Decoloniality, Pedagogy, and Praxis
Decoloniality, its pedagogy, and praxis have a history and “herstory” of more than 500 years that began in the territory to be called the Americas by the conquerers and subsequently traveled to most, if not all, corners of the world. In what follows, I endeavor to give some understanding to the social, political, epistemic, ethical and existence-based significance of these terms, and to the ongoing project they mark and construct.
Decoloniality necessarily evokes coloniality. Both began with the “discovery and conquest” of the Americas and the formation, with this invasion, of a model of Eurocentered global power based on capitalism, the control of labor, subjectivity, knowledge, and nature, and the use of the ideas of “race” and “gender” as mechanisms of social classification and domination. The Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano (2000) named this model the “coloniality of power.”
Coloniality is not the same as colonialism. While colonialism most often refers to the political and economic relation that nations have exerted over the sovereignty of other nations, coloniality denotes the long-standing and ongoing patterns of power that persist beyond colonial rule. Here the reference is not only to the patterns of power, domination, subordination, and control that continue within so-called sovereign nations themselves (what the Mexican thinker Pablo Gonzalez Casanova called “internal colonialism”). It is also, and more broadly, to the ways these patterns constitute, maintain, reproduce, and construct a world system of power.
The coloniality of power took root in the Americas (Central America, South America, and the Caribbean). It was in the particular social and historical context of this massive colonial endeavor that capitalism solidified its project of economic and of social, cultural, epistemic, ontological-existential domination. It was also here in 1492, as the Argentinian-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel (2000) argues that modernity as a global (and not simply intra-European) phenomenon began and the dominion of the West over the rest took hold. Latin America is crucial in this sense; a “local” history that fed and led to global designs.
Central to these designs was the establishment of a fixed, persistent, and constitutive notion of difference. This difference – hierarchical, cultural, and colonial all at the same time – played a foundational role in structuring the ideas, geopolitics, and institutions of civilization and development, of humanity and humanness, and of modernity, rationality, and knowledge. White European men and European knowledge and historical experience came to be the epicenter of reason, authority, and power (Eurocentrism). Native peoples were re-named as “indios” or Indians, and peoples of African origin were renamed as “black,” both considered “non-human” or “less human” as compared to Europeans. Enslavement was naturalized, as was the control of labor for economic gain. The classification as “barbaric” of native languages, knowledges, spiritualities, life philosophies and visions, and millennial civilizations (conceived in harmony and coexistence with nature, territory, and the other beings of Mother Earth) became standard practice. In this scheme, the organization also began of what Maria Lugones (2010) has called the modern/colonial gender system. All of this, of course, enabled the hegemony of the West and its master paradigm and abstract “universal” of modernity and rationality, a hegemony that continues to exert power, judgment, and control over the non-Wests and Souths of the world, including the non-Wests and Souths within the Global North.
There is no modernity without coloniality, and there is no coloniality without modernity. Both are co-constitutive. Both were built on and from the racial, gendered, epistemic, and existential violence of Eurocentered conquest and colonization. For this reason, modernity/coloniality is increasingly the preferred term, expression, and analytical unit in current non-Eurocentric thought. Its use is especially associated with what has been referred to as the modernity/coloniality/decoloniality group, collective, or project (see the collection edited by Mignolo and Escobar, and especially Escobar 2010).
Decoloniality has its roots and reason in modernity/coloniality, in the struggles against coloniality (as modernity’s underside or other face), and for it otherwise. The action and project of decoloniality are, in this way, simultaneously outside coloniality and within. Decoloniality thus calls to the fore social, political, cultural, epistemological, and existence-based strategies, processes, and practices that reveal, resist, confront, and challenge the modern/colonial matrix of power. It marks and makes present struggles that work to open decolonial fissures or cracks in the modern-colonial and capitalist-patriarchal system. Furthermore, it indicates that which occurs in the exterior and borders of this system; that is, the “otherwise” of being, thinking, knowing, and living that exists and has existed since the coloniality of power began.
Decoloniality, in this sense, is not an abstract theoretical concept or a purely academic invention. Decoloniality is signified and constructed in the collective memory and the 500+ years of lived struggles of Indigenous Nations and African-descended men and women. Similarly, the efforts, past and present, by social movements, communities, collectives, and critical intellectuals, among others and throughout the world, to defy and disengage from the logics and violences of racialization, heteropatriarchy, dehumanization, anthropocentrism, and global capitalism give decoloniality substance, meaning, and form. Decoloniality’s concept and significance are likewise made in the ongoing creation and construction of other-modes and other-practices of knowledge, thought, sentiment, being, and living. As such, decoloniality is neither a static or fixed term; its significance derives from concrete contexts and unending processes and practices of sociopolitical, epistemic, and existential struggle and creation.
Implicit or explicit references to decoloniality, its concept and practice, can be found in the work of a number of militant intellectuals, including (and from the mid-twentieth century on) Frantz Fanon and Aimé Cesaire (Martinique), Sylvia Wynter (Jamaica), the Chicana feminists Gloria Anzaldua, Chela Sandoval, Emma Pérez, Manuel Zapata Olivella (Colombia), and Fausta Reinaga (Bolivia) among others. Beginning in 2004, the concept and term came to reorient the writings, thought, and practice of the group of intellectuals associated with the modernity/coloniality project. It is in reference to the work of this group that the term is often associated today. However, the interest of this collective is not to establish or promote an authoritative (or authorized) understanding, nor is it to make decoloniality an object of study. Rather, for those associated and aligned with this work and perspective, decoloniality is an analytic tool and task. It is a political, epistemic, and ethical option and standpoint to critically read, reveal, respond to, unsettle, act against, and intervene in the colonial matrix of power and to think from, with, and alongside racialized, genderized, and colonized subjects and struggles. This option and standpoint open up other sources, other forms, and other perspectives of knowledge, thought, and action essential in forging what some in this group refer to as the de-colonial turn.
In sum, decoloniality can best be understood as a political, epistemic, and existence-based process and project. It is not a condition to be achieved in a linear sense, nor is it an end-result. As modernity/coloniality continues to weave its web of power, decoloniality continues to put at the center of debate both the lived experience of coloniality as a constitutive component of modernity, and the initiatives, strategies, and contestatory forms that endeavor to unravel and transform the present day hegemonic forms of power, knowledge, being, and existence, and to build something else. Decoloniality is an attitude, posture, wager, and prospective way of thinking and doing, of unlearning and relearning that challenges, disrupts, transgresses, and moves beyond the logics, confines, and intertwines of modernity/coloniality, global capitalism, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and the myriad of other systemic patterns of power that continue to subalternize, oppress, dominate, and exercise control and power over peoples, knowledges, land-territory, nature, worldviews, and existence, that is, over life itself.
Decolonial Pedagogy and Praxis
Decoloniality implies praxis. Similarly, it posits pedagogies, understood as methodologies, processes, and paths of struggle, practice, and praxis, that are embodied and situated; that push historical, political, ethical, and strategic learnings; and that oblige epistemic, political, ethical, and strategic ruptures and displacements, as well as recreations.
Together, pedagogy and praxis bring to the fore questions of decoloniality’s “how.” That is the pedagogical-praxistical questions of not only how to rebel and resist but more crucially of how to construct, reconstruct, engender, maintain, and sustain the decolonial otherwise in struggle, practice, and life. Such questions necessarily push deeper analyses, theorizations, actions, and reflections on, with, and from struggles past, present, and yet-to-come. And they also urge consideration of our own agency and engagement, of our own thinking and doing.
The understandings of pedagogy and praxis here have their roots, at least in part, in the work, philosophy, and thought of Paulo Freire. Pedagogy, for Freire, transcends schooling and the teaching and transmission of knowledge. This Brazilian educator understood pedagogy as an essential and indispensable methodology, grounded in peoples’ realities, subjectivities, histories, and struggles. Social struggles, he argued, are pedagogical settings of learning, unlearning, relearning, reflection and action. As such, the educational nature of struggle is what interested him most, along with the pedagogical practice and political praxis of individual and collective liberation.
For Freire, pedagogy and praxis are intricately intertwined. Praxis, in a Freirian sense, is an act of knowing, a dialogical movement from action to reflection, and from reflection upon action to new action. It is reflexive and not merely reflective. It is political, critical, and theoretical, and not merely pragmatic. And it is intentional and inventive; hopeful in its inquiry, acting, and doing; and continuous in movement, contention, consciousness, and formation.
Understood in this way and as an analytic perspective, sociopolitical standpoint, and pedagogical-methodological stance, praxis is what gives decoloniality movement. Said differently, praxis is the act and reflective-reflexive action that makes decoloniality a “verbality” (to use Rolando Vázquez’s (2010) expression). Decolonial praxis is part and parcel of processes, practices, and actions of thinking and doing that endeavor to interrupt, transgress, and transcend the modern/colonial logic and frame, including the linear precepts, binary-based suppositions, and outcome-oriented views of Western education, knowledge, and thought. Decolonial praxis helps give presence to relation, the relation of action-reflection-action, but also the relation of present-past. This later relation is especially important from a decolonial perspective. It refers to the inter-relationality that grounds non-Western knowledges, worldviews, and life practices and that orient a perspective, prospect, and proposition of struggle for a different model of life, living, knowing, and being in and with the world. This struggle and praxis constitute decolonial pedagogy.
Of course, decolonial praxis and decolonial pedagogy were not the specific purviews of Freire. While Freire offered much for understanding praxis as pedagogy and pedagogy as struggle, method, and praxis, his limitations from a decolonial perspective cannot be overlooked. Certainly he was a product of the post World War II Latin American Left and of Marxist and humanist emancipatory paradigms, postures, and worldviews. Although Freire began to recognize and address these limitations in his later texts (e.g., Pedagogy of Hope and Pedagogy of Indignation) and to think more critically with and from the colonial condition (and with and from Frantz Fanon), the foundation (and foundational use) of his pedagogy, methodology, and thought remained framed within the confines of Western modernity and reason (see Walsh 2015).
The problem, as the Maori anthropologist Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) clearly explains, is that all too frequently paradigms, postures, and views regarded as deriving from Freirian approaches negate and obscure the methodological standpoints, practices, processes, and approaches of feminist theorists of color, ethnic minorities, and indigenous peoples. Seldom do such approaches take into account the methodologies and/as pedagogies that derive from the lived experience of colonialism, racism, and the struggles for self-determination and decolonization. Similar critiques have been made of critical pedagogy.
Although Freire remains as a guide, the idea, project, and praxis of decolonial pedagogy necessarily traverse other realms, practices, and ground. Here the decolonial and pedagogical contribution of Fanon, particularly in Black Skin, White Masks, but also in Wretched of the Earth is key, most especially for its analysis of dehumanization and its formation of a praxis of liberation and a decolonizing pedagogy for humanity. In her powerful book Pedagogies of Crossing, the Caribbean feminist M. Jacqui Alexander (2005) engages the material and psychic fragmentation and dismemberment produced by colonization. Her pedagogies and practice of “pedagogization” cross the inherited divides of sacred and secular, embodied and disembodied, as they fashion and configure new ways of being, of knowing, and of wholeness. Certainly Alexander and Fanon are not alone in giving credence, substance, and force to decolonizing pedagogical thought and practice. Yet the crucial difference that they (and other decolonial thinkers) mark is in the place of enunciation. Thinking from and with the lived experience of the colonial wound and its matrix of power, marks a specificity of perspective – a decolonial perspective – noticeably absent in Freire and many of his followers.
In Latin America, as in other regions of the “Souths” of the globe, decolonial pedagogies are rising. The emergence and presence of what some community-based and militant intellectuals call pedagogies of resistance and reexistence, signal affirmation, hope, and life in the midst of conditions of negation, violence, death, destruction, and despair (see the collective text edited and compiled by Walsh and published in 2016, as well as the earlier volume published in 2013). In a region (not unlike others) where the war of capitalism, the politics of extractivism, and the reorganization of modernity/coloniality/heteropatriarchy are in full swing, the struggles for an otherwise of being, thinking, and living are about life itself. It is this struggle of and for life that guides and gives substance, reason, and force to decoloniality as pedagogy and praxis.
The fact that pedagogies and/of praxis happen and are fashioned, shaped, and built mostly outside the formal institution of education is significant; lest we forget the central role of the institution of education in the development, maintenance, and reproduction of the modern/colonial matrix of power. For this very reason, schools and universities are necessary sites of decolonial pedagogy and praxis as well. They are the sites where many of us struggle day-to-day to transgress, disrupt, and displace modern/colonial logics, rationalities, and world-visions as the only possibilities of humanity, humanness, existence, knowledge, and thought. They are the sites, but not the only sites of course, where the doing of decoloniality, pedagogy, and praxis need to happen.
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