Tag Archives decoloniality

Grappling with unease – together: collective reflections on Migration Studies and Colonialism by Mayblin and Turner

Grappling with unease – together: collective reflections on Migration Studies and Colonialism by Mayblin and Turner

How can scholars tackle the legacy of colonialism in migration studies? Last year, a small group of critical development studies scholars at ISS sought to reflect on this challenge by ...

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

Mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are imbued with neocolonial discursive constructions of the “other”. Understanding how such constructions work has important implications for how we think about emancipatory ...

Transformative Methodologies | Listening differently, hearing more clearly: a decolonial approach to fostering dialogue between plural knowledges

Recent debates on decolonising research have highlighted the importance of accounting for plural knowledges by seeking to foster a dialogue between them. Yet, a dominant modern rationalist approach informing how we understand the knowledges we encounter and produce through our research is impeding this objective. A diversity of languages is used to share and represent knowledge – and not all of them can be captured and understood by modern rationality, writes Agustina Solera.

The people (el Pueblo)[1] do not speak the same language that we do. Their alphabet doesn’t have letters; only shapes, movements, gestures.
And it is not that the people are illiterate, but that they want to say things that we no longer say.”[2]
Rodolfo Kusch, 1966, Indios, Porteños y dioses

In the chapter ‘La Zamba y los Dioses’ (‘Zamba and the Gods’) from his 1966 book Indios, Porteños y Dioses (Indians, Porteños and Gods), Argentine philosopher Rodolfo Kusch contemplates the ritual meaning of Zamba, a traditional Argentine music genre and folk dance that is performed in pairs and with handkerchiefs in hand. In the colony, Zamba was the term attributed to the mestizo descendants of indigenous and black people, arising during the independence process as a show of affection for the mestizos. Kusch, recognised as a key antecedent for decolonial thought thanks to his in-depth research on indigenous and popular Latin American thought, in this work wonders which senses are evoked through Zamba – which meanings emerge through the movement of bodies, the rhythms, the gazes, the cadence, or the energetic swishing of handkerchiefs.

Kusch’s examination of this form of expression sets the scene for my discussion of the link between languages and transformative methodologies. It is clear that Zamba is a form of non-verbal communication that is used in popular culture to say those things that cannot be expressed orally or in writing – or that its adherents do not wish to say in any other way than through music or dance. And, as the ethnographic research I did with the Mapuche community near the city of San Martín de los Andes in Patagonia, Argentina in pursuit of my PhD showed, trying to render these forms of expression meaningful by assuming a rational lens results in the failure to capture the sensitivity and spirituality of such ways of communicating. Zamba, like other forms of cultural or social expression, must be understood in ways not based solely on a modern rationality.

From the modern-Western knowledge perspective, a dialogue of knowledges becomes possible only when the exchanges coexist within a framework of modern rationality; exchanges can only occur when communities share the same language. By language I mean any system of expression used to represent meanings. From this perspective, the senses that cannot be expressed through the resources considered genuine in knowledge production become insignificant and subsidiary (Palermo, 2004). This is inherently problematic, first and foremost because the untranslatable is ignored – those things that are inexpressible in logical-rational terms, precisely because they come from other logics and other ways of seeing, feeling, and making sense of the world. If in the immense universe of meanings present in the encounter with others, those ones that cannot be translated to the specific understanding of rationality, are excluded, then what is the point of opening up our research process toward other ways of knowing? Aren’t those ‘insignificant’ senses – the ones that have been able to survive continuous domination and impositions – the ones that have transformative potential?

Different representational resources are needed for dialogue across different ways of knowing; these are rooted in transformative methodologies. Such methodologies would be transformative since they would challenge not only the privilege attributed to one valid form of knowledge (modern-Western) over others, but also the superiority attributed to the resources considered valid to represent life experiences.

Resistance and re-existence

Mignolo (1992) denounces the colonisation of language and memory in Latin America, enabled by introducing the Roman alphabet and the discursive genres (or frames) associated with it to this region. Alphabetic writing was imposed as a way to preserve that which was previously transmitted through glyphs, pictograms, and oral stories. According to him, the graphic languages used before the conquest to share knowledge could be silenced by alphabetic writing.

Yet, the languages spoken with the body could not be completely colonised. All those who keep alive indigenous languages up to the present are proof that knowledge can still survive when shared in non-written ways. Zulma Palermo (2012) argued that not only expressions of resistance, but also expressions of re-existence emerge through languages that confront the canonical principles of modern rational knowledge. From a critical perspective of what has led to refusal and self-ignorance, the processes of re-existence refer to ways of re-elaborating life, of revaluing what has been denied (Albán Achinte, 2013).

Let’s go back to Kusch and the endless meanings that can be found in Zamba. He cannot translate into words what’s so fascinating about Zamba, nor can anyone who has witnessed this form of expression. The argumentative reasons are difficult to be found; the fascination seems inexplicable: “In the end, it is something very simple; it is only a dance that takes place in a special moment of any popular celebration. … A man and a woman… braid a circle while flipping handkerchiefs to the rhythm of guitars and a kick drum, and that’s it. And yet, the Zamba fascinates us …  Why? Is there something else in it? … Have we put in it what we have forbidden ourselves to show?” (Kusch, 2007: 287-289)[3]. And it is acceptable not to understand that which is not expressed in a modern rationalist manner. Dialoguing, accessing, or even noticing the colorful fabric of cultural plurality will hardly become possible through a monochromatic canonical gaze.

Representational resources are a primary part of methodological procedures, since they are the rationalities in which the meanings that constitute a scientific investigation are sustained (Peyloubet & Ortecho, 2015). Languages are part of the tools used to represent, interpret and translate the meanings that emerge in the encounter with others. Hence the importance of reflecting on languages when thinking about transformative methodologies, as well as the importance of reflecting on the scope of the resources that scientific institutions consider valid for producing knowledge and the possibilities that other-than-verbal-centered languages may create.


Alban Achinte, Adolfo (2013). Más allá de la razón hay un mundo de colores. Modernidades, colonialidades y reexistencia. Casa del Caribe y Editorial Oriente.

Kush, Rodolfo (2007). Rodolfo Kush: Obras completas. Tomo 1. Fundación Ross. Rosario, Argentina.

Lugones, María & Price, Joshua (2010). Translators’ introduction. In W. Mignolo, I. Silverblatt & S. Saldívar-Hull (Ed.), Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América (pp. lv-lxxii). New York, USA: Duke University Press.


Mignolo, Walter. (1992). “La colonización del lenguaje y la memoria. Complicidades de la letra, el libro y la memoria”. Coord. Iris M Zavala. Discursos sobre la ‘invención’ de América. Ed. Amsterdam, Holanda.

Palermo, Zulma (2012). “Mirar para comprender: artesanía y re-existencia”. Otros Logos. Revista de estudios críticos. Nº 3. 223-236. Universidad Nacional del Comahue. Neuquén, Argentina.

Palermo, Zulma (2004). “Ricardo J. Kaliman, Alhajita es tu canto. El capital simbólico de Atahualpa Yupanqui”. Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana. Nº 60. pp. 392-394. Lima.

Peyloubet, Paula & Ortecho, Mariana Jesús. (2015). Desafíos empíricos, crítica semiótica y una apuesta por la introducción a nuevos lenguajes. Signo y Pensamiento, 34(66), 14-27. https://doi.org/10.111447javeriana.syp34-66.decs

Solera, Agustina (2018). Movimientos decoloniales en la Patagonia Andina. Reflexiones para una conversación desde el territorio. (Decolonial Movements in Andean Patagonia. Thoughts for a conversation based on the territory). Doctoral dissertation. Centro de Estudios Avanzados, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba.

[1] Pueblo points not to ‘‘the people’’ as an abstraction, but to the concrete, disoriented human manyness that contains the possibility of community. (Lugones & Price, 2010: Ixi).

[2] Author’s own translation.

[3] Author’s own translation.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Agustina Solera is a Post-Doctoral Researcher for Prince Claus Chair in Equity and Development at ISS.

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EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Some steps for decolonising international research-for-development partnerships

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Some steps for decolonising international research-for-development partnerships

While partnerships between researchers and practitioners from the Global North and Global South can be and often are intellectually and socially impactful, they remain highly unequal. Coloniality pervades these partnerships, ...

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Questioning development: What lies ahead?

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Questioning development: What lies ahead?

Development Studies requires “an epistemological and ontological change”, write Elisabetta Basile and Isa Baud in the introduction to the recent EADI volume ‘Building Development Studies for a New Millennium’. The ...

Epistemic Diversity| Understanding epistemic diversity: decoloniality as research strategy by Olivia U. Rutazibwa

How do we make sure that our efforts to diversify knowledge production go beyond a window-dressing/Benetton operation? How can we move beyond merely adding some colour and other markers of ‘diversity’ to existing structures—a move that too neatly serves the neoliberal project embedded in our institutions, and their related unquenchable thirst for all that looks new, ‘shiny’ and exciting? I propose that an explicit decolonial engagement with epistemic diversity is one of the ways to productively address and navigate these challenges of co-optation and commodification.

A decolonial engagement[1] draws our attention to the need to foreground at least two important concerns. First, that epistemic diversification needs to explicitly speak to the issue of coloniality. Second, that we need to address the practical and institutional implications of anticolonial epistemic diversity.

The first concern invites us to understand that the (little) everyday institutional progress when it comes to more diversity in colour, gender, faith, ability, and sexuality, is merely the absolute minimal condition for a more just society. Hence, we should not mistake them for sufficient accomplishment. More importantly, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the ‘plussing-up’ exercise of the visible diversification is more damaging than simply not enough. We need to keep in mind that it is also a way through which coloniality can continue with a nicer face; and that that is the real and often most depressing danger.

The second concern points at the importance of moving beyond mere discursive deconstructions on what is wrong with our actual knowledge systems; the aim is to invest our efforts in material and immaterial (re)constructions of what and who has been erased or silenced.

In this regard, we could conceive of decoloniality as a research strategy consisting of three related sub-strategies: (1) the need to de-mythologize, pertaining to issues of ontology; (2) the need to de-silence, which more explicitly relates to epistemology; and (3) the need to anticolonially de-colonize, addressing both the tangible, material and the normative of knowledge production/cultivation.

De-mythologizing: where do we start the story?

In relation to the need de-mythologize, in International Relations and International Development Studies, this invites us to consider how we understand the world. A first question that arises is: where do we start the story? What is our point of departure? For example: many international development courses start with American President, Harry Truman, who in his inaugural address of 1949 declares that the USA will help the world and embark on a new program for the improvement and growth of the ‘underdeveloped areas’. It is a point of departure that systematically sustains the logic of development. If we instead start the story with how these areas became ‘underdeveloped’ to begin with, it becomes impossible to sidestep or minimise the constitutive force of transatlantic enslavement and colonialism in both International Development and International Relations thinking and practices. It becomes even more difficult to sustain the epistemic, technological and moral superiority of the West – the myth par excellence on which much of International Relations and International Development Studies is built.

A second consideration of de-mythology is that of Eurocentrism, be it geographic, imaginary or methodological. The question that arises from this is: what would our research questions or teaching look like if Europe, or the European experiences and knowledges were not the centre of our story? What would it look like when other places and experiences are centred? More importantly maybe, what if the European experiences were no longer cast as universal? It would again jeopardise the natural North-South capacity-building logic that is so central in much of our global knowledge systems and relations.

The third de-mythology consideration has to do with fragmentation. Much of colonial knowledge production is built on chopping up parts of the story that fundamentally belong together. Modernity (with the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, i.e. epistemic and technological (re)discoveries) and Coloniality (with Enslavement and Colonialism, i.e. genocide, epistemicide and ecocide) are hardly ever brought to us as sides of the same coin. So is our understanding and study of the origins of wealth and poverty, which are institutionally fragmented into different departments and disciplines. This allows us to study poverty without systematically engaging with the fact that the wealth in the global North has literally been sourced from the poverty in global South. Consequently, when we seek to explain poverty in, let’s say ‘Africa’, our students and many of our colleagues turn to the issue of corruption; a locally contained phenomenon which becomes the lead character in a tale from which we – the global North – can mythologically write ourselves out.

De-silencing: who are the experts? What is expertise?

If we look at de-silencing, the two main questions that arise are: who are the experts, and what do we consider expertise? Who has the microphone, who has the megaphone, and why? Who/what type of knowledge is (not) around the table and why?

When it comes to types of knowledges, we see that in the hegemonic global Northern canon, rationality is put forward as the one legitimate (i.e. ‘objective’) way to know and understand the world. Both feminist and decolonial scholarship have challenged this, yet the empiricist, linearly incremental, competitive, zero-sum, logic of colonial knowledge production continues to dominate the field – be it in our classroom, what we value and mark, how we teach, or in our own research designs.

When it comes to the ‘who are the experts’ question, we can see the literal silencing of peoples that are supposed to be the protagonists; take for example the systematic absence as experts of Muslim women in debates on the headscarf in continental Europe. Silencing can also manifest itself in binary representation, hierarchized difference, whitewashing or overexposure; think for instance of how whenever crime or terrorism comes up, there is an almost automatic invocation of Muslim men. Silencing also bears on our use of languages, on how some of them (like English) are overrepresented in our systems of knowledge and more importantly, how we forget to remember how little we can actually know about a place when we do not know its languages. So, as a first and minimal step, de-silencing invites us revisit the implications of the incredibly limited pool from which we source our knowledges in our quest to understand the world. In practical terms, but in the classroom and in our own research, it invites us to revisit not only what we include or exclude, but also what we foreground, start with, where we theorize from.

De-colonizing: fighting coloniality through knowledge cultivation

The third and last strategy, to anticolonially de-colonize, invites us to be explicit about the purpose of our knowledge production endeavours and connect it to the material consequences of coloniality. Why am I researching this? Who does it empower? How does this serve or work against the colonial status quo? One way to look at this is by asking ourselves the extent to which our knowledges contribute to, or fight processes of epistemicide, ecocide and genocide. Put differently, we can ask ourselves whether we cultivate knowledges to address the quality or possibility of life (of those denied by coloniality) or feed the colonial status quo; knowledges at the service of the will to power or the will to life?

As such, a decolonial research strategy pushed to its logical implications, invites us to re-consider the purpose and contents of our syllabi, disciplines and departments. In the case of International Development Studies for instance, once we have discursively addressed the myth of white western superiority, colonial amnesia and re-/de-centred/pluralised the logic and voices of knowledges, the decolonial invitation is to revisit the institutions in which we do this. When the logic of ‘aid’ and linear development reveals itself as highly problematic, its will-to-life alternative would rather propose something like a Department of Global Justice and Reparations instead; for instance. It is in our embracing or resistance of such drastic engagements with the implications of diversification that our commitment to dismantling coloniality reveals itself. Maybe we should start the conversation of epistemic justice here.

[1] The ideas in this blog entry are further elaborated on in Rutazibwa, O. U. (forthcoming, September 2018), “On Babies and Bathwater: Decolonsing Development Studies”. In: de Jong, S., Icaza, R. and Rutazibwa, O.U. (eds.). Decolonization and Feminisms in Global Teaching and Learning, London: Routledge.

With special thanks to Umbreen Salim for voluntarily transcribing this presentation that was recently presented at the ISS.

This poem forms part of a series on Epistemic Diversity. You can read the other articles here and here and here and here

IMG_2442.JPGAbout the author: 

Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa is senior lecturer in European and International Development Studies at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. Her research centres on ways to decolonise thinking and practices of International Solidarity by recovering and reconnecting philosophies and enactments of dignity and self-determination in the postcolony: autonomous recovery in Somaliland, Agaciro in Rwanda and Black Power in the US. She is the co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Politics (2018) and is associate editor of International Feminist Journal of Politics.


Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Epistemic Diversity | From ‘do no harm’ to making research useful: a conversation on ethics in development research by Karin Astrid Siegmann

Ethical dilemmas are part and parcel of the research processes that researchers are engaged in. This article details a recent conversation between ISS students and staff in which they tried ...

Epistemic Diversity | The challenge of epistemic poverty and how to think beyond what we know by Sruti Bala

Epistemic Diversity | The challenge of epistemic poverty and how to think beyond what we know by Sruti Bala

Researchers face the challenge of engaging with the topic of epistemic diversity. We know that we should consider diverse knowledges in our research, but how can this be operationalised? This ...

Epistemic Diversity | “I am where I think”: research and the task of epistemic diversity by Marina Cadaval and Rosalba Icaza

Epistemic diversity in research is sorely needed in the academia. But what is epistemic diversity and why is it so important? This post—the first of a series on epistemic diversity— introduces the topic and illustrates the importance of discussions on the political economy of knowledge production taking place in our universities. 

On Monday 7 May, the ISS Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Team organised the first of four Research Seminars taking place at the ISS that will focus on epistemic diversity in research. The main objective of these seminars is to provide a different angle to ongoing discussions about the appalling state of diversity at universities. Often these have remained focused on demographic diversity and the absence of women in higher ranks of academia. [1] To redress this absence we have seen the implementation of individually-based ‘solutions’ in universities (e.g. bias trainings).

But these interventions rarely consider structural and institutional elements behind the lack of demographic diversity in positions of leadership in universities. On the other hand, these interventions remain silent about the intersectional conditions of knowledge production in universities along axes of differentiation based on race, class and gender.[2]

Unfortunately, the emphasis on demographic diversity—who is at the university—also tends to render invisible the political economy of knowledge production at universities: who generates and distributes knowledge, for which purposes, and how?[3] Bringing epistemic diversity to the discussion means opening critical conversations on the geo-politics and body-politics of knowledge at universities. This angle emerges from an understanding of knowledge as contextual and situated: “I am where I think”, as decolonial feminist thinkers insist.

But, of course, we are aware that across time and place, the different models of knowledge generation at universities have responded to a diversity of social, cultural and ecological contexts, and to diverse aspirations. For example, let’s think about the foundation of the first universities in the Americas in the 16th Century. These institutions were founded—literally—over conquered First Nations people’s lands and with the exploitation of the labour of enslaved African peoples.[4] What kinds of aspirations were driving these violent interventions and who has benefited from this?

Another example that we can think of is the 1910 creation of the journal Foreign Affairs—which has a higher impact index in the field of international relations (IR)—under the name Journal of Race Development. Despite this, IR has been considered a “colourblind” discipline due to the neglect of “race” as a critical theoretical lens and research agenda and the absence of women and people of colour in IR curricula.[5] This neglect has been widely documented[6] in current efforts to decolonise IR canons. We wonder in which ways the present context that pushes universities’ regulation and normalisation through international ranking systems produces and reproduces neglect and silencing in our disciplines?

Between epistemic poverty and the decolonisation of knowledge

 In our first D&I research seminar, we ask to our keynote speakers—Dr Olivia Rutazibwa (University of Porthsmouth, UK) and Dr Sruti Bala (University of Amsterdam, NL)—to engage with the following questions:

What does academic research in the social sciences and humanities look like when epistemic diversity is considered? 

Which kinds of questions emerge? 

Which kinds of ethical and methodological challenges are opened?

Dr Bala started her presentation by sharing what epistemic diversity has meant for her in research and teaching. She shared a powerful reflection regarding academia as characterised by epistemic violence, injustice, and epistemic poverty when a translation of embodied experiences and their exposure in academic languages occurs. Bala invited us to think about practices in knowledge production that are critically attentive to the translations we carried on and that encourages coalitional ethics.

Meanwhile, Dr Rutazibwa spoke about the absence(s) and silence(s) in academic research in international development and its articulations with eurocentrism and colonialism. She introduced a decolonial-anticolonial methodology centred on integrity, dignity, intellectual curiosity, and generosity. Their arguments will be presented in future blog entries on Bliss.

For us, one of the most interesting quotes was the statement by Olivia Rutazibwa: “Being in the academy, not of the academy’. Rutazibwa mentioned this when one ISS student asked her how to navigate universities as institutions that do not welcome black women and people of colour in general.

“I am where I think”

 Our title is not accidental, but is rather an invitation to think critically about the implications of positioning our thinking when addressing epistemic diversity in research. This means for us not to suppress the epistemic, political and body locations from where we generate knowledge, but, on the contrary, to consider this as a possibility for enriching our learning experiences. This also means to locate—historically, epistemically and politically—this discussion in the Netherlands, where the ISS is based.

So, how is Dutch society rethought throughout its transatlantic kingdom?

How do decolonial efforts in the academia, the streets, in theory, and anti-colonial consciousness contribute to this rethinking?

Why does this rethinking matter for the study and practice of International Development?

In our next D&I Seminar on June 26th, we will have the opportunity to address these questions with Dr Melissa F. Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology at The College of the Holy Cross, and Dr Antonio Carmona , President of the University of St. Martin, at Philipsburg, Sint Maarten. They are the editors of the book “Smash the Pillars: Decoloniality and the Imaginary of Colour in the Dutch Kingdom” (Rowman and Littlefield), which will be launched at the ISS on this date.

About the book, Professor Nelson Maldonado Torres (Rutgers University) has commented the following:

“For too long the Netherlands has been considered an innocent and benevolent country, without apparently a significant colonial past or a racist present. This volume not only completely shatters this illusion, but also demonstrates the significance of multiple contemporary efforts to critically engage and decolonize Dutch society, culture, and political life.”

At the book launch Dr Carmona and Dr Weiner will be joined by two contributors to the book: Dr Patricia Schor from Amsterdam University College and an ISS alumnus, and Egbert Alejandro Martina, Queer Activist and Anti-Racist Intellectual and creator of the blog “Processed Life”.

 The event is open to the public and we warmly invite you to attend.

This article forms part of a series on Epistemic Diversity. You can read the other article in this series here

[1] Read, for example, the Bliss article ‘The university of paleness’ by Willem Schinkel, which discusses the author’s discontent following the Erasmus University’s decision not to appoint women professors despite possessing adequate funds to do so.
[2] See: Icaza, Rosalba and Rolando Vazquez “Diversity or Decolonization? Researching Diversity at the University of Amsterdam” Decolonising the University. Pluto Press, 2018 with Rolando Vazquez
[3] “Let’s do Diversity”. University of Amsterdam Diversity Commission Report. Wekker, Gloria; Marieke Slootman; Rosalba Icaza, Hans Jansen, Rolando Vazquez, UvA: Amsterdam, October 2016.
[4] http://www.harvardandslavery.com/
[5] Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line Edited by Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda and Robbie Shilliam, London and New York: Routledge, 2015.
[6] ibid

About the authors: 

MarinaMarina Cadaval is currently a PhD student at the ISS, where she also completed her Masters’ in Development Studies in the major of Social Policies for Development (2015-2017). She works on topics of inclusion of indigenous women in graduate education in Mexico, analysing the processes of formation of educational policies that have taken place in the last twenty years. Before returning to the academia, she worked for more than 10 years in the implementation of the first policy to promote graduate education for Mexican indigenous peoples.Rosalba2.jpg

Dr Rosalba Icaza is Associate Professor in Global Politics, Gender and Diversity at the ISS and Chair of the ISS Diversity and Inclusion Team. Her publications can be accessed at https://ricaza.academia.edu/research