Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Decolonial Latin American Philosophies of Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_502


The following entry explores the historical context that has given rise to the opening for and engagement with decolonial thought. The entry specifically explores the connection between critical educational thought in the region and decolonial philosophies, to portray the favoring of the holistic approach to teaching and learning throughout the Americas and beyond.

Historical Context

Since its inception, Latin America has been characterized by waves of tumultuous conquest, independence movements, democracy building, and challenges to the historical legacy of colonization and capitalist exploitation. Of particular significance, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a number of countries in the Latin American region were gravely affected by campaigns of political oppression that led to dictatorships and their attendant repressive regimes. To a significant extent, the era of dictatorial regimes was a direct response to progressive social movements that sought to redistribute wealth, offer education to the dispossessed, and establish socially just principles and practices. Progressive movements threatened the survivability and growth of capitalism and economic injustice in the Latin American region and were swiftly and violently suppressed. This climate led to the exile of key educational and political thinkers and activists, such as Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of the critical pedagogical tradition in education. In exile, Freire wrote the first of many texts on the pedagogy and praxis of liberation. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) went on to become one of the most highly read educational works throughout the world, one of the first key interventions in critical educational thought.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire demonstrated the influence of a number of thinkers on his theorizing, such as Frantz Fanon, Amil Cabral, and Karl Marx. He also relied heavily on his Christian upbringing and faith in his articulation of humanity, and the values associated with teaching and learning, such as humility, lovingness, and tolerance. Freire engaged in a dialectical form of reasoning and proposed a transcendental form of teaching and learning that could enable students and communities to move beyond oppressive social structures and into creating socially just human relations. The basis of oppression, within a Freirean optic, was class exploitation. To move beyond the stronghold of the naturalization of poverty and the disempowerment of the poor, Freire called upon educators to recognize pedagogy as a political act, one which would create the conditions for students to acquire the critical skills needed to read the word and the world simultaneously. The movement toward fulfilling the people’s collective humanity necessitated conscientizaçao, consciousness raising. Freire firmly believed in a people’s inherent capacity to recognize, contest, and transform oppressive social structures.

In short, Freire demonstrated that the pedagogical is political and the political is pedagogical. Though one can identify the impact that anti­colonial and decolonizing thinkers of the time had on Freire (specifically in terms of his discussion on how the oppressed identify with their oppressor), his writing on the pedagogy of freedom and liberation relied heavily on Western and Eurocentric paradigms. That is, Freire did not consider the centrality of other ways of knowing and being in the creation of another world order or in his definition of humanity. Nor did he consider the multiple forms that oppression takes. For Freire, there was oppression and there was liberation. Both were intricately connected to a class-based analysis of social hierarchies, which intentional or not did not immediately create the space for understanding and challenging interlocking forms of oppression. Freire, a revolutionary thinker and pedagogue, spoke from his geopolitical location. While his contributions have been vast, they also reflect a silence on indigenous epistemologies and rationalities that provide other pathways to create social, economic, political, intergenerational, gendered, and ecological justice. Such pathways acknowledge, but also transcend, the impact of capitalism and economic injustice on wide-scale dispossession in Latin America.

For the most marginalized groups in Latin America, namely, indigenous and Afro­descendants, oppression was indeed felt from their brute exclusion from economic wealth and justice, but it was also epistemological, racial and ethnic, gendered, and anthropocentric. The subjugation of their identities and ways of knowing did not begin with modern capitalism and the gross inequality that plagued the Latin American region; it preceded that era by hundreds of years, with the conquest and colonization of Americas. The colonization of the Americas planted the seeds for capitalism of the twenty-first century and was accompanied by a social system of differentiation that hierarchically ordered individuals and communities along multiple forms of identity (see Grosfoguel 2011).

The Decolonial Turn

Following the collapse of various dictatorial regimes in Latin America, and the beginnings of movements toward democratization, a different sociological and philosophical approach to social theory began to take root. The work of sociologists, namely, Anibal Quijano, broke away from predominantly Western and Eurocentric modes of analysis, specifically, world systems theory, which articulated the economic dependency between Latin America and the USA and its global allies. Quijano, among others, theorized economic injustice according to the multiple and overlapping systems of differentiation that accompanied global class exploitation. Termed the coloniality of power, Quijano articulated the centrality of race in modern Euro­centered capitalism (Quijano 2000) and traced the mental and social construction of race to the conquest and colonization of the Americas. As opposed to a class-specific analysis, the coloniality of power draws attention to the experience of colonial domination, its enduring logic, and its specific rationality, Eurocentricity. Within this theoretical optic, it is important to understand that coloniality is a model of power that is globally hegemonic (Quijano 2000).

In education, the decolonial turn was accompanied by a number of indigenous political movements that challenged the historical legacy of coloniality in education. The colonial model of education led to teaching that was highly individualistic, anthropocentric, competitive, and fragmented. Such practices reflected the cognitive dimensions of conquest, where the human is considered the king of civilization, while all that is not human is considered inferior. Within the coloniality of power, the categorization of the unhuman relied upon the systems of social stratification that accompanied conquest. That is, those whose belief systems and ways of life fell outside the Christian, European, male dominant, and human­centric paradigm were considered less than human and in dire need of salvation, civilization, and education (Mamani 2010).

Buen vivir

As a counterpoint to the colonial model of education, indigenous groups mobilized to recuperate their ways of knowing and being in education. Sumak Kawsay and Sumak Qamaña, Quechua and Aymara terms, respectively, translate into the general concept of buen vivir or living well. Conceptually and philosophically, buenvivir moves well beyond the critical tradition in education in Latin America, which relied upon the strengthening of class consciousness in the construction of collective knowledge, as discussed in the works of Freire, among others. Buen vivir is a decolonial and decolonizing philosophical approach to teaching and learning that offers a critique of capitalist exploitation but does so with a radical questioning outside of developmentalist paradigms. As noted by Enrique Dussel (2000), the tropes of Eurocentrism and modernity are accompanied by a developmentalist fallacy; that is, that progress and humanization begin and must progress with the traits of the modern world, which, by definition, exclude indigenous knowledge and ways of being.

Radical questioning within the indigenous traditions of buen vivir was made possible by a culture that lacked concepts like development or progress. Buen vivir ultimately strives for a post­capitalist alternative by way of two interrelated constructs. On the one hand, dialogue ushers a critique of brute capitalism and subjectivity. And on the other axis of dialogue, an emancipatory politics emerges from the ethical­moral commitments of indigenous, non­developmentalist epistemology. Constructing collective knowledge through dialogue strengthens political identities and sets forward a liberatory practice based upon the rubric of living well as opposed to living better at the expense of others and nature. Thus, the vision is transcendental. In negating the logic of growth as development, individualism as freedom, and self ­activity as the organizing principle of change, the pedagogy of buen vivir prioritizes life.

The pedagogical model of buen vivir derives from a concept of reciprocity that precedes capitalist formations. It was key to social organization preconquest, connected to an ethical value system based on giving and receiving. Reciprocity is a sociocultural form of praxis and an ideological construction evidenced in the mantra dar, recibir y devolver (give, return, and give back) (Quispe 2012). Reciprocity underscores a set of practices that requires the other or others to make an equivalent response, and it is meant to be a permanent relation inclusive of all members of the community. Reciprocity is a model constructed from below and is based on territorial and educational control, self ­sustainable development, care of the environment, reciprocity and solidarity, and the strengthening of communal organizations, languages, and cultures. Here, educators are reminded that activism must be embedded within, and never separate itself from, the multivoiced hemispheric conversation on resistance, hope, and renewal.

As communitarian praxis, reciprocity considers woman and man not solely as a work force but principally as being with knowledge, beliefs, and thinking. Put plainly, reciprocity advances an integral subject. Notions of individual freedom, will, and choice are replaced by a holistic rendering of social life that emphasizes interdependence and interconnectedness.

Both Sumak Qamaña and Sumak Kawsay establish collective well-being as a centerpiece to social transformation. They emphasize the plurality and diversity of social life without being reduced to a philosophical relativism or groundless subject characteristic of postmodern social theory. They are also distinguished from mainstream postcolonial approaches in that coloniality is understood as an ongoing process, continuously reproduced through capitalist social relations. To speak in terms of post­colonialism does not adequately capture or recognize the multileveled and deeply engrained modalities that govern people’s ways of being and interacting in a seemingly “post­colonial” social universe. In recognizing the relationship between the economic structure of society and all other forms of human sociability, indigenous epistemologies disrupt conventional theoretical dichotomies (i.e., class struggle versus ethnic, gendered, sexual, racial, or environmental struggle) and advance a holistic rendering of social life.

As a philosophy of praxis, buen vivir establishes a communitarian educational experience, where learning takes place not only inside a classroom but in direct relationship with ancestral knowledge, intergenerational teachings, and a recognition that everything is connected. More specifically, that learning is connected to nature. The nature-learning connection in buenvivir is based upon a model of complementarity, harmony, and equilibrium. Buen vivir promotes a natural methodology of teaching and learning that moves beyond the modernist tropes of rationality and into an affective perception of the multiverse that surrounds communities. Put differently, buen vivir proposes a productive pedagogy, where teachers and students alike are encouraged to generate action, connect praxis to civil life, and recognize their origin and role in the complementarity of life (See Mamani 2010).

Buen vivir is a multilayered approach to recognize and address the entanglement of social realities. It represents a way of understanding the world as the configuration of an array of relationships, a way of life, and addresses the capacity we have to participate and alter the course of history (Macas 2010). Buen vivir transcends the ways that the “subject” of Western reason reproduces difference and polarities, with a focus on complementarity and the convergence of strengths between women and men. In doing so, indigenous led struggles are simultaneously acts for direct restitution from colonial capitalism and also represent efforts to contest the coloniality of power that has shaped racial, epistemic, cultural, sexual, gendered, and anthropocentric relations within the onset of capitalism as a colonizing process. Within the coloniality of power asymmetrical relations of power are recognized as both byproducts and the active constitution of a global capitalist society that began with the fifteenth-century conquest of the Americas.

Decolonial Philosophies for the Americas and Beyond

Decolonial philosophies of education in Latin America grapple with the complexity of social life and encourage educators to recognize that class exploitation is entangled with multiple forms of social differentiation. They extend the important contributions of critical educators, such as Freire, who identified and actively theorized the misery and affliction waged against the dispossessed by a global capitalist system and the internal practices within nations that continuously denied communities the opportunity to develop their full humanity. The point here is not to place decolonial philosophies in contradiction with critical pedagogies and theories but rather to bring them into conversation with one another. The critical tradition brought into central focus the impact of capitalism on people’s subjectivities and the reproductive and authoritarian models of education that serviced the needs of colonialism and capitalism. The decolonial turn highlights the overlapping and interconnected nexus of social life, one in which ways of knowing, spirituality, nature, race, ethnicity, culture, language, and gender interpolate. Decolonial philosophies in education propose new concepts grounded in a cosmovision of the totality of social life and offer a praxis predicated upon the principles of reciprocity and complementarity. They extend education into the community and nature and propose a praxis based in harmony and equilibrium with all forms of life. Taken together, educators are encouraged to recognize the entangled web of social, political, economic, historical, and cultural relations that that shape educational practices. Practically speaking, educators must question the leitmotifs that organize the schooling encounter, the epistemic provisions that shape curriculum and teaching, and the social relations that inform relationships between social actors. The vision is utopic but also concrete. Through an active listening of other forms of knowledge, an understanding of the interrelationship between colonialism and capitalism, and a recognition that the colonial legacy is enduring, teachers, students, and communities are better positioned to make learning meaningful and perhaps more importantly transformative for a just society and future. As such, decolonial philosophies are not only relevant to the indigenous groups who have struggled assiduously to recuperate their ways of knowing and transform educational praxis; they offer peoples from the Americas and beyond with an alternative conceptual register to enact pedagogies and practices predicated on an ethos of mutuality, recognition, and respect.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kennesaw State UniversityKennesawUSA