CLAREC Reading Group Lent Term 2021
CLAREC is inaugurating a reading group format where we invite you to read, reflect and discuss together following a sentirpensar / sensingthinking approach. The reading group is open to everyone and we encourage you to bring all your ideas, experiences, questions, and propositions to collectively build understanding and knowledge.
The group will meet in Zoom every two weeks on Fridays at 2 pm – 3 pm UK time (11 am Chile-Brazil/ 8 am Mexico). The sessions will not be video recorded; however, we aim to take notes of the discussions which will be possibly shared on our website. We encourage participants to join all or most of the sessions and read the assigned chapter, although if you cannot commit to all of them or read the full text, you are still welcome to join.
We are starting in Lent Term with the book “The idea of Latin America” (2005) by Walter Mignolo. Prof. Mignolo is a key thinker of Latin American Decolonial Theory and in the book, he discusses how the notion of Latin America came to be through colonialism and nation-state building processes. The group will be conducted in English, however, if preferred, a Spanish edition of the book is available. If you are in Cambridge, you would be able to get a printed copy of the book at the Library. Otherwise, please contact us if you want to participate but have no access to the book. We will share Zoom details closer to the date.
To sign up for the group please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to contact us with any questions. See the Term Card attached for more information. The sessions will be as follow:
|1||Friday 22nd January||Preface: Uncoupling the Name and the Reference|
|2||Friday 5th February||Chapter 1: The Americas, Christian Expansion, and the Modern/Colonial Foundation of Racism|
|3||Friday 19th February||Chapter 2: “Latin” America and the First Reordering of the Modern/Colonial World|
|4||Friday 5th March||Chapter 3: After “Latin” America: The Colonial Wound and the Epistemic Geo-/Body-Political Shift|
|5||Friday 19th March||Postface: After “America”|
About sentirpensar (or sensingthinking): this approach refers to a way of being and knowing that combines the mind and the heart. The concept of sentipensantes come from the inhabitants of the Depresión Momposina region of Colombia who coined it to express their mode of experiencing life. The concept was brought into social science by Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda and widely popularized by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Sentirpensar as a way of knowing has been used by grassroots collectives and decolonial authors to name a practice of knowing that differs from Western Enlightenment tradition which favours the reason over sensing or feeling. We want to bring this idea to our reading group to propose a space that allows discussions involving all our senses in an attempt to break through rigid modes of knowing in academia. In the video below in Spanish, Fals Borda explains the origins of the concept.
Session 1: Preface
“You can tell the story of the world in as many ways as you wish, from the perspective of modernity, and never pay any attention to the perspective from coloniality”(Mignolo, 2005, p. xi)
The first part of the session was dedicated to introducing the group and the participants. The conveners shared some ideas about the aims of the reading group for this term, focusing on the need of de-centering knowledge in Higher Education spaces, such as Cambridge, and making space for non-Eurocentric perspectives to be allowed in the discussions. We situated the group from a decolonising perspective which is not rhetorical but rooted in action, in this case, through organizing collective learning as a form of transforming our academic context. We briefly contextualised the contributions of the modernity/coloniality group and Mignolo’s work, considering also the critiques to decolonial work being done in elite Western universities as marginalized voices are still leave outside these centres of power. Finally, we shared a video explaining the idea of sensing/thinking and how it could be taken to a research practice which assume itself as political. We position ourselves working towards transforming our daily academic spaces trough unlearning and questioning our own practices of knowledge production.
During the second part of the meeting, we discussed the Preface of the book using small groups and a final plenary to share ideas. Many interesting ideas came up, some of the main points were the following:
- Questioning our own ideas of Latin America as they are mostly based on the construct created by the West through colonization. Multiple identities exist in the framework of Latin America and different histories are bounded in that idea.
- Our ideas of Latin America might be shaped by experience, for example, by the same experience of going abroad to study or work and being confront with a need for classification or categorization of our identity, as is often the case in institutional contexts. Also, the experience of growing up in certain place, schooling experiences of teaching focusing on Western perspectives and ideas coming from studies of international development.
- The mobile boundaries of belonging that are shaped geographically, culturally and politically, including and excluding territories and people according to certain circumstances. Some cases that were discusses were the Caribbean; Puerto Rico as being under the domination of the U.S.; and Mauritius as an interesting case of a territory formally part of Africa but culturally identified with Asia. Also, the identities that are more invisibilized such us indigenous identities, and how us as part of an intellectual group need to acknowledge the groups which are not part of our conversation in here.
- The colonization of the mind in Latin America, mostly exemplifies through the narratives taught in school, a deeply Westernized education and a lack of criticality to challenge Western hegemonic views. Coloniality is also expressed through ideas of what is to be civilized. We need to use spaces like this reading group to unlearn and critically thing about what we have been taught.
- Paradoxically, even when we come to Western universities from Latin America having been educated under Westernized knowledge in top universities in Latin America, there is a knowledge hierarchy that position ourselves and our knowledge in a lower position and limited the spaces we can occupy in the Global North.
- How can we find paths that avoid binary thinking and hegemonic perspective about the South? What are the alternatives to move away from thinking within the modernity/coloniality framework but without getting into a new binary thinking? Open up space to dialogue, as there cannot be a dialogue is the monologue is still on.
Session 2: Chapter 1 – The Americas, Christian Expansion, and the Modern/Colonial Foundation of Racism
“[…] knowledge is always geo-historically and geo-politically located across the epistemic colonial difference. For that reason, the geo-politics of knowledge is the necessary perspective to dispel the Eurocentric assumption that valid and legitimate knowledge shall be sanctioned by Western standards, in ways similar to those in which the World Bank and the IMF sanction the legitimacy of economic projects around the world.”(Mignolo, 2005, p. 43)
The second session of the reading group started with a brief recapitulation of the previous meeting and some thoughts on the context the book was written 15 years ago, considering that global geopolitics have changed in some ways from that point to the present. We then move on to discuss some of the key concepts introduced in Chapter 1 that are at the base of Decolonial thought, in order to generate a common ground of understanding.
- The discussion foregrounded the general feeling that when faced with the concepts exposed in the book, we realized that we are all unlearning (or de-constructing) previous knowledge about power balances and ways of being around the world as well as the role of coloniality on this and how it affects our own lives, careers, and understanding of the world. Basically, the process of decolonising ourselves.
- We abandon the expectation that is possible to discuss what Latin America is as a unity because that very form of seeing Latin America as unity is referred to a colonial and universalistic paradigm, a type of generalization that emerges from Western thought.
- In relation to the construction of Latin America as a unity, is interesting to discuss the case of Brazil, because usually Brazilians see themselves as separated from the rest of Latin America, not being fully part of it, and it will be interesting to explore these differentiations that happen inside the “idea” of Latin America.
- Understanding modernity/coloniality as concepts that are relational and tied up together historically and temporally. Colonialism referring to the historical events of imperialism appropriating land and coloniality referring to the logic of domination that still exists, an ongoing imperialism. The structures that still remain and influence all aspects of how we think and live. Following Quijano, coloniality refers to the open wound that still exists even if imperial power is not formally present.
- Colonial logics have also evolved as the geopolitics of power around the world shift, however, imperialism is not really over, for example, the case of Puerto Rico and neocolonialism through capitalist and finance system. Awareness of not seen colonialism as a linear process that is over and will not come back.
- The strong role of religion and Christianity in colonialism for the case of Latin America in comparison with other former colonies where religion does not seem to be imposed so strongly or have not perdured in the same form. How nowadays in Brazil, for example, Christianity is connected with the emergence of neoconservatives and has historically supported the maintenance of western hegemonic views, with the Catholic church actively silencing Theology of Liberation. Additionally, in Latin America, the connection between Christianity and the foundations of extractivist capitalism is based on the idea of their right of taking possession, which translated into exploitation. This quote by E. Galeano was shared: “They came. They had the Bible and we had the land. And they said to us, ‘Close your eyes and pray. And when we opened our eyes, they had the earth and we had the Bible.”
- Decoloniality is a political and epistemological project, there is no one way of doing decoloniality, but it does comprise o shift in paradigms. We discuss postmodernity, for example, as an alternative that is actually part of the same paradigm of Western interpretation. Decoloniality proposed the pluriverse, in opposition to binary thinking, meaning the possible coexistence of different paradigms at the same time. A turn from the universal idea of modernity to a pluniversality, which is a more collaborative and hopeful understanding of the future, the conviviality of many different perspectives (perspectives as differing from interpretations).
- The coexistence of different perspectives is not a quest for new imperialism to emerge through relativism but a shift in the paradigm of the need for appropriation and conquering, to dialogue. Is not either to go back to a lost past but building up from different starting points of that of modernity, from other knowledges that have been left out from the conversation.
- We closed the session with some big questions about the possible futures: how we can get there after this exploration of how we got here? Learning and understanding about the complexity of coloniality seem like a very small first step but at least it opens up the possibility of looking at many different worlds.
Because this is not past history, is happening, what we do in practice, in our communities? How we can “action” this knowledge we are getting into in the spaces we occupied, to challenge coloniality? Should we strive to create a pluriversity instead of a university? How we can reach border thinking, how we can get to that point where we see things in a different way? Is border thinking related to an experience of subordination and oppression or can we all practice this?
Session 3: Chapter 2 – “Latin” America and the First Reordering of
the Modern/Colonial World
“Decolonization at this point, as well as in the second wave post-World War II, meant political and, in a less clear way, economic decolonization – but not epistemic. The theological and secular frames of mind in which political theory and political economy had been historically grounded were never questioned. […] Colonialism should have been the key ideology targeted by decolonial projects. However, in the first wave of so-called decolonization, colonialism as ideology was not dismantled, as the goal was to gain ostensible independence from the empire. There was a change of hands as Creoles became the state and economic elite, but the logic of coloniality remained in place”(Mignolo, 2005, p.85-86)
• The third session of the reading group started, as always, reflecting on the discussion of our last meeting, especially concerning how we can put decolonization into action. Part of the efforts our collective in relation to this is showcasing different perspectives, aesthetics, and experiences. A key issue is decolonising ourselves to be able to value other types of knowing and being as well as respecting the multiplicity of worldviews.
• Starting chapter 3, Walter Mignolo talks about Pachakuti, a term from Quecha people, inhabitants of the Andean region, that means a time of change in the orders of things, central for the understanding of Quechua epistemology. Later, at the end of the chapter, the author goes back to the idea of Pachakuti, explaining that the erasure of Indigenous and Afro populations by the idea of Latinidad has been challenged in recent decades by Indigenous and Afro social movements reclaiming political space. In order to acknowledge the usefulness of Indigenous epistemologies to understand these historical processes (as the author is, for example, using a Quechua term) and also to share a moment of sensorial experience, we listen together the poem Kawsaq, by Quechua poet Irma Álvarez Ccoscco:
• Two main points came out in the discussion of the chapter. First, the role of the Creole elites, or Criollos, in maintaining the colonial cultural power in Latin America, through trying to be “like them” (assimilation to Europeans) and maintaining the epistemological hegemony of European thought at the same time than actively silencing Indigenous and Afro epistemologies. The second point discussed was possible knowledges that do not depart from modernity and the foregrounding of Indigenous knowledge as alternative perspectives but also considering some of the dilemmas that arise in relation to belonging and appropriation.
• The internal colonization driven by creoles elites responded to a desire of being alike the colonizer in many senses, and one of them was imposing their power as if they were superior, so they replace the previous power of the colonizer. The decolonization that occurs at this point during the Independence period was political but not epistemic, a type of half-way through decolonization.
• The creole elite aspires to the modernity idea of Europe, but Latin America did not become modern as expected and was caught up in internal colonialism and neo-colonialism, so it was not able to move forward from colonialism either. Internal colonialism and neocolonialism have been changing their strategies, for example, in Brazil from the Catholic church to Evangelism. Schooling has also been a relevant tool used for internal colonialism, mainstream schooling has not allowed different epistemologies, it has followed the idea of modernity as a goal and silencing local knowledges.
• This process has some differences across countries, it might be possible to identify different paths of decolonization in Latin America and would be worth exploring where those differences came from. However, colonial ideas seem to be very strong everywhere, and even many times we see social movements inspired by European thinkers. For example, the case of Marxist ideas that in many cases have not been able to fully address Latin American issues, especially regarding the differences in stratification by race and class. Although the book mentions some cases from the last two decades in Latin America as examples of attempts to use political ideas contextually grounded, many of them have not been able to sustain power positions. These movements still clash with the modernity aspirations of the elite and end up been sabotaged by it.
• The difficulty of thinking and developing alternatives ways to modernity because we are inside the colonial paradigm, but in this sense, Indigenous and Afro epistemologies in Latin America represent alternatives perspectives. Is not about idealizing them or a past era before colonization but allowing those knowledges that were erased to be considered in the conversation. It might also be interesting to think about indigenous knowledge beyond language, through artwork, music, nature, for example (going back to the idea of sentipensantes).
• The power of knowledge seems to be tightly tied with languages. For example, in schooling, imperial languages are preferred or more relevant, there is a language stratification. Indigenous languages are introduced into schooling mostly as part of intercultural programs and mostly absent in Higher Education (although we commented on the case of Indigenous Higher Education projects in Bolivia, for example). The debate about Indigenous knowledge in institutional (and Western?) educational settings posed questions about belonging in a complex mestizo society and there are several aspects to consider regarding respecting those who own that knowledge, avoiding appropriation or extractivist practices, and the debate about schooling seen as a form of supporting coloniality.
• The idea of a unity constructed through Latinidad has also tried to impose one way of thinking, doing, and being throughout different cultures in Latin America but, on the contrary, decolonization is not about choosing one way of doing things and then “scaling it up” to all Latin America, because this is the imperialist way of thinking. Is not about discussing which is the best universal alternative but accepting that different alternatives should coexist.
Session 4: Chapter 3 – After “Latin” America: The Colonial Wound and the Epistemic Geo-/Body-Political Shift
“The key issue here is the emergence of a new kind of knowledge that responds to the needs of the damnés (the wretched of the earth, in the expression of Frantz Fanon). They are the subjects who are formed by today’s colonial wound, the dominant conception of life in which a growing sector of humanity become commodities (like slaves in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) or, in the worst possible conditions, expendable lives. The pain, humiliation, and anger of the continuous reproduction of the colonial wound generate radical political pro¬jects, new types of knowledge, and social movements”(Mignolo, 2005, p. 97-98)
• We start the meeting by summarizing some of the points of our previous meeting, especially about the role of Indigenous knowledge and who is allowed to use/access it. In this chapter, the author touch on this issue as is a common question in today’s progressive politics. The risk here is essentializing Indigenous groups and Indigenous knowledge and confined it to the space of cultural identity, in the sense of identity politics, instead of seeing Indigenous knowledge as a broader political project that can be supported by anyone. This is also linked with the conversation about how categorization confined people to certain identities acting many times toward exclusion, as in the case of the Latino category that most of the time does not acknowledge Indigenous and black populations.
• The role of institutions, especially academia, in following the path of co-existence instead of newness. The paradigm of newness, based upon the perspective of European conquers thinking that they were discovering and starting something new, is opposed to the paradigm of co-existence, that recognizes the existence of different epistemologies, taking the stance or the perspective from the colonial wound. The chapter discusses the decolonization of knowledge in relation to social movements but does not explicitly addressed the issue of decolonisation of academia.
• A key issue in decolonising academia is questioning our positionality and our role in the configuration of knowledge, even in teaching students (as pointed out, for example, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos in “Knowledge born in the struggle”). However, we contrast Santos’ idea of the Epistemicide (some knowledges being silenced and erased) with what Mignolo points out about the body-politics of knowledge: knowledge cannot be totally erased because it remains in the body memory as part of the subjects, even when they are forced to not put it in practice. This might explain the optimism we see in this chapter in relation to social movements in Latin America.
• We have a responsibility to question the structure embedded in our institution, the paradigm of modernity that is so present also in University in the Global South. Critiquing the institution we are part of is an uncomfortable position that goes together with ethical dilemmas of the work we are doing in these institutions, however, for sure these critiques will enrich environment the environment of higher education. Decolonial critiques and decolonial research have a role in creating spaces for other perspectives in higher education.
• At the level of institutions, it is a challenge to see the alternatives and possibilities for decolonising, how to take action in this regard. There is no one way or a model but is easier to see it from the small steps we can take in everyday work and from there strive for deeper change, everyone considering their own possibilities to do this. We took the example of efforts for decolonising the curriculum in the university and also reading groups such as this one. Decolonising the curriculum in the sense of adding Southern authors to the reading lists are relevant efforts but after this step is important to take into account how this is implemented, if it is just a token name in the reading list or if real engagement occurs discussing all authors, Western and Southern, at the same level. Many times, is problematic how Southern authors are legitimized into the curriculum only when discussed by Western authors as a form of legitimizing them as worth of being part of the Western University.
• The role of dialogue appears here again as an essential part of the decolonising work in academia, and we linked it with Paulo Freire’s work as he proposed a cultural circle of the denunciation of the injustices and then the announcement of the possibilities (which also can be seen in relation to transformative justice). These two steps can help to move forward the inclusion of new epistemologies in academic spaces, using dialogue to connect different epistemologies, instead of antagonizing them.
• Dialogue seems somehow difficult in academia, as contradictory as this might look, because is common that people cling to their ideas too strongly as they are an essential part of their research and their identity as researchers. Usually when people become experts in their field is even harder to challenge their position or perspective. There is a need for practicing humility and vulnerability in academia, accepting that there might be different perspectives than our own and that they are also valid and maybe even more adequate than ours for a certain issue; we need to look at other perspectives and establish a dialogue.
A couple of readings recommended during the session:
- Blaser, M., Briones, C., Burman, A., Escobar, A., Green, L., Holbraad, M., & Blaser, M. (2013). Ontological conflicts and the stories of peoples in spite of Europe: Toward a conversation on political ontology. Current Anthropology, 54(5).
- de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., & Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 4(1).