Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Decolonial Methodologies in Education

  • Miguel Zavala
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_498



Rooted in a geographically specific Latin American standpoint that critically reframes colonialism and capitalism as Western/modern historical and geographical systems, the decolonial project is an emergent framework that not only challenges the epistemological foundations of colonialism (termed coloniality of power) but is a project of de-linking (Mignolo 2007) from Eurocentric thought, toward reclaiming and developing “The enunciation and expression of non-Western cosmologies and for the expression of different cultural, political and social memories” (Mignolo 2000).

For the purposes of this entry, decolonial methodologies in education encompasses a series of methods/strategies as they take place within education projects. Here, education is defined broadly to include both formal and nonformal educational spaces. Education is not used loosely as decolonial scholars have conflated the terms educational and pedagogical when theorizing decolonial strategies more broadly. Education is a site of struggle and rupture: It comes into being as people engage in dialogue and in response to the coloniality of power. Decolonial education has materialized throughout the world, primarily as place-based pedagogies in grass roots and institutional sites, yet the examples from Latin America discussed below have manifest at the level of the nation-State. This entry does not take into account decolonial methodologies in research and other practices. While education intersects with participatory forms of research, this entry is specific to projects that are defined primarily as educational.

Finally, decolonial methodologies in education need to be repositioned and situated within broader geographic-historical processes. Specifically, a broader framework for community development and the self-determination of colonized peoples ensures that decolonial practices are defined relationally rather than by a set of essential qualities. Decolonial education is a process for community self-determination, at moments materializing in spaces of survival and at other times in the spaces of recovery. What decolonial education means and what it looks like will be defined by the particular colonialisms and sets of contradictions that make it possible. Decolonial education by and for Chicana/Chicano peoples in the United States Southwest will look different than colonized African peoples of postapartheid Africa or the indigenous Aymara in Bolivia. Yet, because these projects both grow in response to coloniality and deliberately seek to recover indigenous knowledge systems as alternatives, the struggles in these and other sites can be characterized as decolonial education.

The Decolonial Project

The decolonial project can be characterized as encompassing three major strategies: first, to deconstruct our very understanding of Modernity, which is traditionally conceptualized as a historically advanced expression of (Western) rationality. Decolonial thought therefore makes visible that which is concealed by Modernity, namely, the cultural logic of colonialism (and capitalism as an extension of colonialism). In their critique of Modernity, decolonial thought is marked by a different strategy than that developed by postmodernists: Modernity (and its colonial and capitalist inventions) is primarily a historical-geographical project and secondarily a discursive ordering of the world. The discourse of the Other (Dussel 1983) has served as a justification for the colonization of the Americas during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries and formal European colonial rule of Africa and parts of the Pacific beginning in the eighteen century and ending with World War II. In particular, this discourse of the Other has played a dual function in settler societies: First, it served to legitimate colonial expropriation of lands and resources and the eventual deculturalization of “native” peoples by settler societies; and it helped constitute the geographic and cultural centering of Europe within an emerging global world political, cultural, economic system. A geo-historically structured epistemological project, the discourse of the Other, provided the ideological groundwork for colonial violence and expansion. This epistemological project is, nevertheless, inextricably tied to the geopolitical project of European, and later United States, world domination.

Second, the decolonial is marked by particular kind of border thinking, a reenvisioning from the margins. Major decolonial scholars write and theorize as intellectuals and scholar-activists from Latin America, Africa, and as First Peoples. Metaphors such as fissures/cracks and rupture signal their outsider-within as scholars but also as members of geographically marginalized communities. This kind of border thinking grows out of a decolonization of coloniality that entails not just naming the world and the colonial matrix of power that is deeply embedded in everyday life, but is also an embodied/situated praxis.

Third, the decolonial is a project for epistemological diversity. What this means is that its deconstructive moment is dialectically tied to a praxis that re-envisions and develops knowledges and knowledge systems (epistemologies) that have been silenced and colonized. Thus, the decolonial attempts to recover repressed and latent knowledges while at the same time generating new ways of seeing and being in the world. Hence, the decolonial project is strategically positioned as a struggle for an-other world beyond colonialism and capitalism.

Decolonial Methodologies/Strategies in Education

Three major methodologies or strategies in decolonial education projects include counter/storytelling, healing, and reclaiming. Figure 1 below is a visual representation of these three strategies and their interlocking nature. By interlocking is meant that they interweave yet their relationship to each other is dynamic rather than linear and developmental rather than foundational. Each is dimension of the other. For example, the process of counter/storytelling in decolonial education is itself tied to the process of healing, which is also a part of the process of reclaiming.
Decolonial Methodologies in Education, Fig. 1

Decolonial methodologies/strategies in education

Each strategy is defined by particular practices. Counter/storytelling involves the practices of naming and remembering. Healing involves two major practices: social/collective and spiritual/psychological healing. Reclaiming encompasses practices, identities, and spaces.


Decolonial education comes into being as people engage in dialogue and reflection (see Freirean traditions of liberatory education). This dialogue and reflection involves naming their social worlds. Given the fact of coloniality in everyday life, naming entails a deliberate attempt to develop a language of critique that enables colonized peoples to understand their present situation as encircled by colonialism and its structural arrangements and cultural logics. Hence, this naming is often framed as a counter-storytelling that challenges the master storylines of Modernity, Eurocentrism, and coloniality. The field of critical race theory (CRT) has used testimonio and collective voicing as counter-storytelling methodologies. Unlike CRT which centers the lived experiences of people, decolonial education projects reposition these narratives in the context of coloniality. Further, naming is a situated practice not a rational exercise in decontextualized dialogue. Naming is mediated by dialogue, yet this dialogue is made possible by reflection upon the lived experiences of and with colonialism in all its forms. Social theory has played an important role in facilitating dialogue among decolonial scholars, yet social theory will look differently when articulated by nonacademics. At the grassroots level, naming intersects with other linguistic registers and modes that are as legitimate if not more grounded in understanding what colonialism means.

Moreover, counter/storytelling is intimately tied with particular forms of remembering within/against coloniality. Colonialism is an imposition of language and knowledge systems; it is the erasure of the colonial past and subjugation of indigenous peoples as colonial subjects that reemerge as new liberal subjects or whose cultural histories are negated by virtue of subsuming them as “working class” by Left scholars. Drawing from indigenous traditions, “restorying” is a form of collective remembering that has taken place within spaces of family and community (see Corntassel 2009). This remembering is integral to reclaiming languages, spaces, and identities. Remembering as decolonizing strategy has become a powerful vehicle for indigenous and colonized peoples to understand not just the violence of colonialism (storytelling as “witnessing”) but to root themselves in place and where they come from. The current movement for Ethnic Studies in the United States Southwest, while contested and not unitary, includes deliberate approaches to curriculum development with the goal of understanding the present in relation to a colonial past but also to enable Chicana/Chicano students to “restory” and remember who they are as indigenous peoples.

Public and community arts projects have integrated naming and remembering as counter-storytelling. While not labeling the project as decolonial, the Community Arts and Cultural Development (CACD) project is an exemplar of the decolonial methodology of remembering as counter-storytelling (see Quayle et al. 2015). Drawing upon portraits of indigenous Aboriginal elders and through the recorded narratives that tell their stories, Aboriginal youth engaged in digital projects that brought these stories to life. The educational spaces of classrooms and public exhibits that came together to celebrate the lives of community elders were also sites of counter-storytelling, challenging settler narratives and how Aboriginal peoples have been rendered invisible in all aspects of everyday life in Australia.


A decolonial methodology in education that is often overlooked is healing. While naming as a practice of counter-storytelling may be characterized as a rational, reflexive process, the practice of remembering includes aspects of healing for indigenous and colonized peoples. Healing involves two clearly defined practices, i.e., social/collective healing and spiritual/psychological healing. If decolonial education is a project that denounces colonialism, if it is a situated pedagogical praxis that grows out of the lived experiences of colonized peoples, then it must include a decolonization of the self in relation to community and the broader social world. Precisely, because colonialism deculturalizes people and separates them from who they are, their communities, languages, practices, and land, there is ample room and need for healing as a strategy for community self-determination.

Healing as praxis challenges dominant, Western notions of education as cognitive activity. Even in critical education traditions, such as Dewey and Freire, a general neglect of the spiritual aspects of education is manifest. Rooted in indigenous epistemologies, the psychological cannot be separated from the physical and all other domains. In these traditions, spiritual practices (ceremonies) have played a fundamental role in cultural learning and community (see Iseke 2013). Healing in decolonial education projects entails a particular form of recovering from the historical trauma (physical, social, cultural, psychological) experienced by colonized peoples. Healing is a (re)connectedness with each other (community) and land/Mother Earth. indigenous scholars have characterized healing as coming into being at the interstices of survival and development, marked by the spaces of recovery, when indigenous and colonized peoples come together through ceremony and education to rebuild themselves.

A clear articulation of healing in the context of decolonial education includes Villanueva’s (2013) self-reflexive journey of coming to healing practices and their relevance for Chicana/Chicano-indigenous youth who have been detribalized and de-Indigenized. A core precept is the idea that recovery and healing be rooted in ancestral knowledges. This general precept is congruent with the broader goals of decolonial projects that seek to restore epistemological diversity. Naming in this context includes naming one’s pain, i.e., providing a language that accounts for experiences of oppression that are often internalized as self-hate and characterized by living in an imbalanced social and spiritual world. Because coloniality is so deeply rooted in peoples’ lives, embodied everyday language, thinking, and bodies, people are seeking alternative knowledge systems as sources of survival, recovery, and development. The knowledge systems and ceremonial practices that have made healing central for thousands of years are becoming important sites for the envisioning and development of alternatives to capitalism and colonialism.

Reclaiming (Identities and Spaces)

Reclaiming is a strategy in decolonial education projects that involves recovering who people are (their cultural identities), their practices, and their relation to place (land, cosmos). It is a generative praxis that brings ancestral knowledges together with local, endogenous knowledges in the development of decolonial spaces. The Raza Studies program that was recently outlawed in the State of Arizona has been seminal to the emerging movement for Ethnic Studies in the United States Southwest (see Najera 2014; Rodríguez 2012). An important decolonial strategy has been the reclaiming of cultural identities. Working primarily with Chicana/Chicano-Raza-indigenous youth, the project, before its dismantling, was rooted in Mesoamerican knowledge systems that replace Greco-Roman and Eurocentric knowledge systems that permeate the traditional, State-sponsored curriculum.

Decolonial approaches to land-based education involve strategies that reclaim colonized peoples’ relation to the land. Decolonial education in this context involves the strategy of rethinking the very concepts inherited from Western science about people and nature. Drawing from African-centered frameworks and epistemologies, for example, presents a clear challenge to the capitalist and colonialist practices that objectify/commodify natural resources and that subjugate ecosystems to economic systems (see DiMauro and Carroll 2014). Other scholars have sought indigenous frameworks for rethinking global capitalism, yet what makes a decolonial education possible in this situation is more than resorting to alternative knowledge systems. Rather reclaiming is intimately tied to peoples’ identities. In the process of reclaiming alternative/ancestral knowledge systems that allow colonized peoples to rethink their relation to nature and land, they are also engaged in a process of reclaiming who they are. These education strategies intersect with healing and counter/storytelling in the sense that master narratives about nature and science are challenged, while at the same time students come to decolonize their understanding of how they have been transformed as people.

Decolonial education has also emerged in projects taken up by nation-States. In Latin America, for instance, the revitalization of indigenous movements has led to interesting, yet contradictory struggles. While framed as socialist movements, the countries of Bolivia and Ecuador have been deliberate in rethinking formal education systems from decolonizing frameworks. Moreover, other institutions, such as the economic, legal, and political, are being rethought through the indigenous concept of buen vivir (harmonious coexistence) (see Gudynas and Acosta 2011). The fusion of modernist ideas with indigenous concepts has introduced a decolonial strategy for education that decenters development, capitalism, and Western ideas about nature, a valuation of nature and natural resources as life, and proposes a general anticolonial standpoint. These projects are also about the reclaiming of practices, identities, and spaces; what distinguishes them from other decolonial projects is both their grounding in decolonizing frameworks and their scale.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Educational Studies, Chapman UniversityOrangeUSA