Critical reading group I (16/6 - 7/2): decolonial thinking

Hi everyone. For those who missed the original thread, see here:

The idea is that every three weeks we have a discussion (in this thread) about the current topic.

Let’s keep discussions and votes about future topics to the main thread (above), including voting for the next topic.

To suggest themes, add to reading lists, etc., we have a google doc:

The first topic for the critical reading & discussion group is decolonial thinking.

The suggested reading list from the shared document at the time of making this thread:

Quijano, A. 2007. Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality, Cultural Studies, 21 (2), pp. 168-178… Available here.

Walter Mignolo. 2011. Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option: A Manifesto. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(2), pp. 44-66. Available here. This interview also offers a very clear explanation of his work.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith 2012. Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd edition). London: Zed Books. Earlier edition available here. First couple of chapters have a lot of useful analysis. This text is quite accessible.

Bhambra, G. K. 2014. Connected Sociologies. London: Bloomsbury. Chapter 6 is available to download here and is an extremely clear overview of decolonial thinking and its relationship to postcolonialism.

Further sources:
Reading Lists – GLOBAL SOCIAL THEORY (very useful website with short introductions to various concepts, thinkers and topics in social theory)
Introduction to Decolonial thinking and decolonising methodologies (Reading list and course outline by Pedro Oliveira, 2018)

Thanks to all who contributed to the reading list! Looking forward to getting stuck in, will be beginning with the chapter from Connected Sociologies.


Updated - let me know if I’ve missed something with it.

Thanks for starting the thread @Tuna

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Can we add anti-capitalism to the suggested themes list?

Gonna read some of these today WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!’


It’s exciting isn’t it. Do it on my laptop and turn important parts another colour

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I’m famously bad at reading pdfs so not sure of the best way of doing this
think i’ll print them in the office tomorrow and read them there with a bunch of highlighters

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Hi, i’m def still interested but been really busy the last few weeks.

read part of the first pdf but i’m not used to academic reading at all so it took me waaay longer than i expected, had to keep rereading bits and looking stuff up. asked my gf to help me come up with a kind of framework / strategy for critical reading. i’m stupid though lol so maybe thats not an issue for other people

if other people do feel the same it might be easier to have somebody convening and maybe reducing the size of the reading list and just focusing on a couple of articles?

read a couple of the things and did have a few ‘thoughts’ / things to ask about, which I will try to write up soonish, but not until after next week

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This has been my issue too. I’ve never really read this kind of thing before which is part of the reason I want to get involved.

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I totally missed the thread. Probably need an @ tag so people see new threads?

Does this mean @ ing all users who may be interested? Seems like a lot of work tbf. Not sure anyone should be having to do that

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I mean get a grouping so can just tag @criticalreading or whatever, there’s one for film club

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I didn’t know about that

added a poll to the original thread

Some notes on the Quijano article (‘Coloniality and Rationality/Modernity’)! Discourse is trying to discourage me from reviving this thread…

I am, I think, politically on board with his project in its broad strokes, but I don’t really understand (agree with?) what Quijano says about rationality – so I think this will come across as more critical than I am in practice. And I’m very much open to being persuaded that the things I am not sure about can be answered. I also don’t think I will be saying anything original here, just reacting to the essay – there are probably much better responses from more knowledgeable people.

probably too much

As I understand it, the main point is to say that even after colonialism as such has ended, it still has effects in the ‘imagination of the dominated’, and one of those is in the way that a European paradigm of rationality has become part of that imagination; for genuine ‘decoloniality’, we need a new paradigm of knowledge. And the thing that stood out most to me is the connection he draws between coloniality and rationality:

Such confluence between coloniality and the elaboration of rationality/modernity was not in anyway accidental, as is shown by the very manner in which the European paradigm of rational knowledge was elaborated.

But I am not sure about how he puts the connection between rationality and coloniality in the essay. I don’t see one paradigm of rationality in the Europe in the way he describes, and I don’t see a necessary connection between this specific form of ‘rationality’ and coloniality – I don’t see why there couldn’t be coloniality with different paradigms of knowledge, for example – and it especially seems like colonisation and coloniality could happen with or without the main two points about European rationality he mentions, the subject-object paradigm and the totalising, ‘organicist’ element.

Worried that I will come across as a defender of the ‘West’ and ‘Western Rationality’ (which quite isn’t the case – I think reason needs to be defended even more from its own defenders…) – and I agree with the political project here, and I think that this (from later on) is entirely right:

It is necessary to extricate oneself from the linkages between rationality/modernity and coloniality, first of all, and definitely from all power which is not constituted by free decisions made by free people. It is the instrumentalisation of the reasons for power, of colonial power in the first place, which produced distorted paradigms of knowledge and spoiled the liberating promises of modernity.

My temptation is to quibble about some details, but I suppose unless they really undermine Quijano’s positive suggestions, I don’t know if they are so important. But anyway… the quotation above says colonial power produced the distorted paradigms of knowledge, whereas when Quijano talks about the paradigms of knowledge it doesn’t sound that way.

  • My impression is that Quijano seems to slip between talking as though the connections between e.g. rationality and modernity, or the supposed subject-object paradigm of knowledge and social totality and hierarchy, are necessary and implying they are contingent; I don’t know if there is an underlying idea of history here, but it’s hard for me to pin this down.

  • I don’t think that what Quijano says about the European paradigm of rationality is quite right when it comes to what I know about, and I am not sure how the two aspects he identifies (‘subject/object’ paradigm and the totality) are supposed to fit together.

  • (perhaps it would make sense to say that this is the western paradigm of rationality as it forms ‘the mystified patterns of knowledge’ he mentions earlier, but that isn’t what he seems to be saying in the actual discussion of the subject-obejct paradigm of knowledge)

About the subject-object stuff, to say that the subject-object relation (and the various ) is the foundation of the western paradigm of rationality is somewhere between an exaggeration and just not true; using Descartes as an example of the points he wants to make is also historically false.

First, in that presupposition, the ‘subject’ is a category referring to the isolated individual because it constitutes itself in itself and for itself, in its discourse and in its capacity of reflection. The Cartesian ‘cogito, ergo sum’, means exactly that. Second, the ‘object’ is a category referring to an entity not only different from the ‘subject’! individual, but external to the latter by its nature. Third, the ‘object’ is also identical to itself because it is constituted by ‘properties’ which give it its identity and define it, i.e., they demarcate it and at the same time position it in relation to the other ‘objects’.

None of these things are true about the historical Descartes – in fact, in each instance it is almost the literal opposite that is the case (willing to elaborate on this if anyone wants!), and even if they were they have each been continuously contested! It’s odd to claim as the ‘fundamental presupposition’ of a paradigm is a view that almost no one held and almost everyone actually directly talking about knowledge has been attempting to overcome.

On the other hand, it might be that even though the paradigm of rationality wasn’t ever endorsed by anyone interested in knowledge in a general way, it could have had an effect in the formation of certain ‘scientific’ disciplines. So this seems quite plausible as an account of what might actually happened in e.g. anthropology, to me as someone who knows almost nothing about it:

the relation between European culture and the other cultures was established and has been maintained, as a relation between ‘subject’ and ‘object’. It blocked, therefore, every relation of communication, of interchange of knowledge and of modes of producing knowledge between the cultures, since the paradigm implies that between ‘subject’ and ‘object’ there can be but a relation of externality.

But some more concrete examples/illustrations (which I’m sure could be found) would have been good here…suppose I might have to read beyond this essay.

The second aspect of the western paradigm seems to be going from some kind ‘totalising’ perspective, not really a part of the subject-object paradigm, to treating the europe as the brain in an organic metaphor

This [the colonization of the rest of the world, I think] was probably, not divorced from the circumstance that the idea of social totality was developed according to an organicist image, which led to adopting a reductionist vision of reality.

But I suppose I just don’t know about that progression, or whether viewing a society as an organic totality and then the world as a whole are really connected in the semi-historical-dialectical way he says. But I have less to say about this part, will have to think a bit more about it.

This leads to conceiving society as a macro-historical subject, endowed with a historical rationality, with a lawfulness that permits predictions of the behavior of the whole and of all its part, as well as the direction and the finality of its development in time. The ruling part of the totality incarnated, in some way, that historical logic, with respect to the colonial world i.e. Europe.

Again, when it comes down to it I wonder whether anyone has actually thought something like this, and it feels a bit like the entire paradigm of western rationality is pretty much supposed to be a weird version of German Idealism, and that doesn’t seem like how I would think of it. Perhaps this is something that has left a bigger imprint on Latin America and the various ways of thinking there.

As for the positive vision, it seems fine (that sounds more condescending that it is supposed to) to me, but without the concrete details of particular instances it’s pretty a pretty abstract view, and I would be curious to know more about the

Outside the ‘West’, virtually in all known cultures, every cosmic vision, every image, all systematic production of knowledge is associated with a perspective of totality. But in those cultures, the perspective of totality in knowledge includes the acknowledgement of the heterogeneity of all reality; of the irreducible, contradictory character of the latter; of the legitimacy, i.e., the desirability, of the diverse character of the components of all reality and therefore, of the social.

This is good, but I just don’t see how one could guarantee that, and I don’t really trust that non-Western cultures would actually be able to combine heterogeneity and non-hierarchical equality/non domination of some kind (I would be interested, for example, if there cases where we can really point to a non-hierarchical, heterogeneous perspective on totality). He seems quite optimistic about that:

That difference does not necessarily imply the unequal nature of the ‘other’ and therefore the absolute externality of relations, nor the hierarchical inequality nor the social inferiority of the other. The differences are not necessarily the basis of domination.

(Again - couldn’t they have been if things turned out differently? Domination could be rationalised in different ways than it was too).


The alternative, then, is clear: the destruction of the coloniality of world power. First of all, epistemological decolonization, as decoloniality, is needed to clear the way for new intercultural communication, for an interchange of experiences and meanings, as the basis of another rationality which may legitimately pretend to some universality.

This kind of claim is something that seems necessary, but would be difficult to achieve without clearing the material obstacles first – I’m not convinced that there is one western paradigm of rationality, or that it is much more important to get rid of it than e.g. to stop capitalism. I’m not sure – but maybe – Quijano took the world to be further along in the more obvious material forms decolonialisation, but I can’t see how epistemic decoloniality should come first here. Although if there is no necessary connection between western rationality and colonialism as such, decoloniality (if this means changing the paradigm of knowledge in formerly colonised countries) could well be a separate project, conducted independently from decolonisation.

I suppose this kind of talk about paradigms I find less helpful without concrete examples.

Maybe I am just more pessimistic about the possibility of ‘free decisions made by free people’ Quijano mentions, as the basis for the kind of power that would be at the root of a new decolonial ways of thinking.

One more note, it occurs to me that looking more closely at what he says about the hierarchies of race might help make more sense of some of the things too.

Not sure if that is helpful or anything anyone else thought about this stuff, but it was definitely worthwhile for me to read!