived as, a global village. Instead, it is a "series of nonhomogeneous pockets of identity that must eventually come into conflict because they represent different historical arrangements of emotional energy" (1994, 65). -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.9: Wallerstein's re-conceptualization of spacetime remains within the "domestic ideology" of Western cultures of scholarship, with the assumption of their universal scope, valid for all time scholarship, with the assumption of their universal scope, valid for all time and all societies. Deloria's radical discussion of "time" and "place" situates the discussion elsewhere, beyond the social sciences, not looking for an epistemology that will unify the "two cultures" but for an epistemology that will be built on the irreducible colonial difference. The consequence is the right to claim epistemic rights from the places where experiences and memories organize time and knowledge. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.11: "The existential dimension of African philosophy's challenge to Western philosophy in general and Continental philosophy in particular is located in the need to decolonize the mind. This task is at least as important for the colonizer as it is for the colonized. For Africans, decolonizing the mind takes place not only in facing the experience of colonialism, but also in recognizing the precolonial, which established the destructive importance of so-called ethnophilosophy (Bernasconi 1998, 191). -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.11: By recognizing the colonial difference, Bernasconi breaks with centuries of European philosophical blindness to the colonial difference and the subalternization of knowledge. Credit should be given to African philosophers for successfully raising the issue and projecting a future, taking advantage of the epistemic potential of thinking from the colonial difference. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.12: Dussel's assertion for a philosophy of liberation is both a liberation of philosophy and philosophy as an instrument of decolonization. Dussel is clearly underscoring Vattimo's blindness to the other side of modernity, which is coloniality: the violence that Vattimo (or Nietsche and Heidegger) attributed to modern instrumental reason, the coloniality of power enforced on non-European cultures that have remained silenced, hidden, and absent. The colonial difference is reproduced in its invisibility. Dussel's claim for decolonization, for an ethic and philosophy of liberation, is predicated on a double movement similar to the strategy of African philosophers. On the one hand, there is an appropriation of "modernity" and, on the other, a move toward a "transmodernity" understood as a liberating strategy or decolonization project (Dus understood as a liberating strategy or decolonization project (Dussel 1998, 39) that, according to Bernasconi, includes everybody, the colonizer and the colonized (Bernasconi 1998, 191). -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.12: North Atlantic social sciences like philosophy, basically trap African, Asian, and Latin American social sciences in a double bind. Either the social sciences all over the planet are so similar to North Atlantic social sciences that they do not make any distinctive contributions, or they are not social sciences at all and their credentials are not recognized. Social scientists from the "Third World" have not raised their voices as loud as those of philosophers. Yet, they have not been silenced either. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.13: Certainly, there is a wealth of knowledge that has been subalternized by modernity/coloniality, but that knowledge is not necessarily in the minds or the interests of the "people", whose interests in turn may not coincide with those of the social scientist. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.13: In any case, Fals-Borda's perception of the double "diaspora of brains" in the Third World remains valid today. "Brains" are not being stolen when a the Third World remains valid today. "Brains" are not being stolen when a social scientist leaves a country in which there are limited research conditions and moves to a country and institution with better resources. Instead, this happens when the social scientist remains in a country under limited research conditions, reproducing or imitating the patterns, "methods", and above all, the questions raised by the social sciences under different historical and social experiences. This is another version of the double bind in which North Atlantic scholarship and sciences placed the production of knowledge, and which reproduces the coloniality of power. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.17: Wallerstein's integration of racism and universalism into the picture of historical capitalism is perhaps the most radical aspect of his conceptualization. Racism, said Wallerstein, "has been the cultural pillar of historical capitalism" ([1983], 1995, 80) and "The belief in universalism has been the keystone of the ideological arch of historical capitalism (81)." How are racism and universalism related? The ethnicization of the world in the very constitution of the modern/colonial world-system has had, for Wallerstein, three major consequences. The organization and reproduction of the work-force that can be better illustrated by the link, in the modern/colonial world, of "blackness" with "slavery", was absent of course in Aristotle, who went through a substantial transformation in sixteenth century theological and legal discussions. Secondly, Wallerstein considers that ethnicization provided a built-in training mechanism for the work-force, located within the framework of ethnically-defined households and not at the cost of the employers or the state. But what Wallerstein considers crucial is the third consequence of the ethnicization of the work-force. This is institutional racism as the pillar of historical capitalism: What we mean by racism has little to do with the xenophobia that existed in various prior historical systems. Xenophobia was literally fear of the 'stranger'. Racism within historical capitalism had nothing to do with 'stranger'. Quite the contrary. Racism was the mode by which various segments of the work-force within the same economic structure were constrained to relate to each other. Racism was the ideological justification for the hierarchization of the work-force and its highly unequal distributions of reward. What we mean by racism is that set of ideological statements combined with that set of continuing practices which have had the consequence of maintaining a high correlation of ethnicity and work-force allocation over time -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.18: The politics of location is a question valid not only for minority epistemology. On the contrary, it is the keystone of universalism in European thought. Cornel West's perception and analysis of the "evasion of American philosophy" speaks to that politics of location that is not a blind voluntarism but a force of Westernization. Although the U.S. assumed the leadership of Western expansion, the historical ground for thinking was not, and could not have been, European. The "evasion of American philosophy" shows that tension between the will to be like European philosophy and the impossibility of being so (West 1992). -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.18: To "open the social sciences" is certainly an important step, but is not yet sufficient since "opening" is not the same as "decolonizing", as Fals Borda claimed in the 1970s. In this sense, Quijano's and Dussel's concepts of coloniality of power and transmodernity, are respectively contributing to decolonizing the social sciences (Quijano) and philosophy (Dussel) by forging an epistemic space from the colonial difference. Decolonizing the social sciences and philosophy means to produce, transform, and disseminate knowledge that is not "dependent" on the epistemology of North Atlantic modernity--the norms of the disciplines and the problematic of the North Atlantic--but that, on the contrary, responds to the need of the colonial differences. Colonial expansion was also the colonial expansion of forms of knowledge, even when such knowledges were critical to colonialism from colonialism itself (like Las Casas), or to modernity from modernity itself (like Nietzche). -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.19: To understand Quijano's "coloniality of power", it is first necessary to accept coloniality as constitutive of modernity and not just as a derivative of modernity--that is, first comes modernity and then coloniality. The emergence of the commercial Atlantic circuit in the sixteenth century was the crucial moment in which modernity, coloniality, and capitalism, as we know them today, came together. However, the Atlantic commercial circuit did not immediately become the location of Western hegemonic power. It was just one more commercial circuit among those existing in Asia, Africa (Abu-Lughod 1989, Wolf 1988), and the commercial circuit of Anahuac and Tawantinsuyu in what will later become America (Mignolo 1999). Modernity/coloniality is the moment of Western history linked to the Atlantic commercial circuit and the transformation of capitalism (if we accept from Wallerstein (1983) and Arrighi (1994) that the "seed" of capitalism can be located in fifteenth century Italy), and the foundation of the modern/colonial world system. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.20: Changes did not encroach equally upon diverse societies and local histories. Modernity/coloniality and capitalism went through different phases in their common history. However, coloniality of power is the common thread that links modernity/coloniality in the sixteenth century with its current version at the end of the twentieth century. For Quijano, coloniality of power is a principle and strategy of control and domination that can be conceived as a configuration of several features. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.21: The idea of "race", or "purity of blood" as it was expressed in the sixteenth century, became the basic principle for classifying and ranking people all over the planet, redefining their identities, and justifying slavery and labor. -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014

p.24: Zizek insists that the true opposition today is "rather between globalization (the emerging global market, new world order) and universalism (the properly political domain of universalizing one's particular fate as representative of global injustice)." He adds that "this difference between globalization and universalism becomes more and more palpable today, when capital, in the name of penetrating new markets, quickly renounces requests for democracy in order not to lose access to new trade partners -- Highlighted apr 18, 2014