Knowledge is always situated. As a young scholar from China working on western theories, I always felt frustrated with the eurocentrism embedded within them. The frustration comes first because they are not addressing the problems lingering in my mind; and second at the moment I realized that I had the wrong expectations: why should theories developed to deal with European issues and problems address issues and problems in China? During my yearlong stay at Duke University as a visiting graduate student from 2008 to 2009, I attended Professor Walter Mignolo’s seminar. Participating in class discussion, talking with Professor Mignolo, reading the materials assigned, and delivering class presentations with other students, I was ushered into the exciting world of decolonial thinking. It offered to me a totally new perspective to theorize the world from, that is, the perspective of third-world countries. I found these works rather illuminating in laying bare the contemporary world order from the perspective of the coloniality of power in this globalized age.
However, works by decolonial thinkers are not well known in China, which is undoubtedly another manifestation of eurocentrism in the field of knowledge in my country. After I returned to China, Professor Mignolo also visited China several times and gave talks at various Chinese universities. In order to help Chinese scholars have a better and more complete idea about these valuable intellectual assets of decolonial thinkers, I approached Professor Mignolo and proposed to do an interview with him so as to introduce decolonial theory into Chinese academia in a more systematic way. Professor Mignolo, who is very much concerned with the question of knowledge in countries like China, was pleased with the idea. Thus, we began to exchange emails concerning issues we considered relevant to address, the format of the interview as well as the possible impact of this interview in China. In order to make this interview more significant theoretically, I also invited my colleague Haiyan Xie to contribute some questions, since she was pursuing research on Chinese modernity. In the Spring of 2012 Walter Mignolo and I met in Shanghai, walked and talked during two days, enjoyed some of the many delightful teas in front of the Huangpu river, visited Lu Xun’s Memorial Hall, and the section of Chinese painting in the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in the process we gave the last touch to the interview.
After its completion, the interview was soon accepted by Marxism and Reality,1Walter Mignolo, Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012), The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World, Marxism and Reality, no. 4, p.110-120. an important journal owned by Central Compilation & Translation Bureau in China. And it was the longest article carried in that issue, for journals in China usually do not publish long articles. The Chinese version was well received and very soon Social Sciences Weekly — a newspaper based in Shanghai — also published a shortened version of this interview.2Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012, August 30), Decoloniality and its Re-imagination of the World Future: An Interview with Prof. Walter Mignolo, Social Sciences Weekly, p.5. With these initial efforts, we hope that more works by decolonial scholars can be introduced into China to enhance more substantial dialogues between decolonial and Chinese scholars in relevant areas. What follows is a shortened version of a 22000-word interview.
Geo-politics and the Origin of De-coloniality
Question 1: After the collapse of the former colonial system, the dominance of western ideology was challenged, weakened and subverted all over the world. Numerous politicians, economists and intellectuals have engaged in projects which aim to reveal the dark sides of modernity, which is often regarded as the hidden logic of the old world order. As a result, the controversy around modernity has always been an important issue in the academia. However, the warfare against modernity is divided if we take its major concerns into consideration. Within the boundary of the former Western empires, the reflection is mainly on its linear logic of development, the relegation of women to less important positions and the atrocities it caused upon nature. However, these anxieties were overshadowed by their preoccupation with its expansionist and imperial mentality in third world countries. Numerous distinguished Chinese scholars like Prof. Wang Ning, Wang Hui, Yan Xuetong and Qin Hui are engaged in similar projects and helped to utter the voice of Chinese scholars in the international arena. Abroad, the intellectual endeavors of decolonial scholars have also helped to shape the current intellectual debate. Unfortunately, many of the works written by decolonial scholars are relatively less known here in China, though names like Partha Chatterjee are often quoted here. And my understating is that the decolonial project was motivated by the same desire to transcend the limits of modernity. As we often talk about the geo-politics of knowledge, how would you describe the geopolitics of the decolonial project?
Walter Mignolo: It is not surprising that coloniality is not, at least at this point, in the scholarly and intellectual arena, in China. After all, China was never colonized, although it did not escape coloniality, as the Opium War amply attested. The problem is that too many people yet do not make the distinction between colonialism and coloniality. Coloniality doesn’t need colonialism as, once again, the Opium War demonstrated. Coloniality is the underlying logic (e.g., the colonial matrix of power upon which Western empires founded themselves, justified their imperial expansion and their intervention all over the world. Coloniality is short is the very foundation of Western civilization. Another reason why the concept of “coloniality” did not call scholarly and intellectual attention (in China as in other places) is because it originated in South America and not in Europe. People, and progressive at that, are still taking for granted that concepts theoretically relevant have to come from Western Europe (France, Germany and England, and some from Italy) and the US but not from any place else. In many other places people are afraid of their own thinking and need the legitimization of Western institutions and publishing houses. But that is changing, as is changing the sphere of political economy and theory. A few decades ago the rest of the world was praying to the IMF and the World Bank. Now many are learning to say, thanks, but no, we have our own way of doing things. Well, coloniality is a concept that emerged from this spirit and attitude in the Third World, at the moment in which it was becoming ex-Third World: the concept was introduced in Peru, by sociologist Anibal Quijano, in 1990.
Philosophically, “coloniality” next to “biopolitics” are two key concepts of contemporary intellectual and political debates. “Biopolitics” originated in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century but it was Michel Foucault who gave the theoretical foundation of the concept in the second half of the same century. Through “biopolitics” and then “biopower” Foucault confronted and explained specific issues of the past and present of European history. Basically, how since the second half of the seventeenth century emerged in Europe and increased in the following centuries, a form of control of the population that consisted in the control of the bodies. “Biopolitics” and “biopowers” are the concepts through which the control of the population was a need of the emerging nation/states. Since nation/states at that time were only a European phenomena, an outcome of its own history, bio-politics and bio-power were not crucial concerns in the non-European world. The concern was “coloniality” where Europe expanded and with the imperial expansion racism in the way we understand it today was born. From the colonies, racism is one of the key elements of coloniality.Thus, coloniality/racism is a decolonial concept while biopolitics/biopower is a postmodern concept. However, since biopolitics and biopower were based in the history of France mainly, and the core of Europe, with the core of Europe (England, France and German) leading countries of European imperial expansion, the nation-state became also a form affirming local histories and gaining independence from Europe (e.g., China in the process that led to the 1912 Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen, or the subsequent struggle for decolonization since the end of WWII). The modern nation-state is also a European invention responding to European needs (like the separation of Church and State), and then expanded all over the world. The modern nation-state was built by an emerging ethno-class (the white European bourgeoisie), displacing the monarchy and the church and becoming a potent tool of political coloniality.
These are precisely the historical experiences and the conditions that brought about the concept of “coloniality.” No one in Europe was thinking “coloniality”, they did not see it; they did not feel it. They can understand “colonialism” but “coloniality” is another matter. It is more difficult to see, they only see modernity and invent concepts like alternative, peripheral, subaltern etc. modernities, assuming that there is only one real one. By multiplying modernities eurocentered scholars and intellectuals continue to hide coloniality.
In Latin America—where the concept of coloniality emerged— the history is five hundred years long, and it is only related to the history of Europe because Europeans were the conquerors, colonizers, slave traders and slaveholders. After all of that “importation” you do not want again to “import” biopolitics and biopower to deal with the problems that Europe created. Biopolitics and biopower are important regional critical concepts that cannot be converted into a single story as if Europe has the goodwill to create the problems and the solutions while the rest of the world will watch the unfolding, like watching a tennis match where you do not participate. “Coloniality” is one of the concepts that introduced a different story, literally, and released repressed sensibilities rationalization, memories and above all, needs. “Coloniality” is in the genealogy of Frantz Fanon’s crucial concepts such as “sociogenesis” and the “damnes” but not on the same channel with biopolitics, biopower and multitude. That is why the geopolitics of knowledge is a necessary companion of coloniality and why the universality of knowledge is taken for granted in all European (and Euro-Anglo-American) debates on bio-politics and bio-power.
The type of management and control that is described by the concept of coloniality (short hand for colonial matrix of power) goes back to the seventeenth century (were Foucault locates the form of control he describes as bio politics). The processes that we describe as coloniality go back to the fifteenth century and the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits. That is, when the Atlantic was incorporated into the global economy, when Western globalism started and with it the foundation of Western civilization began to unfold. What emerged there and we describe as coloniality or colonial matrix of power, was a global structure of management and control that lasted until today. Coloniality is what allowed Europe to be Europe and to manage not only its own population, but also the population of the planet. The Opium War was the moment in which China felt the effect and the consequences of coloniality: it took a while to recover, and now China is disputing the control of the colonial matrix of power that, for five hundred years, was in the hands of Western imperial countries and the alliances between them. There is a conversation today among Western progressive intellectuals making sense of China and East Asia who are talking about “contested modernities.” That makes more sense than “alternative modernities.” But still, they hide coloniality. What we have been witnessing in the past few decades is an increasing struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power….in the name of modernity and modernization. Coloniality is embedded among “contested modernities.”
So you could begin to understand how biopolitics/biopower (unveiled and analyzed by European intellectuals) is only one aspect of the complex colonial matrix of power (unveiled and analyzed by Third World intellectuals). Crucial here is then the point of origination of both concepts and the geopolitics of knowing and understanding. I am not saying that one shall be displaced with the other. I am saying that both shall and will co-exist but that they are irreducible to each other. We have to start thinking in terms of geopolitics of knowledge and leave behind the modern set of mind according to which only one story is possible and desirable and you have to eliminate everyone who do not bend, think or feel like the single story tells you to do, feel or think.
Biopolitics/biopower are regional not universal concepts, and if they are global, they are also partial for in the colonies and ex-colonies there are other concerns and needs that are not accounted for with those concepts. Crucial for European sensibilities, these concepts are not in the skin of billions of people of the non-European world, except of the few who are followers and promoters of what is going on in Europe. The concepts could only account partially for some European strategy of control but they are far from helping to understand the complexity of the colonial world. We claim that “coloniality” is global, but not universal. In time, it is restricted to the world order that began in the sixteenth century with the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits. It doesn’t make sense for us to talk about coloniality in the Roman Empire, in ancient Chinese Dynasties or among the Incas before the conquest: coloniality goes hand in hand with capitalism and none of the civilizations before 1500 were based on a capitalist economy. Coloniality introduced the perspective of people at the receiving end of biopolitics and biopower, it accounts for the wide spectrum of colonial worlds. The difference is that the colonial matrix of power that originated in the history of the colonies subsumes the history of Europe and of the colonies, from the perspective of the colonies. In that regard, it brings to the foreground the other stories that European narratives hide when the story of the world is told from the perspective of Europe. As you see, decolonial thinking focus on the enunciation, not so much on what is said but on who is saying it, when, why, and what for. The analytic of coloniality is always already a decolonial statement. Decoloniality, however, is not limited to the analytic but it is also a prospective concept, as we will see in your questions 11 and 12 when we talk about progress and development.
Now, this is the crucial point: while Europe built itself over the control of knowledge (which allowed for the organization of itself, politically, economically, intellectually, artistically, religiously), and “biopolitics/biopower” is part of that control even if the concepts are critical of state regulations, “coloniality/colonial matrix of power” first of all unveils that imperial history built itself in the name of salvation (by conversion to Christianity, by the civilizing mission, by development and modernization) and secondly shows that the underlying matrix of European imperial power and of Western Civilization lies in it its rhetoric of modernity (which is the rhetoric of salvation) and its constitutive part, the logic of coloniality. Thus the strong thesis we are advocating is that coloniality is constitutive of modernity and it is the underlying structure of Euro-America imperial expansion and domination. That is why “contested modernities” implies “struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power.”
From here we can derive two conclusions: one is that biopolitics/biopower is a small part of the colonial matrix of power (and to talk about colonial biopower is really a fancy word game without theoretical and historical foundation), and that now, in the twenty-first century the main conflicts are around the control of the colonial matrix. The West (European Union and the US) can no longer control. The economic strength of China is that it has the means to dispute the control of the colonial matrix, and so do the BRICs countries. Sure, they are all capitalist countries, EU, US and the BRICs. But there is an enormous difference. All BRIC countries (population, languages, religions, skin color, writing system) has been racialized and therefore made inferior to Europe from the perspective of Europe. No longer. So, we can explain the history of the formation of the modern/colonial world since 1500 by explaining the formation, transformation and lately dispute for the control of the colonial matrix (“contested modernities” for Western progressive intellectuals).3See for instance the much discussed book by Martin Jacques, When China Rules de World, http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/book-review-when-china-rules-the-world/
Question 2: Most intellectual projects endeavor to revisit the “wounds” inflicted upon the colonies while decoloniality is also prospective. Maybe that can partly account for the glamour of this project. Besides re-interrogating the colonial past, what are the particularities of this project if we take the origin, main theoretical
Walter Mignolo: I would start by underlining two “particularities.” The first was brought about in the Bandung Conference, in 1955. In a nutshell, what Sukarno was proposing was “neither capitalism, nor communism but decolonization.” Not a third way a la Giddens or Beck, but something else, away from the two sides of the coin of the European enlightenment. Notice also that representatives of 29 countries attended the conference. Sukarno made clear that the “belt” of countries present at the conference were a third part of the world and were people of color and of non-Christian persuasion. That is, he was pointing at racism in its religious and secular manifestations. Secondly, the “wound” is both colonial and imperial, and they interact through history in very interesting ways. The humiliation China suffered after the Opium War is better described as “imperial wound”, similarly to the Ottoman Sultanate, for example, while the humiliation that Indigenous people suffered since the sixteenth century, and Africans from the slave trade to the European partition of the continent in 1884, is better described as “colonial wound”, that to distinguish coloniality without colonialism (China, Ottoman Sultanate) and coloniality with colonialism (Africa, South America and the Caribbean, Native Americans and Africans in the US). Let me elaborate on this by referring to the historical trajectory of the concept and the needs to which it responded.
Historically, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the project known as modernity/coloniality/decoloniality and some times for short modernity/(de)coloniality, originated in South America. Two years later Enrique Dussel, Argentine philosopher of liberation, residing in Mexico, introduced the concept of transmodernity. Transmodernity which means both, that modernity was a historical process in which Europe was marching all alone, but was a process in which Europe made itself through its imperial/colonial expansion. That is the analytic of transmodernity. The prospective is that the world of the future shall be transmodern and not postmodern, for postmodern is an expression that only recognizes Europe as a protagonist of history, while transmodenrity points towards a future in which the entire world will participate. We are already at the beginning of that process. The collapse of the European Union, the crisis in the US today (after Enron, Iraq and Wall Street), indicates that the European Union and the US lost their credibility and their leadership carries the future in their own shoulders. Now, all that will involve economic and political decisions, but much of the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power will cross by the colonial difference (colonial wound) and the imperial difference (imperial wound). This important dimension of feeling, sensing, memories, and wounds cannot be superseded by economic calculus and politics strategies. Dependency theory in Latin America was as much theoretical as it was existential. Dependency was not only economic analytic but also the feeling and the realization that being dependent was being somewhat inferior or at least in inferior conditions.
Quijano was involved, in the 70s, in the debates on dependency theory, while Dussel was engaged, at the same time (late sixties and early seventies), with the beginning of theology and philosophy of liberation. Historically, the concept of coloniality came into being in the early nineties as a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it would not have been possible without the previous work of Peruvian intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui (contemporary of Gramsci) in the 20s. It was Mariátegui that connected the colonial history in Latin America with capitalism. Thus, the underlying logic that connects both is ¨coloniality.¨ That was Quijano’s touch of genius, to see that colonialism and capitalism are based on the logic of coloniality and that the logic of coloniality is also what explains racism: basically the idea is that you cannot exploit and expropriate an equal. You have to make people inferior in order to be able to manage them and take away their labor and their land. That is why racism emerged in the modern/colonial world, that is, in the sixteen hundreds. I am telling this story to help in dispensing with the idea that European genealogy of thoughts is the only point of reference. It is one; it is a genealogy of thought that from the right to the left belongs to European and Euro-US imperial history. We are getting used to the idea that the intellectual loci of enunciations are multiplying, and the world is becoming polycentric not only in economy and politics, but also in epistemology and hermeneutics. What is important to underline here in relation to your question, is that genealogies of thoughts are ingrained in “structures of feelings” (as Raymond Williams had it), and structure of feelings are imbedded in the legacies of colonial and imperial wounds (something Williams did not take into account).
The colonial wound, and particularly the colonial wound, has been inflicted through history in the complicity between an economy of growth (e.g., capitalism) that sacrifice everything to its success and racism. The Atlantic commercial circuits connected the globe and the process known today in its latest version (the neo-liberal one), globalization, began. A new type of economy emerged. The historical foundation of the colonial matrix of power brought together a type of economy that was non-existing until then: an economy of inversion of the surplus and of dispensability of human life to increase economic gains (e.g. massive enslavement of Africans to work in the Caribbean plantations), a new form of political organization in which the metropolitan centers managed their colonies; which at their turn prompted the invention of international law. Last but not least, racism was needed both for political and economic reasons. Racism, as we know it today goes hand in hand with capitalism and with the modern state, both in its monarchic, Renaissance version, as well as in its nation-state, Enlightenment version: racism is the invention of those who controlled and managed discourses and knowledge and are able to make certain people feel that they are less human. Racism allows for the justification of Indigenous genocide and African slavery: lesser humans, as they were considered, their lives were and are still dispensable. Lesser humans are people who are both epistemically and ontologically deficient. They are not quite rational, and therefore they are inferior or, they are inferior and, therefore, they are not quite rational. Look around and these principles still apply. From the trade of women and human organs, to the commercialization of migrants to the poisoning of land and rivers were people lived for millennia, to extract gold for the global market, you will see that the economy of growth comes first and live (the planet and us), second.
Now let me tell you a little bit more about coloniality and the colonial matrix of power, and how the colonial and imperial wounds are important aspects of it. The colonial matrix of power is a complex structure that we describe as five interrelated domains: the domains of knowledge and subjectivity, of the economy, of authority (e.g., politics), of gender and sexuality and of the “natural” world (e.g., that in which our bodies are part of and what constitute our constant “becoming” as “human being” organized in communities (Caliphates, Empires, Monarchies, Churches, Mosques, Nation-States, Inter-communities relations, etc.). You see why the spheres of feeling and sensibilities (the Greeks called it aiesthesis, which was colonized by modern philosophy and turned into aesthetics: a theory to control “taste”). Remember, as I said before, that there is no such thing as the colonial matrix of power before the sixteenth century. You cannot find it in Ancient China, in Ancient India and Persia, in Ancient African Kingdoms, in Ancient Greece, in Rome, in the Islamic Caliphate or in the Andean Incanate (the Incas were not an empire in the same way that Romans were not an Incanate. The colonial matrix of power is precisely what allowed the West to build itself as overcoming all existing civilizations in the name of modernity.
Thus, what came to be known as capitalism (e.g., Weber and Lenin) is for us a new type of economy that emerged in the sixteenth century as with the Atlantic commercial circuits. But it came together with the process of building new knoweldges and forming new subjects: the modern and modern/colonial subjects. For us the economy is only one domain of the colonial matrix of power, albeit since the 1970s it became the privileged domain. What for liberal and Marxists is “capitalism” for us is “economic coloniality”, meaning that there are other forms of economy that are not tied up with coloniality. In the past five hundred years of economic coloniality, the economy was part of society until WWII but since then, society became part of the economy. Neo-liberalism was the last moment of that trajectory. Economic coloniality began to be formed with the massive appropriation of land in the New World and the massive exploitation of labor, Indians first and enslaved Africans secondly. The triangular trade in which enslaved Africans were bought, sold and transported to the Americas; the commodities (gold, silver, sugar, cotton, tobacco) from America transported to Europe and generating a global market; weapons transported from Europe to Africa to trade for enslaved people. The surpluses of such an economic exchange were re-invested instead of being stored, as it was the case in all other co-existing economies. This new type of economy introduced also the dispensability of human life: because of that subjectivity it was possible to believe in a hierarchy within the human species. And those who were inferior (that is the economic need and justification of racism), their lives were dispensable in pro of economic growth and benefit of the superior beings. Once again, if we review the Opium War we will realize that the profit the British made was their first concern, not the million of Chinese who ruined their lives because of the drogue, as well as people in England and the US becoming “consumers” who contributed to the wealth of the British Empire.
Here is where the concept of transmodernity, introduced by Dussel comes into the picture. And why this concept is important? Once again, postmodernity was a concept that emerged in Europe to account for the transformations that European intellectuals were “feeling.” Postmodernity and transmodernity are inscribed in different structures of feelings of the actors elaborating and promoting them. Transmodernity carries the memories of the colonial wound, and is open to dialogue with the imperial wound, since it is a concept that emerged from racialized and marginalized sensibilities: being of European descent in South America and the Caribbean is not being European. The feeling was that the concept of “modernity” was no longer capable of accounting for the experience of men and women of European descent, and even less of the majority of non-Europeans on the planet. Post-modernity responded to feelings and sensibilities of the time in Europe, to the closing of the universal time of historical macro-narratives (e.g., Hegel). However, postmodernist couldn’t escape to the Eurocentered linear concept of time. That is why for European intellectuals postmodernity naturally follows modernity, there is a change, but it is a change within the same. That is a very alien experience for 80% of the people of the world for whom modernity was always one side of the story; the other was coloniality. For ex-Third World intellectuals modernity was, and will continue to be in different forms, transmodern; that is modernity/coloniality is transmodern. And it was, is and will be transmodern for the emerging economies that are living behind the Third World (like East and South East Asia). Transmodernity open up the views to the work of coloniality, while conflictive modernities shut it down. The “/” that unites and divides modernity and coloniality is not only military, economic and political, but it touches and forms subjectivities: thus, racism and imperial and colonial wounds. It is in the “/” of modernity/coloniality where the colonial and imperial wounds dwell and where transmodernity is becoming the orientation to global futures.
Question 3: You emphasized modernity repeatedly in your above statements and a related question is how to understand modernity from the perspective of decoloniality. Besides, as we have noticed, decoloniality and decolonization are two different concepts in your theoretical framework, how should we understand the differences between them?
Walter Mignolo: The idea of modernity was built on the celebration of newness. The very idea of newness was ingrained in the idea of modernity since European baptized the New World; the lands and people that appear in their consciousness at the end of the fifteenth century. So that post-modernity captured in and by the European mind was, they felt, the sign of a new era. For people in the non-European world the “feeling” was different. They/us were entangled with European history but we were not living that experience. We, in South America (as well as in Asia and Africa—I will leave the US aside for the moment), new that “modernity” was something alien to our own history. Our history (Quijano, Dussel, myself and other members of the project) was/is that of modernity/coloniality—the history of the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits; of the historical foundation of capitalism; of racism as we know it today; of the beginning of the Western project of economic expansion, of converting and civilizing the planet. We cannot understand modernity in the way Giddens and Beck do. We live in different skins, have different memories, our memories are not that of imperial England or the memories of Germany’s genocide in Africa (the Herero) and in Europe (six million Jews and another nine or ten million of non-Jews). For us modernity is incomprehensible without coloniality. Not for Giddens and Beck. Dussel pointed out that, historically, that in the sixteenth century, with the European Renaissance, and then the Enlightenment, the history of Europe is entangled with the non-European world that Europeans want to have under their wing. So that modernity is indeed trans-modernity in the sense that the entire world participated in the making of Europe and then Euro-America from fifteen hundred on. And the future will be also trans-modern but no longer having Europe and US at its center. The trans-modern future will be (is already underway) built on the principles of pluri-versality. We are already witnessing this mutation. The BRICs countries are decentering the world order, although maintaining the economy of exploitation, expropriation and exploitation that Weber and Lenin named capitalism. However, BRICs countries are neither liberal nor neo-liberal. That is why Confucianism is gaining ground in China. Dewesternization seems to be the common ground of BRICs countries leading the way. And of course, Confucianism is one way of dealing with dewesternization, not the only one, even less the model for all processes of dewesternization.
However, what the project of modernity/(de) coloniality promotes is not a polycentric capitalist world. This view is part of our analytic. What we promote is decoloniality, a march toward a polycentered and non-capitalist world, a world in which economic coloniality has been barren. This would be a world order in which the myths of modernity will not be needed because the horizon of life will be to live in harmony, in plenitude and to compete for progress and to modern as if modernity would provide in the future what was has not been able to provide in the past, since the idea of modernity was put in circulation.
Dewesternization is an important step toward non-imperial futures. I mentioned before that instead of contested modernities we, in this project, talk about the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power. Dewesternization, in its several trajectories, is a case in point. The colonial matrix of power was built, maintained and transformed by the West (Christianity, Liberalism, Neo-liberalism and even Marxism, its oppositional force within the same rule of the game) at the same time that the West became the West because of the colonial matrix. Today, the economy of accumulation is global, so then is economic coloniality. However, what is changing is that economic coloniality is no longer responding to one set of political rules and principles. China is a clear case in point. If China’s leader decisions in 1979 would have been to follow the rules of the game and be dependent on the US, China would not be at the economic level that is has today. At the same time, economic growth contributed to regain the confidence that was lost with the Opium War. That is to say that next to economic growth there is the process of healing the imperial wound. What is disputed are Western designs and of the will of self-appointment to rule the world. Disputing the control of the colonial matrix is the challenge that BRICs countries are presenting to Western imperial legacies (Western Europe and the US).
But not only BRICs countries are engaged in processes of dewesternization. Also there are other countries in the Middle East, in Africa and in South America and the Caribbean. That means, that under dewesternization, economic coloniality will continue its march and its life, at least for a while in and by the US, the European Union, China, India or Brazil. But new venues will be opening up by the process of dewesternization as people enduring the legacies of coloniality (whether colonized like India, South America or African countries or not colonized like China and Japan) began to regain the confidence that the myth of modernity took away from them/us. One of the consequences of dewesternization at the international level is what we have been witnessing in the European Union and the US: their internal collapse also, as they can no longer enact coloniality beyond Europe and the US while maintaining a comfortable middle class in their own countries.
There is another reason, and for me the most significant, of why dewesternization is relevant. I believe that we have been in the past two decades (since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War), not in process of transition but in a revolutionary process in which the entire world is participating. That revolutionary process makes of “left and right” an obsolete conceptualization of the world. Left and right are valid in the limited and regional world of post-enlightenment Europe and its aftermath, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba. Today, dewesternization and decoloniality have exploded the narrow and limited European conceptions of politics and the political (cfr., friends and foes).
First of all, the famous French Revolution was a revolution of an emerging ethno-class, the European bourgeoisie, which was growing economically and finally asserted themselves in front of the political and economic states of the monarchy supported by the church. It was an ethno-class revolution—a part involved where white, Christians, French and European. Before that, something similar happened in England with the Levelers, mid seventeenth century, and then with the Glorious Revolution toward the end of the century, where John Locke emerged as its leading ideologue. It was, furthermore, a revolution that on the bases of mercantile capitalism (one form of economic coloniality, others are free trade, industrial revolution, technological revolutions) and the enrichment of Europe with gold, silver, sugar, cotton, tobacco, slave trade of the colonial period, solidify the bourgeoisie and created the condition of the industrial revolution. It was in other words a capitalist revolution built upon the European three centuries of colonial wealth. Today, the celebration of the French Revolution goes hand in hand with the critique of capitalism. Absurd, indeed. Well, but the point is that if the French (and before that the British’s Glorious Revolution) was an ethno-class revolution, we are now witnessing a racial revolution. Simply said, while the white and Christian bourgeoisie grounded in their economic growth overthrew the white and Christian aristocracy, now the non-European bourgeoisie of color and non-Christian are if not overthrowing yet stopping the global hegemony that the white Western bourgeoisie set up (e.g., the colonial matrix of power) and controlled during the past two centuries (nineteenth and twentieth).
Now, you can say that the racial revolution that dewesternization is enacting maintains capitalism. And that is true. But at the same time the French Revolution and the American Revolution were revolutions that consolidated capitalism. But we tend to forget about it and remember the nice words “democracy, freedom, equality, etc.” So in a parallel way now we should pay attention that while dewesternization maintains capitalism that the Glorious, the American and the French revolution consolidated (by consolidating a new ethno-class controlling knowledge, the economy, politics, gender and sexual relations, and affirming themselves through patriarchy and racism), dewesternization opens up the doors to a racial revolution parallel to a class revolution that took place through the eighteenth century. Beyond dewesternization, do not forget, and coexisting with it, are the variegated decolonial processes that are enacting racial and patriarchal revolution and working toward a world without capitalism and therefore without coloniality. This is the moment in which the legacies of Bandung become relevant again: what it was proposed was to delink from European enlightenment legacies and to regain the racial and religious dignity that Western imperial civilization took away from most of the planet. But decoloniality, contrary to dewesternization, confronts head on economic coloniality: there cannot be peace, non-poverty, flourishing of life in the planet, while the principles that sustain the economy of growth (economic coloniality) are not changed to an economic of administration of scarcity. And this is no longer capitalism vs. socialism. Is something totally different based on decolonial visions of the futures.
Decoloniality, then, is the third global force re-orienting the present toward global futures. We see its manifestations in South America in the growing forces of Indigenous and peasant epistemic and political participation, in the so called “social movements”, chiefly in the potent organization claiming for the rights to life acting to stop the depredation of open pit mining in all the Andes Mountains, from Colombia and Ecuador to Chile and Argentina going through Peru. “Juicio Etico Popular to the Transnational Corporations” is a telling example of these processes. 4http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLS8gCFZTEQ “La via campesina” is another example. 5http://viacampesina.org/en/ Lately, the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt, the “indignados” of Spain and Greece, the students in Chile and in Colombia against the corporate transformation of the university, even the “Occupy” in the US, and of course the growing global intellectual awareness that if decolonization was a specific moment during the Cold War, decoloniality transcended it. And decoloniality transcended decolonization in the same way that coloniality transcended colonization. Colonization refers to specific historical moments and countries in the past 500 years while coloniality refers to the logic of domination behind the salvation rhetoric of modernity. Imperial modernity doesn’t need colonies to install coloniality (as China knows it very well since 1842), but it needs coloniality. In parallel fashion, decoloniality means to delink from the colonial matrix of power. Decoloniality is thus an epistemic, ethical and political project. The world cannot be changed if the people who run the world do not change. And people do not change submitting to public policies and obligations. Here is where Karl Marx had good intention but it was difficult for him to see coloniality and decoloniality at the other end of the spectrum. Instead, he projected the European experience (the proletarian class) toward global futures.
The Specter of Coloniality in the Modern World
Question 1: With the expansion of the imperial powers in the sixteenth century, the West and the East began to encounter each other in more substantial ways, which involved habitation, domination and exploitation. Under the Salvationist rhetoric of the imperial powers, the world was divided and consequently the East was constructed as the Other. According to Karl Marx, this is the inevitable result of capitalists’s desire for profit or imperialism which is the more advanced stage of capitalism, while decolonial theorists mainly attributed it to the encroaching of modernity.
Walter Mignolo: First of all, “West” and “East” is as we know and feel them today is an invention of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. It was Pope Alexander the VI who divided the globe in Indias Occidentales and Indias Orientales and offered them to the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns! The Christian ordering of the world that became hegemonic because “Western Civilization” became hegemonic. East and West were first of all conceived from Jerusalem as center of the World, in Medieval Christendom. The West was the West of Jerusalem. The famous T/O map that I analyzed in The Darker Side of the Renaissance (1995, now being translated into Mandarin), and in The Idea of Latin America (2005, translated into Korean) has Jerusalem at the center, Asia to the Orient, Africa to the South and Europe to the West. That orientation only makes sense with Jerusalem at the center. If the centers were Beijing or Buenos Aires, other would be the story. But neither Beijing nor Buenos Aires (which did not exist during the Middle Ages), had at the potential and the possibilities of controlling knowledge as Western Christians managed to do through the conquest of the America and the follow up—Britain and France taking over Spain and Portugal and colonizing directly (India, North Africa) and indirectly disrupting China’s history, social organization and above all submitting its people to the humiliation of the imperial wound. Beijing was the center of Chinese Civilization and Rome became—much later–the center of Western Civilization. And when Rome became the center, where Pope Alexander VI was, it displaced Constantinople (today Istanbul) where Emperor Constantine included Christianity in the Roman Empire and displaced Jerusalem, as the Christian persecution of the Jews increased when the latter were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. But because of the expansion of Christianity and later on of secular Europe, Europe itself became the center of the world. That is what Chinese realized in the Opium War: that the world had changed, China was not alone and Beijing was no longer the center of a world organized in nested rectangles. With Pope Alexander VI the center moved from Jerusalem and Istanbul to Rome but the end result was the same. It was him that divided the planet in “Indias Occidentales” and “Indias Orientales” by means of two Treatises: Tordesilla, 1494 and Zaragoza, 1529. These are the two pillars of the modern/colonial world, the invention of the East and the West, the foundation of Occidentalism (the land of Japheth, the West) and Orientalism (knowledge being controlled in Europe, the West and the Center, and Asia the East.
So, then, you are right. For us (in the project modernity/coloniality) the encounter between East and West is not the inevitable result of imperialism, but its very beginning: the very idea of what we call modern/colonial world was built in two pillars: the distinction between “Indias Occidentales” and “Indias Orientales.” Macau, for example, was the first European colony in the “East” (that is, in the Portuguese waters and lands of Indias Orientales), founded in 1554 and the last to be released as you know better than I do (1999). The encroachment is what we write as “modernity/coloniality.” The slash “/” both divides and unites (entangles) modernity and coloniality. And when we write modernity/coloniality/decoloniality there is another encroachment: decoloniality is encroaching on coloniality, coloniality provokes decoloniality and thus they are also both united and separated for coloniality is the trap that modernity tends and decoloniality the projects to delink and escape the trap. Thus, we insist that coloniality is constitutive of modernity not an inevitable result. Now, when it comes to East and West, which of course is part of that logic of encroachment, the issue needs further clarification. Most postcolonial theorists come from the legacies of British and French imperialism and start in the eighteenth century and, as the “post” indicates, their theories start and depart from French post-structuralism.
Postcoloniality as a concept is indebted to postmodernity, and postmodernity, was popularized by Lyotard’s La condition postmodern (1978). Decoloniality has a different genealogy of thoughts. It goes back to Indonesia, to the Bandung Conference, when Sukarno gathered the leaders of 29 Asian and African countries. China was one of the 29th. At that point China was part of the Third World. Religion and racism were two of the major issues in Bandung. The goal: neither communism nor capitalism, but decolonization. So, decolonization was born at the same time as the idea of Third World countries, neither capitalist (First World) nor communist (Second World). It is in that genealogy of thoughts that we can understand Frantz Fanon, dependency theory, Ali Shariati in Iran, and, more recently, thinkers as Ashis Nandy and Vandana Shiva in India, the concept of “coloniality” and therefore “decoloniality.” For decolonial thinkers, whether in India, Africa or the Caribbean, the point of reference of coloniality is the sixteenth not the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century is the “second stage” of modernity and Western formation and expansion.
Decolonial thinkers may have taken a step forward in relation to postcolonial ones because we have been always taking a step backward. That is, while the postcolonial has the Enlightenment as its point of reference the decolonial has the Renaissance. The 500 years of world history are the years in which Western Civilization emerged, asserted itself through the first three centuries and expanded globally in since 1750, approximately. The colonial history of India that provided the impulse for postcolonialism (including the subaltern studies project), endured Western interferences since the second half of the eighteenth century. For that reason, post-colonialism is grounded in both the colonial history of India and in post-structuralist (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) and Marxist (Gramsci) thinkers. While decoloniality is historically grounded the history of the Americas, since 1500, and theoretically in the Bandung Conference (1955): both moments are connected in the history of global coloniality although they are disconnected if you look at them either from the perspective of particular empires (Spanish, English or French) or of national/colonial history (Indonesia or Bolivia for example). One of our tasks is precisely to show the underlying network, the colonial matrix of power that connects all those moments and places and make them dependents of Western imperial expansion. But coming back to the language of decoloniality, the Bandung Conference made visible a common concern of many countries in Africa and in Asia in the fifties; Aimee Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism was written in Paris, and published in 1955 and Frantz Fanon (born and raised in Martinique) lived in France before moving to Algeria where he wrote his decolonial political treatise, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961, in Algeria. Here you have geopolitics of knowing and knowledge at work. Even if Cesaire and Fanon were in Paris, their conceptualization of colonialism and their decolonial thinking did not come from the history, experience and memories of Europe but of the colonies. Let’s go back to the Bandung Conference. Sukarno of course was not in Paris, but in Indonesia, sensing, feeling to the bones the experience of colonialism. In one of the transcriptions of his opening address at the Bandung Conference (remember that China was part of the Third World at that time and was one of the 29 countries at the Bandung Conference), Sukarno is quoted as saying:
All of us, I am certain, are united by more important things than those, which superficially divide us. We are united, for instance, by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism. And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world.
We are often told “Colonialism is dead.” Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. 1 say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree.
China, we should remember, was one of the third world countries (the division into three worlds was invented in France at that very time) at the conference. Let’s remembering in passing that Mao Zedong considered Russia a First World country. And that understandable: Russia was Second World seen from France, Western Europe and the United States. From Mao’s China things look different. That is why in our theory we pay a lot of attention to the enunciation and to the geopolitics of knowledge.
To sum up: dependency theory, philosophy of liberation and theology of liberation, the New World Group in the Caribbean (parallel to dependency theory in the continent), were the responses from the Atlantic to the process of decolonization in Asia and Africa. All that was before the idea of postmodernity emerged and postcoloniality was conceived. The postcolonial needed the postmodern (Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition, 1978). So the postcolonial is an idea of the 80s, while the decolonial goes back to Bandung. The Bandung Conference and the meeting of the Non-Aligned countries (Belgrade, 1961) were not alien to Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals and intellectuals/activists, who were at the same time scholars. Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was translated into Spanish and published in Mexico in 1962. Now The Wretched was read by Sartre as a fundamental decolonial statement. Homi Bhabha appropriated it for the postcolonial, but Lewis Gordon and many other Caribbean intellectuals (Paget Henry, Nelson Maldonado-Torres) are taking Fanon back to his decolonial vain. French Caribbean thinkers and literature did not need the postcolonial in order to be Caribbean thinkers and intellectuals. On the contrary, the postcolonial needs Caribbean thinkers and writers, as well as Africans, to be postcolonial scholars. Since the decolonial is the way of thinking that unveils the colonial matrix of power, the difference with the postcolonial is obvious. I will say this: Catholicism and Protestantism are two positions within Christianity. Same with the decolonial and the postcolonial. And please do not attempt to find equivalences, that is, whether the post- or the deco- correspond to Catholicism or Protestantism. What I am saying is that within a same frame there are different roads.
Question 2: This comparative description is rather illuminating. In Edward Said’s theoretical formulation, his main concern is to explore the archives of the colonial past. By highlighting the hidden agenda of certain historical records, Said aims to interrogate the implicit relationship between culture and imperialism and to deconstruct the binary oppositions, which tend to relegate the East to a secondary place. On the other hand, It seems that the decolonial approach pays more attention to epistemology. Besides dwelling upon the colonial past, it is equally concerned with the formation of the future world. Can these observations tell decolonialism apart from postcolonialism?
Walter Mignolo: Basically, yes, that is one entry to see the differences between the postcolonial and the decolonial. The other is the particular local histories in which postcolonial and decolonial intellectual inhabits. Like it or not, be aware of it or not, coloniality is an unavoidable experience for 80% of the world, that is, the non Euro-US world. However, there are in this regions and countries Native Americans and enslaved Africans, and in Europe Roma and Jews who couldn’t escape coloniality. I think the basic difference between decoloniality and postcoloniality, is that the latter depends and piggy backed on the concept of postmodernity while the former is an unfolding of the Bandung Conference, in 1955. That is why the past in the present toward the future is crucial for decolonial thinking and that is why without an epistemic revolution there cannot be political or economic revolutions: politics and economy are tied up and grounded in Western political theory and political economy.
Now, enter re-westernization and dewesternization as an option coexisting with the decolonial option. China is responding well to that in the process of political dewesternization, which means to manage capitalist economy beyond the rules of the IMF. If you read Christine Lagarde’s speech delivered on March 18, 2012 as you read a literary text, you will see several interesting indicators: although she is a French officer at the IMF, she speaks as if her position at the IMF allows her to be impartial and above developed and emerging economies. Second, she cannot avoid honoring China’s economic growth, and she cannot avoid being “ma/paternalistic.” She knows that the time when Western officer of international institutions give advice to emerging economy has passed. However, she couldn’t restrain from offering some advice. And third, she delivered a congratulatory push to suggest changes in China’s fiscal policies. Finally, she quoted Confucius. The fourth point showed that re-westernization continues but now can no longer be a bully. It has to be condescending but presented as respectful recognition of China’s achievement.
But let me add a few lines in the direction you are suggesting. Said’s Orientalism was published in 1978. Let’s say in passing, and please do not take this as a critique of Said but rather of his readers, The illustrious scholar and intellectual Syed Hussein Al-Attas, published in 1977 The Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and Its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism. It was Bruce Lawrence who called this book to my attention and pointed it in Said’s direction. The point here is that Said’s perspective in Orientalism (1978) is that of Comparative Literary Studies, while Al-Attas was the perspective of a Malaysian social scientist who was reflecting on his own history rather than an observer of how Orientalism was made. In this case, there is no opposition between East and West, but entanglement. Al-Atta is a Malaysian intellectual dwelling and thinking in Malaysia: his discourse was addressed to Malaysian basically. That is why we do not know much about Al-Attas and this book but we know much about Said. Said is an Egyptian-Palestinian intellectual dwelling and writing in the US and addressing a Western audience. Here you have a case to understand why the enunciation and geopolitics of knowledge is so crucial in decolonial thinking. In the same vain, and yet in another trajectory, when Kishore Mahbubani—dwelling in Singapore– published in 1999: Can Asian Think?, where he addressed that question head on in a very provocative and effective manner, he was addressing a Western audience as a Singaporean and by so doing already engaging in the process of dewesternization. Said’s book was a pioneering book of what a few years later became known as postcolonialism.
As I mentioned above, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition was published in 1978, as I mentioned a while ago in relation to postcolonalism. It was only after that date that “postcolonialism” became thinkable. “Post-colonialism” doesn’t make sense if you do not have “post-modernity.” So that Orientalism was considered a postcolonial argument after the fact. And finally, Said’s The Question of Palestine published the same year as Orientalism is a second place in Said’s work quoted and commented in the academy. For me, The Question of Palestine is a decolonial argument, parallel, 20-25 years later to Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized (1955, I believe) and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961). So, yes, epistemology is crucial to decolonial thinking because ontology is always an epistemic construct so that for us it is necessary but not sufficient to “study” the economic and political aspects of “capitalism.” Capitalism is possible because its architects and supporters were able to build a structure of knowledge, epistemology, that justify the building of capitalism in spite of all the disasters that many of us know capitalism brings with it. However, the knowledge we have about the deadly consequences of capitalism is always superseded by the control of knowledge of actors and institutions that created it, transformed it, maintains it and now are “saving it.” And the control of knowledge means also formation (e.g., education) and transformation (e.g. media) of subjectivities.
Question 3: As you have mentioned, despite the fact that they were victims of modernity during the colonial period, most of the former coloniesbegan to crave for modernity themselves and tried their best to replicate the metropolitan states after their independence. For most of those third-world countries, one of their primary goals is to develop their economy and improve the living conditions of their people after they won their political independence. The efforts of Gandhi, Mandela, Nkruma and Nasser can be cited as examples of this craze for modernity, though some of them failed tragically. So this is a quite complex issue. All through these years, the living conditions in some third world countries have undoubtedly improved a lot by adopting market economy and other liberal measures to stimulate the economy. But on the other hand, as Samir Amin has pointed out that the gap between these third world countries and the first world countries is not narrowing but widening. How should we interpret this phenomenon? And is it possible for those developing countries to avoid reenacting the darker side of modernity while pursuing market economy?
Walter Mignolo: This is a key issue, and it is related to the dispute for the colonial matrix of power that I mentioned in before. It is also a key issue in the sense that your question could be responded to by invoking “contested modernities” or “the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power.” But I will say this from the beginning: there is no way to avoid coloniality once you enter the road market economy and under the belief that “modernity” is something you have to catch up with. The belief that modernity is something you have to catch up with was the most successful fiction of the European imaginary. And we are still struggling with it. However, from decolonial perspectives, modernity is not something you have to catch up with. When I make this argument, one of the counterarguments I hear is the following: but you enjoy technology and electrical power, don’t you? You like to have hot showers and air conditioner when is extremely hot. My answer is yes, and then I respond with a question: what do all those things, electricity, technology, hot water have to do with “modernity”? Think about it, I will not give you the answer yet. But I gave you the elements to think about how to answer this question. The second more pressing question is that of development and growth. Once again, what does modernity have to do with growth and development? We need to delink, as Amin said it in the 80s, but not from capitalist economy but from the colonial matrix of power of which economic coloniality is one sphere.
First of all, we have to delink from the idea that economic growth is the road to happiness for all. It is for a minority, that minority that is growing bigger in wealth while the majority is growing bigger in poverty. So, economic growth is a lie, a lie that keeps the logic of coloniality hidden under the rhetoric of modernity. I am not talking here about a socialist distribution of wealth but of a radical change of horizon in which growth, development = wealth is not the guiding light of governments (which shall not necessarily be States), financial institutions (which shall not be necessarily banks), industries (which do not necessarily need to be corporations), institutions for nurturing and education (which shall not necessarily be corporate universities that support research for national security and for transnational corporations). If the horizon of life is to live in plenitude and to enjoy the life of the planet, well, it is necessary to delink from the fantasies and illusions of modernity.
We are now in a world order significantly different to the one Samir Amin was looking at when he made that observation. As a matter of fact, that observation was also made in the 1950s by Argentinian economist Raul Presbisch (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 1950-1963). Presbisch observed that the plan of development and modernization for Latin America and the Caribbean that United Nations asked him to report, was impossible in the current state of international economic relations for, as we know, developed countries are such because they live from the resources and the surplus extracted from underdeveloped countries. Dependency theory (as I mentioned before when talking about Quijano) and the Caribbean New World Group emerged precisely to think how to get out of the trap, that is, of the entanglement of modernity/coloniality. The Caribbean New World Group has a very interesting economic history of the Caribbean as a “plantation economy.” I mention this because it is common to other parts of the world, like in South East Asia as Syed Hussein Alatas demonstrated in The Myth of the Lazy Native. A Study of the image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and its function in the ideology of Colonial Capitalism (1977).
As you rightly observe, it was a frustrating experience for people and honest politicians and intellectuals to see how the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries continue to grow. What are developed are not the economies but the gap, and millions of people know that development is not convenient for them but they do not have a say and if they protest, they are considered delinquent or terrorist that prevent progress and development. In many parts of the world, “Foreign Debt” was the killer since the end of the 60s. Now it is the killer in Europe, as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal know very well. Now we are seeing it in Europe! The situation has changed, and Greece, Italy and Spain are (next to former-Eastern European countries), in conditions similar to Third World countries before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But let me say this before continuing: dewesternization refers to “emergent” economies that discovered the way to maintain capitalist economy and at the same time to struggle for the control of all other domains of the colonial matrix of power, chiefly political decisions in the international arena and the dispute for the control of knowledge. China is no doubt a paramount example of economic take off disobeying the IMF and the World Bank. Now, that doesn’t solve the problems within each country and even less the question of coloniality. The good thing about dewesternization is to avoid one and only global imperialism; perhaps it was what Hardt and Negri were thinking about when they wrote Empire. They wrote the book in the nineties when still many believed in the end of history and in the infinite economic growth, the illusion of the techno-bubble and the “irrational exuberance”. But dewesternization doesn’t solve the problem of coloniality—as far as capitalism is preserved, economic coloniality is preserved too.
What has changed, what is going on? As you know better than I (and I have just mentioned when talking about the Bandung Conference), China was a Third World country during the Cold War, as was India and Brazil. And Russia (or Soviet Union) was the Second World. Now four of those countries are BRICs that is power emerged, rather than emerging, economies. What happened? What happened is that the leaders of these countries understood that it is impossible to narrow the gap if the country follows the instructions of the IMF, the World Bank and the political dictates of Washington. I will not say that China and Russia or Brazil are First World Countries now. I will say that that division doesn’t hold any more. We are in a polycentric and capitalist world order and there are more than two contenders in the arena. I call that “dewesternization.” Dependency theorists were saying that in the seventies, you cannot “develop” if you follow the instructions of the IMF on how to develop. You have to figure out yourself, that is, to become economically independent in decision-making and interconnected in the negotiations. That, once again are dewesternizing projects that BRICs countries are leading.
China understood that before Brazil and India. Russia needed a decade to figure out how to build a strong economic and political state (?) after the disaster induced by neo-liberalism that made 10 Russians multi-billionaires in a couple of years. Vladimir Putin is controversial internationally and contested inside Russia. But imagine what may have happened to Russia if the country was in the hands of Yeltzin’s friends? A no-win situation, indeed. Now Russia is one of the BRICS states and these countries are learning what a capitalist economy is and instead of following Western instructions they are rather thanking the West for letting him know what capitalist economy is and to manage it in their own way. That is precisely what dewesternization is. Amin was not seeing deweseternization as an unfolding of history. He was too much programmed by Marxist teleology and the Right vs. Left conflict and because of that, Amin was unable to understand the role of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, in North Africa and in the Muslim World (as it is clear in the last chapter of his book on delinking).
I have been talking about politico-economic dewesternization, mainly secular, as we find it among BRICS countries. But a second aspect of dewesternization is politico-religious, and Islam is one of the strong forces moving in that direction. Malaysia, Indonesia and Iran are three such countries. Dewesternization (which is, let’s not forget, based on strong economic grounding or development if you wish) is making the world poly-centered, a world order with a common economy and many centers of decision. If capitalist is “the common”, that is, the common ground of world economy the other domains of the colonial matrix are being disputed: the control of authority, the control and management of knowledge and subjectivity, of gender and sexuality, and racism is contested at a global level: “Eastern” people were considered “Yellow” and inferior to “White.” No longer.
Question 4: I totally agree with what you said about your judgment about the current international situation. The thriving of the new economies in the third world cannot conceal the fact that colonialism did not end with the collapse of the empire after World War II. With multi-national companies and world organizations like the World Bank as its vanguard, colonialism does not take the form of actual domination and control. The colonial mechanism is still maintained by the networks weaved by capital.
Walter Mignolo: I would say that coloniality is not “maintained by the networks weaved by capital” but, on the contrary, that it is the persistence of “the networks weaved by coloniality that maintains capital(ism).” Now here you see the difference between Marxist and decolonial thinking. “Capitalism” is something that Max Weber and Vladimir Lenin did not agreed upon. Weber liked it, Lenin did not. But they both agree that there is something we can call capitalism. For us what is crucial is the colonial matrix, and “economic coloniality” is one sphere of the colonial matrix, the sphere that (neo) liberals and Marxists have fetishized.
So, the persistence of the colonial matrix of power has maintained economic coloniality and, in the past 30 years, economic coloniality has become the sphere of the colonial matrix that governs the other spheres. But it was not always like that. In the history of the American colonialism mutated into internal colonialism from 1776 to 1830 approximately, the US (called “American”) Revolution, 1776 the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and several independences in Spanish America, 1809-1830, all showed in different and complex ways that the first cycle of colonialism ended, but not coloniality, the logic of management and control behind the rhetoric of modernity. Coloniality mutated into four different forms: a) internal colonialism in the US and in the Spanish American new republics. Internal colonialism means that the colonial matrix of power was now in the hand of Creoles (e.g., people of European descent born in the New World, basically Anglos in the North and Latin (Spanish and Portuguese in the South) and b) imperialism without colonies (China and Japan were brought into the colonial matrix without being colonized like India or French Indochina). That happened in South America and the Caribbean were the British and the French, displaced Spain and Portugal, and “supervised” the local elites that were collaborators of the new stage of imperial/colonial expansion and capital accumulation; c) the Creoles Anglo elite in the US who also transformed British colonialism into US internal colonialism took a different path: the road to imperialism, a project that was achieved after WWII; and d) the most unexpected decolonizing act that took place in Haiti in 1804–unthinkable revolution made by the bottom of the New World population, enslaved Africans and theirs descents. That people of European descent lead the US revolution and the Spanish America independence is understandable. They belonged to the ruling class, but as Creoles were played down by the metropolitan elites occupying all the key monastic, economic and political sites. But that the enslaved will take freedom in their hand was indeed unthinkable, and that unthinkability cost Haiti the troubles it has endured until today.
So, the second stage in Asia and Africa, that is, decolonization from 1947 to 1970 is nothing else but the continuation and mutation of what happened in the Americas at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century: local elites sending the imperial colonizer home and doing themselves what the colonizer were doing. Imperialism/colonialism ended in Africa and Asia, but not coloniality. To understand that what happened in America and the Caribbean at the end of eighteenth and beginning of nineteenth century equivalent to what happened in Asia and Africa in the second half of the twentieth century (well India independence in 1947), you have to bet out a lineal concept of history and understand how the modern/colonial world system came into being, was transformed, maintained and engendered decolonial struggles.
Now after WWII the increasing role of the US as global leader was the sign of another important mutation of the malleability of the colonial matrix of power. The Cold War was an interesting interregnum for the Russian Revolution that took place between the first wave of the decolonization in the Americas and the second wave in Asia and Africa, is interesting because it is not decolonization but a different form of imperial expansion: the expansion of communism instead of the civilizing mission. In other words, at the time it happened, the Russian Revolution was not so much a decolonial revolution but extension of Europe in the borders of Europe, a second class empire as Madina Tlostanova (Uzbek-Cherkess scholar and intellectual living in Moscow) would have it. Just think of it, how shall we understand the Russian Revolution in the context of the first wave of decolonization in the Americas and the second wave in Africa and Asia? The Russian Empire was not a colony of Europe. So that the Russian Revolution doesn’t follow the same logic as the decolonial trajectory in the Americas it follows, rather, the logic of the French Revolution: the French Revolution was the revolution of a new class, the bourgeoisie. The Russian Revolution was a revolution in the name of the proletarian class. The Cold War was indeed not a clash between the colonies and the metropolis but a clash between two post-Enlightenment ideologies—liberalism and capitalism vs. communist economy, that is, between laissez faire capitalist and state regulated communism.
As for the world order today, which is the “before last” part of your question, I see it in relation to the previous historical scheme to what, of course, it is necessary to add the trajectory followed by China since the Opium War. As I see it, the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, was quite different from all the revolts that took place up to that time in the modern/colonial world (that is, in the world system whose historical foundation we, the modernity/coloniality project, date in the sixteenth century). Different in the sense that a) the revolts in the colonies of Americas were all against European Christian imperial monarchies; b) the Russian Revolution was as I said before, a revolution against the Czardom in the name of the proletarian class and c) the Chinese revolution of 1911 was a nationalist revolution, that is, the idea of the nation-state that was put in place in Europe after the French Revolution was the frame of the Chinese Guomindangs overthrowing the Qings. A nationalist revolution is very different from one based on a social class. A nationalist revolution appeals to the past of what is being formed as a nation, and that is what Sun Yat-Sen made clear in his “Three Principles of Livelihood” (1927). In this regard, the nationalist revolution in China has this in common with all the struggles for decolonization in Asia and Africa since 1945: all decolonization struggles since the nineteenth century were made in the name of nationalism, which Fanon theorized in his classical The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Mao Zedong’s effort attempted to turn the nationalist revolution into the internationalization of communism. However, contrary to the Russian Revolution, Mao never left behind the millenarian history of China while the Russian Revolution made a drastic cut with the past and came empty handed: Russians were not Europeans and the Soviets, who enacted European theories of emancipation, did not have a history to back up their revolution. The history of the formation since the fifteenth century was cut and denied by the Soviets. Today’s Russia, with Vladimir Putin, turned the legacies of the Soviet into a State controlled capitalism but devoid of historical foundations while China has the legacies of Confucius and Mencius to refurbish national and moral values to confront the aggression of Western neo-liberalism and to detach themselves from Mao’s legacies.
In a nutshell, coloniality (short hand for colonial matrix of power) was formed, transformed and controlled by Western imperial countries from 1500 to 2000. Today, dewesternization maintains the colonial matrix, but disputes its control, while decoloniality aims at transcending it. Hence, de-coloniality means to undo and to overcome coloniality. That is the most important difference with the way decolonization was conceived during the Cold War.
“Delinking” and Empire by Michael Hardt
Question 1: Indeed, China’s model has achieved spectacular success in terms of economy. However, environmental deterioration has roused the anxiety of the whole nation. In some African countries, due to overexploitation, their dependence upon foreign market and even the spreading of diseases like AIDS, the environment and the overall well-being of people have even deteriorated during the so-called march towards modernity. More and more Chinese people begin to reflect upon the notion of progress, which is believed to be the natural fruit of modernity.
Walter Mignolo: First of all, the notion of “progress” is basically related to the “mission civilizatrice” and gained currency in the nineteenth century. However, it can be traced back to the Renaissance. When the US took over from Britain, after WWII, the “progress” was translated into “development.” It is known that Harry Truman in his presidential address of 1949 introduced the word “underdeveloped countries.” That was the justification to start the project of “modernization and development.” Latin America was the first showcase. Africa was in full decolonizing struggle and the US was supporting decolonization to displace Europe in world leadership and to confront the Soviet Union. The ideas of “modernization and development” collapsed in 1968 (the uprising in Beijing, Paris, Prague, Mexico) and since then US started a new project, known now as “neoliberalism”. The first showcase where neoliberalism experimented was Chile, with Augusto Pinochet, after the fall of Salvador Allende. Then came Videla in Argentina, Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia, Menem in Argentina in the 90s. In the middle of all of that, the financial crisis in East Asia and in Russia exploded. A new “development” now was the Neoliberal Doctrine and the Washington Consensus. You can see this as mutation of the colonial matrix in the last attempt of maintaining the project of Westernization (self-defined as globalization and modernity). By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was obvious, although in Latin America this discussion began before; that “progress” and “development” are a dream that cannot be sustained. We analyze (in the project modernity/coloniality) “progress” and “development” as the rhetoric of modernity, which is a rhetoric of salvation in the words of the G7, the World Bank, The European Union and the US. But we, in the project, know that the rhetoric of modernity hides the logic of coloniality: to develop you need to expropriate land, exploit labor, poisoning the fields with transgenic and fumigation to allow the soya beans to grown clean and colorful, while people died of leukemia and cancer; the gaps between rich and poor is growing; Forbes magazine celebrates that in the past decades the number of multi-billionaires increased, many of those are outside Western Europe and the US, where the wealthy were before.
In the meantime, the economic system is collapsing; the political system is engendering all kind of manifestations, which are an awakening of the civil society and the formation of the global political society. The world is in flames, and the world is in flames because it has been built on the chimera of progress and development instead of collaboration and communal peaceful organization of societies. Communal, I mind you, is not communism, which is a Western idea derived from the enlightenment, thus it is not the universal common, but the non-modern communal (neither communism nor the liberal common good or common wealth). The communal is by definition pluriversal, for it doesn’t accept the idea of a “new abstract universal” that will be good for everyone because it is good for me. The communal is the decolonial door opening up to the pluriversal, beyond capitalism and communism. The idea of “progress and development” is what capitalism and communism had in common, they are all part of Western Civilization and what we are witnessing now is the collapse of these ideals. China and many countries in East Asia have followed this path, have appropriated and are following their own path on what Western Civilization achieved, economically and politically (liberalism and communism), and it is confronting the same problems that the West confronted. But since in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, Central Asia and the Caucasus are the living seeds of non-modern ways of life (notice that I say non-modern and not pre-modern) that have always co existed with modernity, the hope is that the decolonial will take over in all those place. In South America and the Caribbean there is since the sixties a growing and powerful discourse on decolonization. And so it subsists in Africa and in Asia. Briefly, “progress and development” are no longer a desirable horizon of life because they are part of the rhetoric of modernity that carries with it coloniality, that is, expropriation, exploitation, pollutions and death.
Question 2: The urge to “de-link” is widely felt in most third world countries. What is at issue is that how can this be possible when neo-liberalism has already become the dominant “structure of feeling” in most parts of the world?
Walter Mignolo: Two things. Neo-liberalism is now in bankruptcy. You can see it all over the place, in the financial crisis, the end-road to find solutions, the proliferations of unhappy people expressing it all over, organized communities in South America stopping the corporations from destroying the environment and poisoning the lands and the water with transgenic and cyanide in open pit mining. And secondly, we shall not confuse neo-liberalism with market economy and the fetichization of commodities. Certainly, neo-liberalism contributed to that, but neo-liberalism wants a weakened state and a free invisible hand. China, Singapore, Japan are on the contrary, strong states regulating the economy. That is not neo-liberalism and that chiasm is one aspect of dewesternization.
The questions of delinking shall not, on the other hand, be limited to the State and continue to hope that States will do what people want States to do. What we are seeing in the sphere of the States is dewesternization. And that is a form of delinking, delinking from Western scripts and from transnational institutions, like IMF and the World Bank, still controlled by the West but already under heavy scrutiny from the rest of the world. 6http://www.wpfdc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=862:we-need-a-new-world-order-at-the-world-bank&catid=41:economics&Itemid=92&lang=en;
What is surprising in this respect is that the politization of the civil society (you know the civil society was not politicized, it was civil). I was in the Rhodes Public Forum in October of 2011. About 600 scholars, religious figures, officers of the states, journalists, mainly from Russia, India and the Middle East agreed on the failure of the neoliberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus. My panel on “Post-Secularism” was one day but the conference occupied three and a half days. So I attended the opening and closing panels, and several other panels. Among the opening panelist speakers was Johan Galtung. Interestingly enough the consensus was that the neoliberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus have failed. The next week I was in Santo Domingo, in the Biarritz Forum, lead French institutions with the support and collaboration of Latin American and Caribbean countries. More or less the same kind of people and the same amount and about 12 ex-Presidents attended the Forum. There was a consensus that the neo-liberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus failed. So, then, neo-liberalism is no longer the dominant “structure of feeling.” The “structure of feeling” is a growing rage from the politization of the civil society. For what you have in those Fora is nothing else than the civil society at its best, not the political society. Rage and disenchantment was the consensus. They are of course, dewesternizer, nor decolonial or even Marxists. So, what connects the world is capitalism, but not neo-liberalism. The politicized civil society is not denying capitalism; it is denying neo-liberalism. Delinking is first of all an epistemic question: without thinking otherwise is difficult to imagine global futures beyond Western structure of thoughts and structure of feelings (that is, epistemology, ontology and aiesthesis—sensing).
Now, in the same way that we cannot con-fuse economy with capitalism, we cannot con-fuse capitalism with neo-liberalism. China is capitalist, but I will not say for a second that is neo-liberal. That is why Chinese Confucianism is being re-articulated. If you do not re-articulate Confucianism, or something that is in your history, you run the risk of entering into neo-liberalism or being convinced that you have to start with Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau etc. Chinese leaders and intellectuals need Confucius rather than Milton Friedman, which was the economist behind Reagan-Thatcher duo promoting neo-liberal ideals. Dewesternization is already a way of delinking, not from capitalism but from neo-liberal global design. And dewesternization is the politics of China, of Singapore, of Russia, of Brazil, and not sure yet, but in part at least India. This politico-economic delinking is one aspect of dewesternization.
On the other hand, Dewesternization or Islamization are being, had been, predicated in the sphere of the politico-religious. And this is another form of delinking that could take the form of dewesternization (like in Malaysia and Indonesia) or decoloniality (politico-religious project run by the political society independently from the State). This is also a way of delinking and clearly not following the globalization of Western values. That is Islamism taking charge of the economy. Sure, Indonesia and Chinese capitalism are no better that German or US capitalism, but certainly are not the same. I am not saying that polycentered capitalism is better than monocentered capitalism. I am saying that there is an important difference and we should pay attention to it. “Delinking” is a process, a huge and global process that is happening now at different levels and will continue during the twentieth century, at the same time that forces preventing delinking will continue to operate: that forces is the constant updating of re-westernization as the West “resist” loosing the privileges that enjoyed for such a long time. Re-westernization means to keep total control of the colonial matrix of power. Delinking are processes difficult to see because CNN and CCTV are hiding it with music and colors and the triumphal smile of their program anchors.
So do not expect “delinking” as something that happens at once, by decree or revolution, There are thousands of cases around the world (perfectly silenced by main stream television in the East and the West, Al Jazeera being always the exception), like what is going on now in Argentina: they call it a “pueblada” the getting together of the people (the pueblo) of the town to stop mega-mining and kick out the transnational corporations. Delinking is something that the political society, and we as members of the political society, has to build constantly at different levels. We need a vision of the future, delinking is the first step, but we cannot have a blue print and force everyone to fit the model. We know what happens when that case is presented. “Pueblada” is a manifestation of the political society that carries its own leadership. And they are doing it. That is another clear case of the growing political society. Now what is at stake is no longer improving working conditions and providing job: that is the concern of the IMF and the States. The IMF and the capitalist States want people who live to work, while delinking means that we want a society where people work to live. What is at stake is life, not jobs to the benefit of those who take away and provide jobs. When open pit mining forms lakes of water with cyanide used to extract the metal from the stone, and the people are dying of cancer and leukemia, the problem is not to have a job but to have a life: the life of nature is the life of our bodies. That is the growing global political society. Certainly, banks are big, corporations are transnational, the state works with the corporations and the bank and the media with all of them. It seems like a structure that will never collapse. But think that that structure keeps happy probably one billion of seven billion of people in the planet. And the awareness that our life are at risk because of the organized and legal delinquency ruling in the name of development, is growing. There is much more going on than the mainstream media knows or do not want to know. Depending whether you watch the news or read US of German information, or China or Singapore, you will hear a lot about rewesternization and dewesternization but not about decoloniality. This is being covered by what is now called “self-managed journalism.”
Perhaps it is less visible or not yet possible in East and South Asia. But I do not think so. Delinking means to delink from the magic of the media that keep us glued to what the States and the Corporations do, as if that was the entire world; and from the myth of the expert that takes away the capacity of people to think and have their/own opinion about what the expert hides. It means to delink from education, it means learning to unlearn what have been taught to us in order to relearn. For the expert is a one-dimensional-man who at the same time is ignorant about the larger picture of his or her expertise. The global political society a fourth crucial actor, next to the politization of the civil society, the traditional third actor that now is getting up on its feet due to the degree of aberration we find in the States and the Corporations.
As you can imagine, the map I have drawn above is based on the analytic of the colonial matrix of power and, therefore, is decolonial thinking in action.
Question 3: In most countries, capitalism has been worshiped as the best solution to all these economical problems. Maybe those developing countries are willing to avoid or even counter the influence of western ideology, but few of them would give up capitalism or market economy as the most efficient way of developing economy. When Partha Chatterjee talks about India’s independence, he points out that one of the strategies is to oppose modernity in the name of modernity. Wang Hui, a Chinese scholar used “the modernity of anti-modernity” to describe the emergency of modernity in China in a similar way. Is this a kind of delinking or can we say that these are also decolonial projects? And can we use decolonialism to theorize the social reality of China? As you know, the situation in China is quite different from that in other third-world countries.
Walter Mignolo: There are three points in your question. First, if your goal is development then the best way to do it so far is capitalism. The question is, shall development be the only vision and goal of human conviviality? The second point, when Chatterjee talks about “our modernity” and underlines that our modernity has to be built on one hundred years of British colonization and one hundred years before 1857 based on commerce in India, he is talking about the conditions that leads to “contesting modernities” as I mentioned before, and dewesternization. It is not clear whether decolonial projects will likely keep “modernity” as a goal, since in our view there is no modernity without coloniality. So, while I agree with Chatterjee in his emphasis on delinking from “Western modernity” I do not think that modernity can be pursued without coloniality. Therefore, Chatterjee’s claim as formulated looks like a program for dewesternization. The third point, the position sustained by Wang Hui. In fact, it seems to me that he is very well describing China’s effective dewesternization. The open question is whether there is a difference between the politic of the State and that of the New Left.
When I describe China’s state politics as dewesternization I am already engaged in a decolonial analysis; that is, I am making the distinction between decolonial perspectives that is of my discourse, and dewesternization that is a concept through which East Asian make sense of their own practices and goals. Singaporean Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the School of Public Policy Lee Kuan Yew elaborated the concept as precisely the politics of accepting development and capitalism but taking your destiny in your own hands. That is precisely what China and Singapore are doing. It seems to me then that Wang Hui’s position coincides with that of Mahbubani. And that is showing as that looking and the changing winds of the world order based on the three major trajectories I have mentioned (rewesternization, dewesternization and decoloniality), makes obsolete the distinction between Left and Right that emerged from the European enlightenment. I would say then that Mahbubani and Hui coincide in the need to dewesternize although they may differ in the way to do it; they coincide in the goals, while they may differ in the methods.
Yes, I know, China is different to most of the ex-Third World countries for many reasons. One of them is its long, lasting and rich history which carries with it ways of thinking and doing. The ways that China embraced capitalism and market economy compatible with a strong State cannot be understood as reproducing Western capitalism and Western communism through Mao Zedong. There was and is something else that is neither Western (neo) liberalism nor Western communism outside of the West. I would not fall into the easy interpretation and explain it by Confucianism. I would say that there is something that is the way Chinese of today make sense of their past, their memories, their own ways of thinking, living and doing. The same way you can explain that deep experience that Western civilization built grounded in Greece and Rome. Similarly, in Africa and the Indigenous nations around the world, there is no a name that explains the persistence of their way of thinking and being. Similar observations we can make through the Islamic world, from the Middle East trough South East Asia: there is something there that is their own and which the Koran is obviously a crucial moment, but I would think it is not all: there was already something built in communal formations that made the Koran needed and possible. So, in that sense, China is different from many Third World countries, but is very similar but very similar to many civilizations in the world that were disavowed and humiliated by the narratives of Western modernities that are coming to term with a period of history that now is being overcome. Dewesternization and decoloniality are two of those wide ranging trajectories. And, interestingly enough, both dewesternization and decoloniality are projects that have much to do with overcoming the Western imperial humiliation, whether you carry the traces of the colonial or the imperial wounds.
So, your question, whether it is possible to analyze and make sense of China politics, nationally and internationally, from a decolonial perspective, my answer is yes. That is what I did in the previous paragraph. Mine was not an analysis following the norms of sociology, economy, political sciences, or anthropology, but was a decolonial interpretation of China’s politics of dewesternization.
Now, another question that could be asked: is it possible to think decolonially in China and to carry on decolonial projects in different walks of life? Certainly it is because for decolonial thinking it is irrelevant whether a people was colonized or not. As I have said several times, China did not escape coloniality and dewesternization and decoloniality are two different responses to coloniality. Dewesternization doesn’t delink from capitalist economy, but delinks in all other spheres of the colonial matrix: who decides about what. Which doesn’t mean also that the one billion plus Chinese will endorse dewesternization: it means that dewesternization is a project and a Chinese response to coloniality whether or not 100% of Chinese will know or accept it. That is an important issue for everybody expecting that when a project is not Western, it shall “represent” all the people. Western Democratic Party system doesn’t mean that all the citizens of France, Germany or the US would agree with the politics of one party. It means also that not all Europeans and US citizens would agree with the project of rewesternization lead by the US and supported by the EU. It means that rewesternization is a Western project, whether it “represents” all citizens or not. So, then, since dewesternization and decoloniality are responses to delinking from the colonial matrix of power, decolonial projects could very well unfold in China. Not necessarily from the government, it is too much to expect at this point. But it should come, if it comes, from the political society. There is no need of public manifestation here, it is a question of beginning to think and act otherwise. Decoloniality is basically an epistemic project with political, economical and ethical implications.
Now let’s go back to the situation you describe through Partha Chatterjee and Wang Hui, and let me say first that I am sympathetic with their views. From what I said before, you can see that I do not fully endorse them. What is important are the issues they are raising, even if you do not agree with the way they frame the issues they are raising. The dilemma “modernity of anti-modernity” is a complex issue but, basically, it is an example of the entanglement and the fact that the imperial force of modernity forces responses that cannot be detached from modernity. So delinking doesn’t mean that you reject modernity and go to the mountain. It doesn’t mean either that you oppose modernity following its logic. That is, that you contest the content but not the logic, that you contest the content but do not change the terms of the conversation. So, what Hui and Chatterjee are pointing out is happening in India, in China, in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in Central Asia, in the Middle East. Briefly, all over the world that had to respond to the ideals of modernity that Western actors and institutions encroached upon them. Some rejected, some embraced it and some embraced modernity but defended their own nationalist interests. None of this is delinking. All of these are examples of imperial/colonial entanglements. “Delinking” are projects whose very beginning and foundations is the theorization of the very idea of “delinking.” Delinking is what the decolonial option is proposing. It means that there is no way out if the terms of the conversations are not changed. As I have been saying, today “delinking” is proceeding in two directions, some times complementary some times confrontational: dewesternization and decoloniality.
Question 4: I guess, to delink is a project which involves all aspects of the society, that is to say, we should endeavor to delink economically, politically as well as culturally. Facing the prevalent cultural supremacy or hegemony of America, Third World countries are also trying to claim their due place the world cultural arena. Last year, a video show called “Experience China”, which aimed to promote China made its debut on screens at Times Square. Can this be regarded as an attempt to delink culturally?
Walter Mignolo:I have not seen “Experience China” but just now I did a search on Google and watch videos shown through China Daily. No, I do not see that video as an attempt to delink. It is the equivalent of videos shown by France, Germany or the US to promote the image of their own country. The difference here is though important: if you see a video of France, Germany or France in China you know that this country had the upper hand on you since the Opium War. When “Experience China” is shown in New York the message is clear: we are back, we are here, and we are here to stay—get use to it. I would even hesitate to interpret it as a message of dewesternization. The video responds to the logic of advertising. What the video is saying is that advertising cultures is no longer a privilege of Western countries. If analyzed, it may have also another important function: to counter the image that New Yorkers and US citizens have of China through the US media. I wouldn’t say that is a dewesternizing act, but I would say that is a consequence of the larger project of dewesternization we are witnessing in China, East and South East Asia.
Question 5: The world is now being dominated by new forms of power structures, which is also one of the presuppositions of decolonialism. This issue often reminds me of Michael Hardt’s theoretical formation of “empire”. According to him, “empire” is the new political subject, which governs our world. I have just translated one of the most recent articles of Michael Hardt into Chinese and it was well received here in China. What’s your understanding to the power structure of the contemporary world? What do you think of his theoretical formation?
Walter Mignolo: I would say that what you call “new forms of power” is nothing other than the mutation of the colonial matrix due to the fact that new actors are disputing its control. Some of them, embracing economic coloniality but disputing the control of the matrix (dewesternization); others by looking at transcending the principles and belief systems that brought the matrix into existence (decoloniality); and finally, the efforts to mutate the matrix to maintain its control (rewesternization; of which Lagarde’s speech mentioned before is a exemplar). What is “new” is not really new; it is the series of mutations that the colonial matrix is going through. In that regard, the decolonial project has a view remarkably different to that of Hardt and Negri. “Empire” as the new political subject governing the world looks to me as the reincarnation of Hegel’s “Spirit”. The only difference is that Spirit was good and Empire is bad. For us, again, what governs the world since the sixteenth century is the colonial matrix of power. This is the decolonial view. Hardt and Negri offer a postmodern view. And there is no way to subsume one into the other, unless you have an imperialist and totalitarian bent to explain everything the way you understand them disregarding how other people think. I would say that Spirit/Empire and the colonial matrix are two explanations coming from different local histories: the local history of Europe the first and the colonial local histories the second.
I needed this sketchy trajectory to respond to this question—the power structure of the contemporary world and what I think about “empire.” Both questions are indeed related. In a nutshell, the thesis is the following: from 1500 to 2000, that is from the European Renaissance to US Neoliberalism a new civilization appeared on the planet, Western Civilization. Western Civilization built its infrastructure, the colonial matrix of power, a complex structure of interrelated domains (the political, the economic, the subjective, the epistemic) that allows for both the building of Europe as the cradle of Western Civilization and the colonization of the non-European world. For five hundred years the colonial matrix of power (coloniality for short) was created, transformed, maintained and managed by Western imperial States (Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, England and the US). And that was possible because knowledge was in the hands of actors, in the archives of institutions and categories of thought that belonged and made it possible to build the idea of Western Civilization. By 2000 it is no longer the case: global conflicts now are around the dispute for the control of the colonial matrix. The global order is capitalist, but the West is not longer calling the shot. If China had followed the instructions of the IMF and the World Bank it would not be what it is now. China delinked, grew economically, gained political force in global decisions, have regained the confidence lost after the humiliation of the Opium War. Those memories are not forgotten by those who were racialized, humiliated and forced to follow rules that they do not wanted to follow because they were not their own rules, be them Chinese, Indians, Africans, Native Americans, Muslims, etc. So in a nutshell: before 1500 the world was polycentric and non-capitalist, from 1500 to 2000 the world became monocentric and capitalist and from 2000 on the world became polycentric and capitalist.
What I think about “Empire”? I already said something above. I would add that it was a consequence of the triumphalist view of neo-liberal end of history; secondly the book (I imagine you refer to the concept as articulated by Hardt and Negri) appeared in 2000 and was written during the years of the neo-liberal euphoria of the end of history and infinite growth. It appeared at that point that indeed the US was that “empire” that has under its wing the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and of course Russia, who was dismembered by the “shock doctrine” (2007) that Naomi Klein analyzed and that Joseph Stiglitz (2000) rendered as “globalization and its discontent.” In my reading, however, those of us who were attentive to the raise of China and East Asia countries, did not believe much either in the neoliberal euphoria or in the post-modern Marxist reading of history provided in the book. If you think in terms of coloniality and colonial matrix of power and began to see that the colonial matrix may soon escape the control of the West, as it was possible to imagine at the end of the 90s, then “empire” is a justifiable reading of Euro-American left but nothing more. At that time, end of the nineteenth century, we were looking at (and I published a lengthy article in Spanish in 2002–Global Coloniality, Capitalism and Epistemic Hegemony–where I analyzed four “models” to understand the present situation: world-system analysis (Wallerstein), network society (Castell), empire (Hardt and Negri) and Modernity/Coloniality (Quijano, Dussel, myself et al). In a later version I added “the clash of Civilizations” (Huntington). The later was a model that runs along the lines of neo-liberalism while the formers were all critical of neoliberalism. Each model told a different story. One of the problems I noticed in Empire is the canonical jump from the Roman Empire to the heart of Europe (France, England, Germany) and then to the US. The very foundation of the modern/colonial world, the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and the Iberian Peninsula, were glossed over– standard blindness among European intellectuals who look at the eighteenth century for the foundation of modernity. So, as I think in terms of options, “empire” is a theoretical option that fits the skin and mentality of Eurocentered intellectuals but that is of not much relevance for those of us who think in terms of modernity/coloniality and the colonial matrix of power. I think in terms of options because the polycentricity of the actual world is also epistemic, so that we can no longer hope for a Pope in Rome who will tell the 7 billion people in the world what is world is like and what to do toward the future. Polycentricity not only means economic politico-economic disobedience to the Western enforcement of the colonial matrix (which is different from “empire”) but it means also epistemic disobedience (I argued this point in a recent article “Epistemic disobedience, independent thought and decolonial freedom, 2009). In a nutshell “empire” is the Euro-US (First World) narrative of the formation of Western Civilization from a post-modern/Marxist perspective, while the “colonial matrix of power” is the South America and Caribbean (Third World) narrative of the formation of Western Civilization from a decolonial perspective.
Liberation and the Prospect of “Harmony”
Question 1: During the 1980s and 1990s, various schools of poststructuralist and postmodern theories were introduced into China, which caused a thrill among Chinese intellectuals. To a certain extent, the ultimate goal of these theories is to fight for “the return of the repressed.” Can we say that this is also one of the agendas of decolonialism?
Walter Mignolo: The “repressed” are returning and they do not need the “theory of some schools.” Decolonial theories are not fighting for the return of the repressed but are the repressed returning in spite of who is fighting for they/our return. Notice that postmodern and poststructuralists were advanced mainly by white Euro/American intellectuals. In that sense, I am not surprised that Chinese intellectuals fell into that illusion. It happened in other parts of the world too. And I think it was the last moment in history in which the Western right (neoliberalism) and the Western left (Marxism and its postmodern and poststructuralist versions), were producing the illusion that Eurocentered critiques of Europe and Eurocentrism was valid for the non-European world.
Decolonial thinkers never swallow that pill. That is why Frantz Fanon, to name the better known, and for Latin Americans, Jose Carlos Mariategui, were the guiding lights. Both, in different ways, say the connections between racism, coloniality and capitalism. They did use the word coloniality but colonialism, but it was clear that they do not have yet a word to name what they were talking about.
In that regard, decoloniality is the thought of the repressed or of the barbarians themselves/ourselves, and not about the barbarians and the repressed, and not of some avant guard Euro-US intellectual or anthropologist, journalist or Hollywood actor, who is “saving the oppressed.” The barbarians and repressed are saving themselves: dewesternization and decoloniality are the ways they/we are doing it At that time, it was supposed that Third World intellectuals are not supposed to theorize by themselves: they/we are barbarians. That is why Chinese as well as other non-European intellectuals needed European theories to think. It was the same with the economy. Underdeveloped countries thought that the IMF and development theories of the West would save their life. In the same way, Third World progressive intellectuals were supposed (and they/we accepted to be epistemically and ontologically self-colonized) to comment and apply theories coming from the First world. Repressed and barbarians are scalars terms, not everyone repressed is in chains and not every barbarian is walking naked covered with animal furs.
Fanon was not just writing “about the wretched of the earth”, he was himself one of the “wretched,” and he was writing as a wretched not just about the wretched. His was theorizing as wretched, his was barbarian theorizing, that is why he received scant attention in the period of “high” postmodern and poststructuralist theories. His writing was already the unmistakable sign of the return of the repressed. In my writing I am trying to follow suit. I am not trying to theorize the subaltern, to save the repressed, but to fight the repressive logic of coloniality of which we are all victims, including the one who assumes themselves to be beyond the colonial matrix and leading the world toward peace and prosperity. So it is necessary to accept that being a scholar and an intellectual and being at Duke is not being out of the “epistemically wretched” unless you think that once you reached a certain institutional level you are no longer target of the wide range of racial prejudice and you also think that the damnes shall always be where they are, until postmodern and poststructuralist intellectuals come to save them. That is also the discourse of Christianity, of liberalism and of Marxism—the Salvationist rhetoric of modernity, from the right, the left and the center. If you reduce the wretched to a social class and to an extreme level of poverty, you will not understand that coloniality, or of what Fanon is talking about. Fanon offers us indeed both an analytic of coloniality as a grammar of decoloniality. He focused on racial coloniality of knowledge and of being, in racial discrimination at all levels of social formation and at all levels of the social ladder. He, as a Black Caribbean, makes me understand that I am not white because I have white skin and blue eyes, and I did not become “white” for being at Duke. In the US, I am “Hispanic” in the official classification (passport, state forms) a “Latino” in the civil society where “Hispanics” has been rejected, as it is a State classification. “Latinos/as” doesn’t have much to do with Spain to which “Hispanic” refers. There are Chicanos/as (of Mexican descent) and Latinos/as at Duke who are not becoming “white” either.
On the other hand, there are thousands of Latinos/as (the way we see ourselves) holding academic positions. They do not need poststructuralist and postmodern theories to work toward their own liberation. Even when they are utterly familiar with post-modern and post-structuralist theories, they twisted to the point in which decolonial thinking and Latino/as experiences overcome the Euro-American experiences that are at the bases of post-modern and post-colonial theories. 7Two examples of Latino/as decolonial theorizing are the classical book by Gloria Anzaldua, Borderland/La Frontera. The New Mestiza (1987) and Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed (2000). Another example would be the influential book by Maori historian Linda T. Smith Decolonizing methodology. Research and Indigenous People (1999). Linda T. Smith lives in New Zealand. The books has been of enormous influence beyond Indigenous communities. For example, feminists in Thailand are following the lead and working on decolonizing feminist methodology. I can keep going and going but the point is that while the 1980s and a little into the 1980s postmodern and poststructuralist theories were attractive beyond Western Europe and the US, it is no longer the case. Even in former Eastern Europe they are turning into decolonial theorizing. 8See for instance the special issue of TRANSVERSAL, title Unsettling Knowledge, a web publication mainly from former Central and Eastern Europe, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0112.
Let’s go back to your question and your reference to what happened in China, on the one hand, and whether decolonial thinking is fighting for the return of the repressed. When I arrived to the US I became an Hispanic/Latino, and that means that I was degraded in my humanity. Before that, when I arrived to France to pursue my graduate studies, I became a “Sudaca”, a deceptive term for “Sud Americanos” Everything I wrote since 1987 was not to fight for the return of the repressed but with the anger of the repressed. With the anger of the epistemically wretched, I learned from Fanon and Anzaldua, realizing the inhumanity of the humanist who controlling knowledge allows them to classify, rank and degrade people. So, we are no longer talking about liberating the proletarians and saving the repressed, for the proletarians and the repressed are saving themselves and we are becoming aware that we are all embedded in the colonial matrix of power. How do you get out of the colonial matrix? Not with new technology, that is, with more sophisticated iPods or nuclear investigation. You need to think and conceptualize otherwise, to build decolonial horizons of life. That means, horizons of life that delink from coloniality, from the colonial matrix. I believe that many gays, lesbians, women of color who are scholars and intellectuals and that are fighting for their dignity are writing as wretched, as “repressed.” So we have to stop thinking that the wretched and the repressed are “those” over there, the “others;” (gay, lesbian, women and men of color—black, yellow, brown); people from the Third World, underdeveloped and emerging countries; “yellow” people like East Asian according to Linnaeus and Kant. Several of my Anglo colleagues and friends critiqued me directly or indirectly for “playing the victim.” I was not and I am not playing the victim. I am not hiding myself in a neutral epistemological zone to talk about “them, the Latino/as, the repressed”. Sure, I am in a better economic and social position that the Latinos/as crossing the border at night and working illegally. But it is precisely the situation I am in that demands and brings forward the ethics of scholarship and the politics of knowledge. How can I talk about “them and the other” if I know and feel that I am seen as “them and the other.” That is what Fanon defined as “sociogenetic principle.” In the modern/colonial world we are all classified, but not all of us are in a position to enact institutional classifications. Classifications are not created by the wretched and the barbarians. Classifications are created by He who controls knowledge.
This is the bottom line: there is a circle in the sphere of the social where you find the States, the corporations, the universities and higher education as well as professional schools and the main stream media. And then there is another circle where you find the political society, the politicized civil society, the self-managing media, faculty in universities and professional schools that that assume themselves as members of the politicized civil society and/or political society and not members of the first circle. Both circles are not separated, they are entangled and there are a lot of movements not only in the space where the circle intersects (in the Venn’s diagram image) but also up and down left and right of the circles. The kind of dialogue we are entertaining here and much of the works of our colleagues concerned with these issues, belong to the second circle. We are not going to be invited to Davos, we are not going to be invited to the Summit on Climate Control. If we want to go to those places, we have to go by ourselves and be part of the “protesters.” So, rewesternization and dewesternization is a struggle in the same circle, decoloniality in the second circle. Of course there are some points of encounters between dewesternization and decoloniality in that space where the two circles intersect but, in the long run, there is no possibility at this point of dewesternization and decoloniality merging in the same way that corporation merges. Once again, dewesternization and decoloniality, that forced rewesternization, are changing the ways in which we conceive ourselves, the world, and ourselves in the world order.
Question 2: Interestingly, many of the theories we talked about in the above conversation are mainly introduced into China by literary scholars at the very beginning. Then they are used in literary criticism. Very soon the kind of literary criticism which is dense in philosophical theorizing and political overtones was criticized by some more traditional scholars. These literary scholars think that literature is different from disciplines like politics, sociology and philosophy, etc. For example, the English critic F. R. Leavis strongly maintains the distinction between literature and philosophy. According to him, literature is concrete and is the dramatization of sensitivity, while disciplines like philosophy are only a kind of boring reductionism. During some historical moments here in China, the political approaches towards literature are also severely criticized by some Chinese scholars. How would you respond to such accusations? And what’s the case in the US?
Walter Mignolo: I would say “enormously” but I have to explain in what sense I mean it. 9See the Decolonial Aesthetics Manifesto, http://transnationaldecolonialinstitute.wordpress.com/decolonial-aesthetics/. There are several publications in Spanish, in the journal Calle 14. Revista de Investigacion en el campo del arte, that you can find in the web. Issues 4,5,6 contains several articles on decolonial aesthetics. There are already dissertations exploring the issue. And I would suggest to read and listen one speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The danger of a single story,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7aOt7JYTik. She is not mention decoloniality, but her discourse is a powerful decolonial statement by a literary person from Nigeria. First of all, decolonial thinking always starts by calling into question existing structures and asking how they came to be. So if you ask how literary studies can benefit, it is not by taking decoloniality as a “new method” to analyze literary texts (a trap that postcolonial studies fell into), but by calling into question the very “raison d’etre” of literary studies. Since when did literary studies acquire the status of a literary formation? Where did that that happen, in Zimbabwe, in Bolivia, in China, in Uzbekistan or in Western Europe? In Western Europe, is the trivia answer. Now, why in Europe and not in Zimbabwe or Bolivia? And when? So there you have a set of questions for a couple of dissertations. And this is the first tip as to why decolonial thinking could be enormously helpful in literary studies: to start by decolonizing them.
Secondly, and in relation to the previous question, the concept of “literature” in the sense it is understood today (fiction, aesthetics) is an invention of the eighteenth century. In the Middle Ages “literature” meant everything written in Latin alphabetic writing. I mean, Latin alphabet. So, “literature” derives from “letter.” In the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance, “Poetry” and “Poetics” were the terms to refer to doing (poiesis) and analyzing a piece according to the rules (poetics). Lessing’s treatise Laocoon (1767) is an essay on poetry and painting. “Literature” is not in sight. Briefly “literature,” that in the sense of fiction, system of genre, aesthetics qualities, etc., doesn’t exist before the end of eighteenth century neither in any part of the world nor in Europe itself. When “literature” emerges, contemporary of the imperial leadership of England and France, it expands all over the globe. And now we talk about “literature” as it were a universal practice. This is another example where decolonial thinking could be useful: to decolonize the concept of literature and literary studies.
Third, and this is the most important, once literature reached colonized areas and became “written genres” local narrators and writers appropriate it and began to narrate in-fusing in the narrative the legacies of oral narratives, beliefs, non-European languages, etc. You can see this in any Chinese, African, and Latin America novel of the twentieth century on. At the same time, literary criticism and theory emerging from the experience, sensibilities and interests of ex-colonies or countries that were never colonized but that did not escape coloniality (like the case of China), began also to theorize decolonially. Traces can be found in the general decolonial thoughts of Presence Africaine, in Paris, since 1948. But most recently, the example of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonizing the Mind. The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986) is a case in point. Today, there are legions of articles, books, seminars, on decolonizing literary studies andLiterature.
Fourth, the recent unfolding of “decolonial aesthetics” that touches on all the arts as well as literature (https://www.criticallegalthinking.com/?p=4455). We had an exhibit cum workshop at Duke in May of 2011. In relation to the previous comments, “decolonial aesthetics” began by pointing out that “aesthesis” is a Greek world meaning “sensing, affects, sensibilities.” Once again, in the eighteenth century, and in Germany mainly, the concept of “aesthetic” mutates and means sensing and sensibilities but related to “taste.” In that context, you have Kant’s Observations on the Beautiful and the Sublime (1767) that remains one of the canonical texts in aesthetic as a branch of philosophy. Now, interestingly enough, even if aiesthesis is a Greek concept, Aristotle did not pay to much attention to it in his Poetics. The key terms are poiesis, mimesis and catharsis. So that when in the eighteenth century aesthetics codified aiesthesis and restrict it to “taste” what aesthetics did was to colonize aiesthesis in such a way that aesthetics philosophy become also the regulator of good and bad taste and to decide what is literature and what is not, what is art and what is not. The rest of the world began to be subjected to the Western criteria of aesthetics. “Literature” was part of that movement.
Last but not least, literature itself is a powerful medium of decolonial thinking and for decolonizing aesthetics. While literature, as we know, had an significant role in “colonizing the mind” it is also invaluable to “decolonize the mind.” 10See the classical book by Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’ o Decolonizing the mind (1987)
It would be a matter of thinking about literature of the past decades in China and other countries of East and South East Asia, which I’m not familiar with. But I am persuaded that literary reflections on the effects of coloniality is under way, particularly in local histories that endured crossing imperial interventions (from Japan, China and the West), as well as writers in China and Japan who are aware of both the colonial and imperial past of these two countries. Which of course, bring us to another general issue: coloniality and imperial differences in relation to the West, and coloniality and colonial differences when countries like Russia, Japan or China are on the one hand under the effects of Western coloniality and at the same time projecting it on their own regions. That is once again, dewesternization is no doubt an important move in the global order but at the same time is not exempt of reproducing coloniality.
Well, going back to literature, you can see, the enormous contribution that decolonial thinking can do to literature and literary studies, as well and to aesthetics, is to unveil the conditions and consequences of their formation and transformations. That means, to look at literature and literary studies from the imperial and colonial epistemic and aesthetics differences upon which European literary practices and literary studies built its “imperio.”
Decolonially, you start by delinking. If you enter the game that has been set up for you, you are lost for the simple reason that the rules have been made by those who are in control of the game. That is, if you accept that “literature” and “philosophy” are what Leavis assume they are in his own world, well, you are lost. The miseries of decolonial thinking is that it cannot avoid coloniality—philosophy and literature are colonial concepts, they belong to epistemic coloniality. The splendor is that you are not bound to it as if there were no other game in town. Decolonially, the first move it to take a step back and ask: what kind of game is that, that Leavis is playing forcing us to think about the distinction of two concepts, philosophy and literature, that belong to the Western tradition but are peripheral to mine, in South America, where for example, in Aymara or Quechua or Nahuatl philosophy, neither of those concepts obtain; or to yours, both in written and spoken Mandarin? Philosophy and literature are Western concepts, let’s repeat, not universal ones. So, on the one hand as South American I am in between the legacies of the Greek and Roman, through Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe and, on the other, the deep seated legacies of Andean and Mesoamerican civilization. As Chinese, you are in between a language and the conceptualization in those languages, as well as the subject formation in those languages, and what you had to learn is not inscribed in your body, but it is in Leavis’s body. I do not have to go here into details; I devoted some time to these issues in The Darker Side of the Renaissance (that is being translated into Mandarin at this moment) and in several other articles. In Nahuatl, for example, there are two expressions, in xochitl, in cuicatl and in tilli, in tlapalli. The first could be translated as “the flowers, the songs.” Notice also the duplex in the expression. “In tilli, in tlapalli” could be translated as “the red ink, the black ink.” The first expression refers to music and songs and verse, and sometimes performance. The second refers to “painting the codices”, that is, Aztec ways of writing. You should understand this because it is very similar to the concept of writing in Chinese: the brush, the ink, the colors. Now, if you reduce all that to “literature” you perform a gigantic imperialist appropriation and flattening to the difference and reduce it to the Western concept of “literature” so you can control it. Furthermore, the Aztecs inherited the Maya calendric knowledge. Now calendric knowledge in Maya Civilization was not to keep track of the debts of your debtors, but it was related to understanding the cosmos (seasons, movements of the stars, Sun and Moon, interconnection between the body, our bodies, and the cosmos, etc.). It was also a way to organize the past and predict the future. It was knowledge at its best. Greeks called a similar experience, philosophy, and because Western Civilization is grounded in Greek Civilization (and not in Persian, Egyptian or Chinese), “philosophy” acquired a universal value. Not because philosophy is a universal concept but because it piggy-backs on Western imperialism. What one can assume is that everybody thinks, whether one civilization conceived its way of thinking as “philosophy” is interesting but quite irrelevant. The same happens with “literature.” That is the shortcoming and the blind spot of Leavis’s tribulations.
The other aspect is how Leavis’s tribulation is not only limited to Western Civilization, but it is a concern of post-Enlightenment Western Civilization when “literature” emerged and “philosophy” gained independence from “theology (Christian)).” Leavis’s discussion is limited to the secular moment in which literature and philosophy have mutated, the first from poetry the second from theology. In that context, the Cartesian context, “literature” belongs to aesthetics, aesthetics to feelings and sensing while “philosophy” to reason. That self-constructed context valued more reason than sensing. So, Leavis’ is reproducing a canonical secular distinction in Western history of ideas since the eighteenth century. And that is a problem of European and Europeamerican philosophy that has been expanded to other parts of the world because of imperial expansion. So you can in China engage with it or disengage. I myself disengage. I have other issues and problems to deal with and so the distinction between philosophy and literature is quite irrelevant. But, decolonially, I will say this: Western Civilization that privileged reason over sensing is in the situation it is today: the instrumental reason carries with it the irrational belief that progress and development is rational and is preferable. Sensing, literature, emotion are an encumbrance to the march of civilization that is progress and development. I am not surprised that in China there will be followers of Leavis. But I hope that in China will also emerge a strong decolonial vision that will complement and extend the orientation toward dewesternization: that is, to appropriate and no longer imitate what can be learned from Western modernity and Western Civilization, at the same time as preventing Western Civilization to continue with its imperial dreams of controlling the planet.
I am not familiar with the critiques in China to the political dimension of literature. But I would say that “decolonial aesthetics” addresses the issues of the Western separation of art, aesthetics, politics, sciences and philosophy. Decolonial aesthetics disobeys, delinks from those regulations who served the members of one civilization, Western civilization, but not to the people in the colonies and ex-colonies. Perhaps in China there is still some residue of “realistic aesthetics” that came from Marxist philosophy. That is not the case for decolonial aesthetics. Colonial subjects dwell in a different sensibility and a world in which to obey Western distinction between arts and sciences, etc., means to colonize yourself, to do what you are told to do not what you feel. When you read Chamamanda Adichie (that I mentioned above), from Nigeria or Jose Maria Arguedas, from Peru, for example, all these divisions that Western scholars built become irrelevant. Decolonizing sciences, politics, art, etc. means to engage in a different game in which decolonial knowledge, decolonial social organization and decolonial aiesthesis (feeling, sensing, etc) began to be re-articulated. As we delink, we stop obeying what God, Reason, the Academy, the Expert expect us to do.
Question 3: In your theoretical formation, you advocate the politics of life and take a civilization of life as the ultimate goal of the decolonial project. To quote another way of putting this from your works, that’s to say, different nations can adopt different ways to realize the “liberation” of their own people. According to my understanding, this insight solves the contradiction between universalism and particularism. On one hand, there is an ultimate horizon which can be employed to judge different social systems; on the other hand, no one is allowed to dictate its own way of living upon other countries.
Walter Mignolo: Your summary goes indeed in the direction that not only my work and other members of the project, but also in the direction that is now very much discussed in South America around concepts such as “sumak kawsay” (Quichua, one of the indigenous languages of Ecuador) or “sumaq qamaña” in Aymara, one of the indigenous languages of Bolivia. What this expression means is “to live in harmony”, “to live in plenitude.” But before going into that direction, there is an important conceptual clarification to be made. To say “different nations can adopt different ways to realize the “liberation” of their own people” needs to be qualified. First of all, by “nation” I think you refer to “states” or “nation-states.” That the State would warranty Freedom to people, is a Hegelian thesis that was possible to dream at his time, but it became a nightmare in the twentieth century and continues to be. What were are witnessing now is that States are more and more in complicity with the corporations who are not working toward the liberation but the exploitation of many people. On the other hand, States like China and Brazil whose economic growth is visible and undeniable, has not “liberated” their people but “lifted many out of poverty.” And at the same time, have built confidence among the political, economic and intellectual elites to make them feel that there are “liberating” from the dictates of developed countries and theories (even postmodern theories), generated to deal with issues of developed countries. So the problem here is twofold: first, in the international arena, that is correct, no one State would be able in the future to be credited with its superiority to rule by itself the world. On the other hand, there are issues (injustices, inequalities, violences) within each State that could not, not be allowed to happen in the name of sovereignty. So, what is the solution? Well, trans-state institutions. You can say that we have them now: UN, World Bank, International Criminal Courts, etc. But such Institutions are of limited role in a world order driven by the colonial matrix of power and a vision of society that consists in predicating peace by making war; talking about the need to create job conditions and reduce unemployment, without questioning that there is something wrong in the very structure in which millions of human beings shall depend on those who created for themselves the conditions of creating and giving jobs to others, who will work to maintain the positions of those who are generous enough to create jobs.
So there are previous considerations to make before looking at the potentialities of “sumak kawsay” and equivalent concepts, I am sure in every non-Western civilization. These ideas were introduced by indigenous intellectuals, activists and scholars during the process of re-writing the Constitution of Ecuador and Bolivia. Now it is common currency among white and mestizo intellectuals who have been unfolding strong arguments to counter the idea of “development and progress.” The defenders of development argued that“to live in harmony” mean stagnation and the end of creativity, incentive, recognition and compensation for your merits. These ideas of meritocracy, and success, and to make it, and to be based in personal success as we have seen have encourage legal and illegal delinquency in the corporations and government, legal and illegal accumulation of wealth, and the increasing march of a civilization of death. To live in harmony doesn’t mean we have to stop “technological innovations” one of the mantras in the rhetoric of modernity. It means that we have to change the orientation of technological innovation: innovation but not for a consumerist capitalist market, but for an economy (and please let’s distinguish economy from capitalism, capitalism is one form, undesirable, of economic organization that has become hegemonic to the point that economy and capitalism means the same for a lot of people). And that orientation is the orientation toward life, of the planet and of the human species that is a “natural” element of the planet.
Now what is important here is to distinguish the arguments that promote the reproduction of life and to live in harmony, from the question of life and abortion. Life and abortion is a problem of the modern, capitalist and Christian society. In a society in which the horizon is the reproduction of life and to live in harmony, the right to abortion or the right to life will not be formulated as such, because it will be part of the general philosophy of living in harmony and the reproduction of life. In such society it will not be a problem of single mothers without work, and the danger of the new born of being left without care. Today, even in this capitalist society, in indigenous communities in Bolivia, the newborn is a member of the extended family and he or she is taken care of accordingly. In those communities, the Christian morality is not regulating human relations and they have managed to co-exist with a capitalist society (e.g., practicing informal economy) without being caught into the ideals of progress, development, consumerism and the like. But basically, changing the horizon of life from “progress and development” to “living in harmony and caring for the reproduction of life, not just human, but of the natural world, for we human are part of the natural world” is what many people around the world are realizing.
And you are right in your last sentence: a common horizon and many non-competing ways of marching toward it. That eliminates the dangers of abstract universal, of singles stories, of one way to go and moves from universality to pluriversality. And again you are right, there is no longer need to suffer to solve the problem of universal-particular once we get rid of abstract universal. It is only if you believe in universal that the problem of particulars appears. And that we owe to the legacy of Medieval Christian theologians and philosophers that mutated into secular universalism in the eighteenth century, and coincide with France and England become the imperial countries of the second modernity. The debates of politico-economic (in China and Singapore for example) and politico-religious (in Malaysia and Indonesia, for example) dewesternization (going on today in East Asia,) and decoloniality (in South America, Africa, some of Eastern countries like Taiwan), are all movements in this direction.
Question 4: Now let’s come to my last question. For scholars like Raymond Williams, they think that communication and some other forms of popular culture can play a vital role in social progress. However, it seems that the predication of him has been proven wrong, because new forms of communication have also been mobilized to promote the interest of capital. What about decolonialism? What “resources of hope” or resources of strength can be mobilized for social progress?
Walter Mignolo: Your example shall remind us, and everybody, that there is no safe place. Each place (in this case communication, in the previous case sumac kaway) is a place of struggles between the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix or for delinking from it. Remember, however, that I have eliminated the word “progress” of my vocabulary, and therefore, of the decolonial vocabulary. So we have two problems here: the role of popular culture and what do they contribute to if they do not contribute to “progress”? I would say that popular culture is perhaps now more than ever contributing enormously to the process of decolonization, not of progress. And if you translated decolonization as progress, you colonize decolonization as you reduce it to the imperial ideology to which “progress”belong and that decolonial thinking is moving away from. Decoloniality, then, is one of the key concepts to delink from the rhetoric of modernity (liberal and Marxist) for which “progress” is still important, as we see in the case of Williams. Perhaps for him, as British and European, “progress” was a usual concept. I do not know what he would think today. It is not a dear concept for decolonial intellectuals. Decolonial call for other another concept, “liberation.” Think of Bob Marley, a decolonial philosopher from Jamaica; think of Baaba Maal, from Senegal, another decolonial philosopher. But popular music can be also an instrument for reproducing coloniality, the popular culture that entertain and narcotize you. Think of Shakira, for example and many others and here you will have popular culture to narcotize the viewer. There are of course more complex cases like “lady Gaga” which is more in the line of the “demodern” than the “decolonial” (Marley and Maal). One could say that “lady Gaga” contributes to “demodernize” rather than to “progress.” I say “demodern” because “postmodern” is still caught into the web of “progress and development”, that is, in that ideology of time that in the case of progress is societal, in the case of development is economic, and in the case of the postmodern is philosophical and cultural. But the bottom line is that popular culture could be either way, to regulate and maintain colonial subjects or to decolonize and liberate. There is no safe place. It depends on your project or your awareness that you are contributing to this or that project.
Thanks for the interview.
- 1Walter Mignolo, Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012), The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World, Marxism and Reality, no. 4, p.110-120.
- 2Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012, August 30), Decoloniality and its Re-imagination of the World Future: An Interview with Prof. Walter Mignolo, Social Sciences Weekly, p.5.
- 3See for instance the much discussed book by Martin Jacques, When China Rules de World, http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/book-review-when-china-rules-the-world/
- 7Two examples of Latino/as decolonial theorizing are the classical book by Gloria Anzaldua, Borderland/La Frontera. The New Mestiza (1987) and Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed (2000). Another example would be the influential book by Maori historian Linda T. Smith Decolonizing methodology. Research and Indigenous People (1999). Linda T. Smith lives in New Zealand. The books has been of enormous influence beyond Indigenous communities. For example, feminists in Thailand are following the lead and working on decolonizing feminist methodology.
- 8See for instance the special issue of TRANSVERSAL, title Unsettling Knowledge, a web publication mainly from former Central and Eastern Europe, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0112.
- 9See the Decolonial Aesthetics Manifesto, http://transnationaldecolonialinstitute.wordpress.com/decolonial-aesthetics/. There are several publications in Spanish, in the journal Calle 14. Revista de Investigacion en el campo del arte, that you can find in the web. Issues 4,5,6 contains several articles on decolonial aesthetics. There are already dissertations exploring the issue. And I would suggest to read and listen one speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The danger of a single story,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7aOt7JYTik. She is not mention decoloniality, but her discourse is a powerful decolonial statement by a literary person from Nigeria.
- 10See the classical book by Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’ o Decolonizing the mind (1987)