Critical and Decolonial Dialogues Across South-North and East-West

Critical and Decolonial Dialogues Across South-North and East-West
7-9 July 2010
Middelburg, The Netherlands,
The Roosevelt Academy of the University of Utrecht and
The Center for Global Studies and the Humanities at Duke University.
The aim of the three days workshop is to build a series of critical dialogues
around issues of Education, Development, (un)Freedom, Conviviality, Global
Justice and Epistemic Decolonization with the ultimate goal of instigating
conversations and collaborative projects between decolonial approaches and
current European critical visions in the humanities and the social sciences.
The workshop seeks to create networks of epistemic and political actions and
interventions toward building alternatives. The collapse of abstract universals
(Christianity, Liberalism, Marxism, Islamism) as the road to Paradise are
enough evidence that there is no one global future or destiny to work toward,
but the need to change the present demands to take seriously the concept
and practice of “dialogue.” A dialogue that is only possible within a diversity of
In Europe, there is a legacy of critical reflection on modernity that is rarely
brought to dialogue with decolonial thinking. On the other hand, decolonial
reflection on modernity is grounded on a genealogy of thought that is rarely, if
ever, taken into consideration by European critiques of modernity. What are
the issues, the concerns, the concepts, the investments of these two
trajectories of critical thoughts? What do they have in common and to what
extent they complement each other?
By critical reflections we refer here to the legacies of the Frankfurt School but
also to post-modern and post-structuralist critique of modernity in Europe. By
decolonial reflections we refer to the legacies of decolonial political revolutions
after WWI, to the epistemic legacies that emerged from that experience (i.e.
Gandhi, Shengor, Cesaire, Cabral, Fanon) as well as to current de-colonial
thinking in South America, the Caribbean, among Native Americas and
Latino/as in the US. The dialogue South-North and East-West intends to cut
across hegemonic geopolitics of knowledge.
By critical reflections we also mean pursuing research that on the one hand
unveils the persistent rhetoric of modernity, growth, development, happiness
that hides its need to increasing poverty, growing marginalization and
unhappiness for billions of people in the planet. The workshop is grounded on
the belief that there is great need to bring together committed researchers,
thinkers and practitioners to engage in a series of open and learned
dialogues. In particular this workshop aims to promote a South-North
theoretical encounter around the need to work toward decolonization of
knowledge, and hence epistemic justice.

On the one hand, the Western European tradition of thought has struggled to
understand modernity, in particular its experiences of violence such as the
holocaust, totalitarianism as well as experiences of discrimination (gender,
race) and social desintegration. On the other hand, the school of decolonial
thinking has fought to understand the violent experience of
colonialism/modernity by looking at issues such as slavery, the destruction of
nature, the imposition of the modern notions of gender, of time and space, the
hegemony of western aesthetics… In between both, critical schools of
thoughts emerged in South and Eastern Europe as well as in Africa, Asia and
Latin America that diversify trajectories of emancipation and demand for
urgent dialogues. Although, both traditions of thought are well established in
their own academic circles and within their own body of literature, they have
rarely been put together. It is a central tenet of this workshop that a dialogue
between these two perspectives would make a contribution towards a South-
North, East-West dialogue of knowledges. The workshop will follow from a
summer course in which students will explore both traditions of thought. It is
expected that students will also participate in the workshop.
Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vázquez


One Response

  1. This was an awesome workshop, and mirrored much of the issues we’ve talked about on this blog, even though only one or two people were from IR. For what it’s worth, these were my thoughts on the workshop that i sent to Rolando, Walter and all the participants.

    Dear Rolando and Walter,

    Thank you so much for allowing me to take part in our amazing and challenging workshop. It was fantastic to be surrounding by such like-minded and critical people over the last few days. It has helped me greatly to think about how i can contribute to the decolonzing of my own “discipline”, International Relations which, aside from a few noteworthy individuals (a couple of which were present!!), is sorely lacking in the expertise and ideas that i have experienced over the course of the workshop.

    I wanted to communicate to you, and the friends and comrades who participated, a few thoughts that i have developed about the workshop. I will also put these on a blog we have started amongst my IR colleagues that is attempting to think about what kind of relationship could hold between critical European thought and decolonial thought. It is rather iconoclastically/pretentiously entitled

    First, I think that what became urgent for me was to realise that it is not just the ethical issue of dwelling in non-imperial difference that needs to be pursued but at the same time a working through of the materiality of unevenness and differentiation that was a fundamental structural principle of colonial rule. This materiality framed the colonial character of the western academy, and still frames even decolonial initiatives today. It was rather funny that this issue, internal to the colonial world, came out for me during the course of a workshop focused on the relationship between European and decolonial thought. However, i realised that this heuristic created a binary (Europe/rest) that demanded for me the collapsing of this separation into a series of relationalities of power. I think that for decolonial thought this is an issue of scale and intensity regarding various shifting sites (in terms of geographical areas and political projects) that were more strategically, economically, and psycho-socially important to colonial powers over the course of 500 years. E.g. due to, perversely, the degrees and extents of exploitation unleashed on the Caribbean islands, they and their cultural/political constellations are somewhat more valued to the Western academy than the South Pacific islands (even though both sets of islands have been fundamental to the European framing of nativity, savagery etc.) Obviously, many of these hierarchies exist, and probably overlap at points. I think a key thing here is to recognise how these hierarchies of values created by colonialism frame the possibility and extent of decolonizing the academy. We need to pursue the relationality of different concepts and approaches that have emerged from this colonial world, not to presume a horizontality between them, but rather, to carefully explore how their relationality to each-other imbibes these hierarchies of values and must be worked through rather than stepped around. Provocatively, some decolonial thought might be more palatable to the academy than others, although this in itself should not lessen the value to us of any site of decolonial thinking. Nevertheless, to work through these vicarious colonial hierarchies is a necessary requisite of working through the relationship between critical European and decolonial thought. A similar task, of course, would be required within Europe, especially regarding the new “east”.

    Second, I think I want to take seriously the interventions by a number of students at the end. Not necessarily the invocations to run into the streets etc, but more the expectation they held that we would have a conversation and that in their eyes we did not achieve this. I’m not talking here about holding hands and agreeing; I’m talking about an observation that we were not, as a whole, and over the course of the three days, using modes of communication that would cultivate a relationality of thought. I do think that we all came with firm and established positions (totally fair enough) and were not so successful in dwelling within other positions (not quite so fair enough). I don’t think this is a methodological issue, or a question of realising or developing an ethical system; i think it is something to do with before or perhaps underneath both those things: something to do with intent, affect and orientation. I want to take those observations from the students seriously, because as one said, micropolitics is the most immediate site of politics. I think this was exposed in the various encounters we made with the issue of “cosmologies”: i felt that often there were some amazing things said by various people about the set of issues wrapped up in that term; at other times i felt that we had forgotten the basic lesson that enunciated concepts do not relay a transparent meaning.

    Thirdly, I found the two comments by Lewis and Rolando at the end to be very provocative when put together: a) the importance of not apologising for doing sophisticated academic work in an academic setting – i.e. of defending the project of dwelling radically in that space of privilige; and b) the need for humility to the extent that we recognise that other peoples in other non-academic spaces (often more at the cutting edge of oppression) also produce sophisticated forms of knowledge that we, in our space, cannot by ourselves create (e.g. Walter Rodney’s Grounding with my Brothers etc). I guess this friendly tension is not unique to decolonial thought. But it still must be a cornerstone of the project?

    So these have been the considerations that have come out of the workshop for me. In a way, i think that they are as important as proceeding with any substantive comparative investigations, although I imagine that the later would be needed for a future meeting.

    Anyway, thank you again for this opportunity! Awesome! It was an honour to meet those whose work I have already read (Walter, Lewis) and just as much a privilege to be introduced to everyone else whose work i will now read without delay!



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