Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Decolonial Education at Its Intersections

  • Lisa Weems
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_532



This entry has three central aims. The first aim is to briefly outline the historical and contemporary use of the term “decolonial” and its related monikers of decoloniality, decolonization, decolonizing methodologies, postcolonialism, and indigeneity. The second aim is to highlight how the decolonial scholarship addresses the relations between colonization, capitalism, and the production of difference through onto-epistemological frameworks of racism, heteropatriarchy, and (Western) schooling as a site of epistemic, linguistic, and cultural violence. In other words, I explore how colonial and decolonial logics of difference, hierarchy and violence shape macro and micro-level modes of existence. The third and final aim is to provide illustrations of contemporary efforts of decolonial education at its intersections in multiple spaces and places through a discussion of Anzaldua’s border thinking.

At heart, decolonization works against the dehumanization and disposability of indigenous peoples; recovers and reinforces indigenous knowledges; protects indigenous jurisdiction over land, water, and agricultural rights; complicates border thinking; and explores hybridity or mestizaje as ways of knowing.

Notes on Decoloniality

Decoloniality refers to the everyday and ongoing efforts to challenge various forms of colonialism or coloniality in the past, present, and future. Leading contemporary scholar Walter Mignolo makes a distinction between decoloniality and decolonization. According to Mignolo, decoloniality refers to the active struggle against spiritual, social, political, and psychological colonization of indigenous peoples and their descendants by France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States (Smith 2000, p. 121). Like postcolonialism (see Tarc’s entry), decolonial scholars do not believe that the time of coloniality is over, even in nation-States or spaces that have so-called independence. While the praxis of decoloniality is made possible through historical anticolonial efforts, Mignolo and others argue that the concept of decolonization is tied to Cold War (post WWII) movements by indigenous peoples and their descendants across the Americas, Africa, and Asia. While some of these efforts towards decolonization created new real and symbolic sociocultural changes, many nation-States formerly ruled by external colonialism (vs. settler colonialism) has left many countries in ceaseless states of conflict and crisis. In fact, some decolonial writers note that political, economic, and environmental issues may be worse after becoming formally independent from formerly sixteenth to twentieth century imperial rule. However, decolonial scholars contend that indigenous, enslaved, and colonized peoples have resisted and survived despite 400 years of extraction, exploitation, and dehumanization.

Decoloniality rejects the universalism of Western philosophy and instead argues that knowledge production is tied to local and concrete struggles against various forms of coloniality. Thus, decoloniality or what Mignolo calls “the decolonial option” favors analyses, art forms, and actions that are particular and begin from the ground up. There are many ties between decoloniality and indigeneity, specifically the emphasis on local knowledge, self-determination, and sovereignty. However, there are other areas of debate and discrepancy. For example, indigeneity reflects a commitment to the sustainability of culturally specific ways of knowing and being as reflected in epistemology, cosmology, spirituality, language, kinship, education, place-based knowledge, and tribal governance. Indigeneity also reflects the historical and contemporary need to emphasize tribal sovereignty, especially as a strategy to maintain legal and economic ties to treaty rights. In contrast, most decolonial efforts operate from the epistemological assumptions of cultural hybridity as well as the conditions of transnational politics of globalization. In addition, the latter group suggests that the role of nation-States has diminished due to the rise of transnational corporations and mass geopolitical migration (Spivak). Here, decoloniality and indigeneity (as well as postcolonialism) may be thought of as inter-related, complementary, or alternative perspectives but not synonymous in focus or methods.

Decoloniality assumes that social categories such as race, gender, and sexuality are inventions of colonial capitalism (Alexander 2006). As social categories linked to colonial capitalism, they hold symbolic and material significance for how individuals and groups experience the social world. Decolonial writers are interested in illustrating how individuals, companies, and governments have mobilized these differences into sedimented hierarchies exploitable for conflict and profit. Scholars of decolonial theory at its intersections investigate how colonialism operates in tandem with race, gender, and sexuality to construct notions of the human (Lugones 2010), difference (Anzaldua 1987 and Perez 1999), and citizenship (Alexander 2006).

Similarly, scholars/thinkers/activists involved in various decolonial options seek to intervene in efforts to render particular bodies dehumanized and disposable. Writing about the coloniality of gender, Argentinean philosopher Maria Lugones notes that women of color have been denied the status of human being since Columbian contact in two specific ways. First, European colonial capitalist ontologies imposed a categorical and hierarchal system of racialization and sexual difference. Though recycled through “moralistic” and “scientific” forms, these modes of invented difference and hierarchy have served as the basis for State sanctioned forms of violence, disposability, and lack of legal recourse from physical and economic injury. Second, the racialized colonial logic of human/nonhuman allowed European trespassers to sexually violate and dismember the bodies of indigenous women as primitive not-White, not-women likened to beasts. These practices of dehumanization carry on as women of color have been particularly subject to sexual and gender-based harm, violence, and even death. From the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women by the US government to the police violence against Black and Latina women to the missing and murdered First Nations women across Turtle Island, women of color have been used and abused. Moreover the logics and structures of coloniality render women of color illegible as valued members of society and denied full citizenship and protection by the law. Thus, one of the strands or “options” of decoloniality specifically addresses the need for women of color to gain self-determination, reprojustice, and gender sovereignty.

Decoloniality works against extraction and destruction of local knowledges, cultural practices, and natural resources. Colonized groups across the Americas, Africa, and Asia have witnessed the violent extraction and careless destruction of natural resources from water to land including sacred sites and precious metals. Furthermore, forced displacement as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (such as the Trail of Tears and The Long Walk in the United States) and compulsory residential schooling have literally cut off indigenous persons and communities from the place-based knowledge and created generational trauma. As Maori scholar and activist Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) notes, colonialism created a particular “disorder” to existing indigenous belief systems including relations between the self, the collective, and land. This disordering of native belief systems, also referred to as epistemic violence or epistemicide, particularly affected the role of women (and Two-Spirit persons) as knowledge producers, spiritual guides, and leaders in medicinal and reproductive activities. Thus, another decolonial option is to provide recovery and healing and growth to regenerate the creative, cultural and political resources necessary for survival in next 400 years. Here recovery not only refers to psychological healing and growth; it is also “that specific lands and designated areas become a priority because the bulldozers are due to start destruction any day now.” (121) The 2016 mass protection demonstration by the Standing Rock Sioux at the Sacred Stone Campground against the Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPl) is a good example of decolonization efforts in action. Termed as the largest indigenous uprising in the United States (sic) natives and allies have joined together to protect sacred tribal burial grounds, protect the sacred nature of water in general and more concretely to stop the possibility of myriad environmental, biological, and human disasters due to accidental spillage. Like indigenous efforts of decolonization by First Nations in Canada (sic), NoDAPl contends that installation of the pipeline allows corporations to violate treaty agreements.

In addition to land reclamation, decolonial praxis works for language reclamation. This effort takes a variety of shapes. First, as with many indigenous histories, native languages were systematically and literally beaten out of tribal youth as they came in contact with and were forced to assimilate to British, French, Spanish, or Dutch language and culture within and outside of residential or other colonial schools. For nearly four centuries, youth and adults were punished for speaking native languages – thus creating many indigenous languages to perish along with the public displays of cultural and spiritual practices. Thus, one strand of language reclamation is at the very grassroots level to record and revitalize tribal language and education with the assistance of contemporary sociolinguistic and culturally sensitive pedagogical practices (Lomawaima and McCarty 2006).

Another strand of decolonial practice follows from mid-twentieth century postcolonial scholars such as Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Tho, who argued that rejecting the hegemonic languages of English and French were necessary to the process of decolonizing the mind. For Ngugi, writing in the colonial languages was tantamount to alienation in the Marxist sense of the word. Thus, he chose to publish much of his work in his native Gikuyu. Fellow postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak praised Ngugi’s stance on English as an imperialist tongue and the deleterious effects it would have for personal and collective struggles for freedom. However, she also noted how English became the language of globalization after World War II, and as such argued for the strategic use of English to reach a larger audience in transnational efforts of anticolonial mobilization. Consistent with a post-structural framework of the noninnocence of all power, Spivak stressed the complicity of all academic efforts to speak for and represent “the Other.” She writes, “Elite ‘postcolonialism’ seems to be as much a strategy of differentiating oneself from the racial underclass as it is to speak in its name.” (1999, p. 358) Here Spivak suggests that the failure of decolonization has resulted in the gendered postcolonial acting as a native informant of “those distant objects of oppression” (ibid, p. 360) of colonial, patriarchal, and class-based rule. Thus, one of the central claims in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason is the need for vigilant and responsible knowledge production among “those of us who become the globe-trotting postcolonials, ready for entanglements in new global complicities.” (Ibid, p. 363). To do so, Spivak regularly insisted that English speakers, members of the metropole, and the ivory tower challenge themselves to be responsible to their subaltern counterparts by learning local languages, aesthetic, and cultural productions and securing the subaltern’s authority (jurisdiction) over native land, agricultural, and water rights.

Remapping the World: Decolonial Perspectives on Language and Space

While Ngugi, Spivak, and other scholars from the 1950s to early 1980s focused on the need for postcolonial scholars to read, write, and speak in their native language, much of decolonial scholarship during the 1990s and afterword began to think and talk about language and space in theoretical and symbolic terms. Specifically, authors such as Gloria Anzaldua (1987) shifted the discussion of language to incorporate questions of hybridity, difference, and ambiguity. In contrast to Ngugi’s claim that a rejection of the master’s tongue would lead to decolonization of the mind, Andaldua’s framework of decoloniality began with the assumption that the lines between colonizer/colonized, master/native, native/Other are neither binary nor discrete due to the specific histories of colonization in the Americas. As Anzaldua notes, many Latin American territories (including the contested borders and boundaries between Mexico, Texas, and the southwest United States) consist of descendants of Spanish, African, Caribbean, and a wide variety of indigenous communities and citizens. Thus, the image of the “mestizo” serves as an organizing myth and national symbol for this population. “La malinche” (an enslaved indigenous female give to Conquistador Cortes) is considered to be the producer of the first “mestizo” – e.g., the Mother of a nation in which cultural hybridity is the norm. But as Anzaldua’s Latina feminist critique reminds us, the sexual and colonial violence of this history is often either erased or disappeared and leaves Mexicanas, Tejanas, and Chicanas living in the “borderlands” of multiple colonized territories (cultural, spatial, national, linguistic, psychic, etc.). According to Anzaldua, what remains are the three mothers of la gente Chicana who serve as icons of ambiguity. She writes, “All three are mediators: Guadalupe, the virgin mother who has not abandoned us, la Chingada (Malinche) and la Llorona, the mother who seeks her lost children and is a combination of the other two.” (p. 30). Anzaludua suggests that a deluge of affective scapegoating (mostly misogynist hostility and ethnic shame) has led to a dichotomous framing of Latinas as trapped within the colonial matrix of virgin/mother/whore. Instead, she argues that argues for a more tolerant attitude of ambiguity that embraces of mestizo identity, difference, and cultural hybridity. Specifically, Anzaldua calls for “a new mestiza consciousness” or a “consciousness of the Borderlands (1987, p. 77).” Anzaldua notes that the Eurocentric way is to treat difference and multiplicity as adversarial because of the entrenchment of authoritarianism within hierarchical onto-epistemologies. Because of her culturally hybrid identity, the mestizo has to negotiate multiple and often conflicting belief systems, affective positions, and political stances. This framing of difference and hybridity as duality and opposition has left minoritized subjects with cognitive, emotional, and spiritual wounds. Rather than see these contradictions as deficit, Anzaldua contends that the mestizo develops a “tolerance for ambivalence.” (p. 79). She posits that the new mestiza consciousness requires the decolonial subject to wrestle with her embodied knowledge in a kind of “soul work” (including creativity and intense pain). Out of this struggle emerges a new sensibility, a tolerance for vulnerability, ambiguity, movement, and perpetual construction and deconstruction of ideas and capacity to form new alliances for personal and social transformation. This space, the Borderlands, is both real and imaginary. It serves as symbol of hope and possibility for education as a project of love.

Decolonial Education: The Borderlands Are a Metaphor, a Place, and a Praxis

Educational philosopher Troy Richardson (2012) calls to disrupt the coloniality of being in US education that positions African, Latinx, and Native American youth as “primitive” or “enigmas” through the logics, practices, and structures of categorical subordination such as standardized testing, discipline policies, and even classrooms that antiassimilation pedagogies. In contrast, Richardson advocates for educators to consider “decolonial trans-ontologies” that reject colonial models of categorical subordination towards a “border thinking” that

entails a shift towards those physical borders where the complex forms and languages of being continuously emerge…. Through radical dialogues in these shifted locations we learn the pre-situations of such youth. Learning with minoritized youth in this way entails forms of bilanguaging wherein European ontologies lose something of their habitability. In those, perhaps, fleeting moments, decolonial trans-ontologies are more clearly recognized as the future which denies the colonial of being. (550)

Richardson’s call for philosophers of education and teachers to learn with minoritized youth in the ways, forms, languages, and spaces they inhabit reiterates the point that decolonial education not only affirms the “diversity of diversity” – but challenges the colonial model of education of philosopher/teacher/expert versus youth/ignorance/student-to- be classified, sorted, diagnosed, and evaluated.

Decolonial education employs critical and culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy that incorporates the wisdom of elders and community members. Moreover, life histories are considered intellectual “gifts” (Lomawaima and McCarty, p. 12). An important part of decolonial education is the recognition that struggles against colonial struggles have a long history across the world and to allow people to see themselves as part of that legacy. Thus, learning the life histories of both the named “leaders” as well as the unnamed people whose specific contributions may have not been recorded in colonial accounts were just as important in historical struggles against decolonization. This is important for two reasons. First, decolonial education emphasizes the retrieval and distribution of subjugated knowledges and histories. Given the longstanding tradition of Western education to promote colonial perspectives as official accounts of Being, Truth, History, Culture/Civilization, and Freedom, it is essential to actively disrupt the “un-coercive re-arrangement of desires” (Spivak 2004, p. 526).

Second, the praxis of remembrance, ceremony, and creative expression, or what Alexander (2006) calls “pedagogies of crossing,” all illustrate “the decolonial imaginary” in action (Perez 1999). Storytellers, artists, musicians, dancers, and poets have the potential to express embodied representations of how the matrix of colonial power is lived and felt differently by through technologies of anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, sexual violence, and global capitalism. As African American poet June Jordan (2007) so eloquently enunciates, “I am not Wrong: Wrong is not my Name.” The call and response of decolonial education is to grapple with the devastating afterlife of coloniality.



  1. Alexander, M. J. (2006). Pedagogies of crossing: Meditations of feminism, sexual politics, memory and the sacred. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University.Google Scholar
  2. Anzaldua, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute.Google Scholar
  3. Jordan, J. (2007). “Poem About My Rights” from directed by desire: The collected poems of June Jordan. Port Townsend: Canyon Press.Google Scholar
  4. Lomawaima, K. T., & McCarty, T. L. (2006). To remain an Indian an Indian: Lessons in democracy from a century of native American education. New York: Teachers College.Google Scholar
  5. Lugones, M. (2010). Toward a decolonial feminism. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 25(4), 742–759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Mignolo, W. (2000). Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges and border thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.Google Scholar
  7. Ngugi wa Thiongo. (1986). Decolonizing the mind: The politics of language in African literature. New York: Heineman.Google Scholar
  8. Perez, E. (1999). The decolonial imaginary: Writing Chicanas into history. Bloomington: Indiana University.Google Scholar
  9. Richardson, T. (2012). Disrupting the coloniality of being: Toward de-colonial ontologies in philosophy of education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 31, 539–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Smith, L. T. (2000, 2012). Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples. London: Zed.Google Scholar
  11. Spivak, G. C. (1999). A critique of postcolonial reason: Toward a history of the vanishing present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  12. Spivak, G. C. (2004). An aesthetic education in the era of globalization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Miami UniversityOxfordUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Nassim Noroozi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of Integrated Studies in EducationMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada