Transmodernity, border thinking, and global coloniality

Decolonizing political economy and postcolonial studies

4 July 2008
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Postmodernism as an epistemological project still reproduces a particular form of coloniality. A decolonial perspective requires a broader canon of thought that would require taking seriously the epistemic insights of critical thinkers from the global South. How can a "critical border thinking" that envisages a "transmodern world" moves us beyond Eurocentrism?

Can we produce a radical anti-capitalist politics beyond identity politics? Is it
possible to articulate a critical cosmopolitanism beyond nationalism and colonialism?
Can we produce knowledges beyond Third World and Eurocentric fundamentalisms? Can
we overcome the traditional dichotomy between political-economy and cultural studies?
Can we move beyond economic reductionism and culturalism? How can we overcome
Eurocentric modernity without throwing away the best of modernity as many
Third World fundamentalists do? In this paper, I propose that an epistemic perspective
from the subaltern side of the colonial difference has a lot to contribute to this debate. It
can contribute to a critical perspective beyond the outlined dichotomies and to a
redefinition of capitalism as a world-system.

In October 1998, a conference/dialogue took place at Duke University between the
South Asian Subaltern Studies Group and the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group.
The dialogue eventually resulted in the publication of several issues of the journal Nepantla. However, this conference was the last time the Latin
American Subaltern Studies Group met before their split. Among the many reasons and
debates that produced this split, there are two that I would like to stress. The members of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group were primarily Latinamericanist scholars in
the USA. Despite their attempt at producing a radical and alternative knowledge, they
reproduced the epistemic schema of Area Studies in the United States. With a few
exceptions, they produced studies about the subaltern rather than studies with and from a
subaltern perspective. Like the imperial epistemology of Area Studies, theory was still
located in the North while the subjects to be studied are located in the South. This
colonial epistemology was crucial to my dissatisfaction with the project. As a Latino in
the United States, I was dissatisfied with the epistemic consequences of the knowledge
produced by this Latinamericanist group. They underestimated in their work ethnic/racial
perspectives coming from the region, while giving privilege predominantly to western
thinkers. This is related to my second point: they gave epistemic privilege to what they
called the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (Mallon 1994; Rodriguez 2001), that is,
Foucault, Derrida, Gramsci and Guha. Among these four thinkers, three
are Eurocentric while two (Derrida and Foucault) form part of the
poststructuralist/postmodern western canon. Only one, Rinajit Guha, is a thinker
from the South. By privileging western thinkers as their central theoretical apparatus,
they betrayed their goal to produce subaltern studies.

Among the many reasons for the split of the Latin American Subaltern Studies
Group, one of them was between those who read subalternity as a postmodern critique
(which represents a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism) and those who read subalternity
as a decolonial critique (which represents a critique of Eurocentrism from subalternized
and silenced knowledges) [Mignolo 2000: 183-186; 213-214]. For those of us that took
side with the decolonial critique, the dialogue with the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group made evident the need to epistemologically transcend, that is, decolonize the
Western canon and epistemology. The South Asian Subaltern Studies Group’s main
project is a critique of western European colonial historiography about India and to
Indian nationalist Eurocentric historiography of India. But by using a western
epistemology and privileging Gramsci and Foucault, they constrained and limited the
radicality of their critique of Eurocentrism. Although they represent different epistemic
projects, the South Asian Subaltern School’s privileging of western epistemic canon
overlapped with the sector of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group that sided with
postmodernism. However, with all its limits, the South Asian Subaltern Studies Group
represents an important contribution to the critique of Eurocentrism. It forms part of an
intellectual movement known as postcolonial critique (a critique of modernity from the
Global South) as opposed to the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group postmodern
critique (a critique of modernity from the Global North) [Mignolo 2000]. These debates
made clear to us (those who took side with the decolonial critique described above), the
need to decolonize not only Subaltern Studies but also Postcolonial Studies (Grosfoguel
2006a; 2006b).

This is not an essentialist, fundamentalist, anti-European critique. It is a
perspective that is critical of both Eurocentric and Third World fundamentalisms,
colonialism and nationalism. Border thinking, one of the epistemic perspectives to be
discussed in this article, is precisely a critical response to both hegemonic and marginal
fundamentalisms. What all fundamentalisms share (including the Eurocentric one) is the
premise that there is one sole epistemic tradition from which to achieve truth and
universality. However, my main points here are three: 1) that a decolonial epistemic perspective requires a broader canon of thought than simply the western canon
(including the Left western canon); 2) that a truly universal decolonial perspective
cannot be based on an abstract universal (one particular that promotes itself as universal
global design), but would have to be the result of critical dialogue between diverse
critical epistemic/ethical/political projects towards a pluriversal as opposed to a universal
world; 3) that decolonization of knowledge would require taking seriously the epistemic
perspective/cosmologies/insights of critical thinkers from the Global South thinking from
and with subalternized racial/ethnic/sexual spaces and bodies. Postmodernism and
postructuralism as epistemological projects are caught within the western canon,
reproducing within its domains of thought and practice a particular form of coloniality of

However, what I have said about the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group
applies to the paradigms of political-economy. In this article, I propose that an epistemic
perspective from racial/ethnic subaltern locations has a lot to contribute to a radical
decolonial critical theory beyond the way traditional political-economy paradigms
conceptualize capitalism as a global or world-system. The idea here is to decolonize
political-economy paradigms as well as world-system analysis and to propose an
alternative decolonial conceptualization of the world-system. The first part is an
epistemic discussion about the implications of the epistemological critique of feminist
and subalternized racial/ethnic intellectuals to western epistemology. The second part is
the implications of these critiques to the way we conceptualize the global or world
system. The third part is a discussion of global coloniality today. The fourth part is a
critique of both world-system analysis and postcolonial/cultural studies using coloniality of power as a response to the culture versus economy dilemma. Finally, the fifth, sixth,
seventh and last parts are a discussion of border thinking, transmodernity and socialization
of power as decolonial alternatives to the present world-system.

Epistemological critique

The first point to discuss is the contribution of racial/ethnic and feminist subaltern
perspectives to epistemological questions. The hegemonic Eurocentric paradigms that
have informed western philosophy and sciences in the “modern/colonial
capitalist/patriarchal world-system” (Grosfoguel 2005; 2006b) for the last 500 hundred
years assume a universalistic, neutral, objective point of view. Chicana and black
feminist scholars (Moraga and Anzaldua 1983; Collins 1990) as well as Third World
scholars inside and outside the United States (Dussel 1977; Mignolo 2000) reminded us
that we always speak from a particular location within power structures. Nobody escapes
the class, sexual, gender, spiritual, linguistic, geographical, and racial hierarchies of the
“modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system”. As feminist scholar Donna
Haraways (1988) states, our knowledges are always situated. Black feminist scholars
called this perspective “afro-centric epistemology” (Collins 1990) (which is not
equivalent to the afrocentrist perspective), while Latin American philosopher of
liberation Enrique Dussel called it “geopolitics of knowledge” (Dussel 1977);
following Fanon (1967) and Anzaldua (1987), I will use the term “body-politics of

This is not only a question about social values in knowledge production or the fact
that our knowledge is always partial. The main point here is the locus of enunciation, that
is, the geo-political and body-political location of the subject that speaks. In western philosophy and sciences the subject that speaks is always hidden, concealed, erased from
the analysis. The “ego-politics of knowledge” of western philosophy has always
privileged the myth of a non-situated “ego”. Ethnic/racial/gender/sexual epistemic
location and the subject that speaks are always decoupled. By delinking
ethnic/racial/gender/sexual epistemic location from the subject that speaks, western
philosophy and sciences are able to produce a myth about a truthful universal knowledge
that covers up, that is, conceals both the speaker as well as the geo-political and body-political epistemic location of the structures of colonial power/knowledge from which the
subject speaks.

It is important here to distinguish the “epistemic location” from the “social
location”. The fact that one is socially located in the oppressed side of power relations
does not automatically mean that he/she is epistemically thinking from a subaltern
epistemic location. The success of the modern/colonial world-system consists precisely in
making subjects that are socially located on the oppressed side of the colonial difference
think epistemically like the ones in dominant positions. Subaltern epistemic
perspectives are knowledge coming from below that produces a critical perspective of
hegemonic knowledge in the power relations involved. I am not claiming an epistemic
populism where knowledge produced from below is automatically an epistemic subaltern
knowledge. What I am claiming is that all knowledges are epistemically located in the
dominant or the subaltern side of the power relations and that this is related to the geo-
and body-politics of knowledge. The disembodied and unlocated neutrality and
objectivity of the ego-politics of knowledge is a western myth.

Rene Descartes, the founder of modern western philosophy, inaugurates a new
moment in the history of western thought. He replaces God, as the foundation of
knowledge in the theo-politics of knowledge of the European Middle Ages, with
(western) man as the foundation of knowledge in European Modern times. All the
attributes of God are now extrapolated to (western) man. Universal truth beyond time
and space, privilege access to the laws of the Universe, and the capacity to produce
scientific knowledge and theory is now placed in the mind of western man. The
Cartesian “ego-cogito” (“I think, therefore I am”) is the foundation of modern western
sciences. By producing a dualism between mind and body and between mind and nature,
Descartes was able to claim non-situated, universal, omniscient divine knowledge. This is
what the Colombian philosopher Santiago Castro-Gomez called the “point zero”
perspective of Eurocentric philosophies (Castro-Gomez 2003). The “point zero” is the
point of view that hides and conceals itself as being beyond a particular point of view,
that is, the point of view that represents itself as being without a point of view. It is this
“god-eye view” that always hides its local and particular perspective under an abstract
universalism. western philosophy privileges “ego politics of knowledge” over the
“geopolitics of knowledge” and the “body-politics of knowledge”. Historically, this has
allowed western man (the gendered term is intentionally used here) to represent his
knowledge as the only one capable of achieving a universal consciousness, and to dismiss
non-Western knowledge as particularistic and, thus, unable to achieve universality.

This epistemic strategy has been crucial for western global designs. By hiding the
location of the subject of enunciation, European/Euro-American colonial expansion and
domination was able to construct a hierarchy of superior and inferior knowledge and, thus, of superior and inferior people around the world. We went from the 16th century
characterization of “people without writing” to the 18th and 19th century characterization
of “people without history”, to the 20th century characterization of “people without
development” and more recently, to the early 21st century of “people without
democracy”. We went from the 16th century “rights of people” (Sepulveda versus de las
Casas debate in the school of Salamanca in the mid-sixteenth century), to the 18th century
“rights of man” (Enlightenment philosophers), and to the late 20th century “human rights”.
All of these are part of global designs articulated to the simultaneous production and
reproduction of an international division of labour into core/periphery that overlaps with the
global racial/ethnic hierarchy of Europeans/non-Europeans.

However, as Enrique Dussel (1994) has reminded us, the Cartesian “ego cogito”
(“I think, therefore I am”) was preceded by 150 years (since the beginnings of the
European colonial expansion in 1492) by the European “ego conquistus” (“I conquer,
therefore I am”). The social, economic, political and historical conditions of possibility
for a subject to assume the arrogance of becoming God-like and put himself as the
foundation of all truthful knowledge was the imperial being, that is, the subjectivity of
those who are at the centre of the world because they have already conquered it. What are
the decolonial implications of this epistemological critique of our knowledge production
and to our concept of world-system?

Coloniality of power as the power matrix of the modern/colonial world

Globalization studies, political-economy paradigms and world-system analysis,
with only a few exceptions, have not derived the epistemological and theoretical
implications of the epistemic critique coming from subaltern locations in the colonial divide and expressed in academia through ethnic studies and women’s studies. They
continue to produce knowledge from the perspective of western man’s “point zero” divine view. This has led to important problems in the way we conceptualize global capitalism and the
“world-system”. These concepts are in need of decolonization, which can only be
achieved with a decolonial epistemology that overtly assumes a decolonial geopolitics
and body-politics of knowledge as points of departure for a radical critique. The following
examples can illustrate this point.

If we analyze European colonial expansion from a Eurocentric point of view,
what we get is a picture in which the origins of the so-called capitalist world-system is
primarily produced by inter-imperial competition among European empires. The
primary motive for this expansion was to find shorter routes to the East, which led
accidentally to the so-called discovery and, eventual, colonization of the
Americas by Spain. From this point of view, the capitalist world-system would be primarily an
economic system that determines the behaviour of the major social actors by the economic
logic of making profits as manifested in the extraction of surplus value and the ceaseless
accumulation of capital at a world-scale. Moreover, the concept of capitalism implied in
this perspective privileges economic relations over other social relations. Accordingly,
the transformation in the relations of production produces a new class structure typical of
capitalism as opposed to other social systems and other forms of domination. Class
analysis and economic structural transformations are privileged over other power

Without denying the importance of the endless accumulation of capital at a world
scale and the existence of a particular class structure in global capitalism, I raise the following epistemic question: What would the world-system looks like if we moved the
locus of enunciation from the European man to an Indigenous women in the Americas,
to, say Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala or to Domitila in Bolivia? I do not pretend to
speak for or represent the perspective of these indigenous women. What I attempt to do is
to shift the location from which these paradigms are thinking. The first implication of
shifting our geopolitics of knowledge is the recognition that what arrived in the Americas in the late 15th
century was not only an economic system of capital and labour for the production of
commodities to be sold for a profit in the world market. This was a crucial part of, but
was not the sole element in, the entangled “package.” What arrived in the Americas was a
broader and wider entangled power structure that an economic reductionist perspective of
the world-system is unable to account for. From the structural location of an indigenous
woman in the Americas, what arrived was a more complex world-system than what
political-economy paradigms and world-system analysis portray. A European/capitalist/military/christian/patriarchal/white/heterosexual/male arrived in the
Americas and established simultaneously in time and space several entangled global
hierarchies that for purposes of clarity in this exposition I will list below as if they were
separate from each other:

1) a particular global class formation where a diversity of forms of labour (slavery, semi-
serfdom, wage labour, petty-commodity production, etc.) were to co-exist and be
organized by capital as a source of production of surplus value through the selling of
commodities for a profit in the world market;

2) an international division of labour of core and periphery where capital organized labour
at the periphery around coerced and authoritarian forms (Wallerstein 1974; 3);
3) an inter-state system of politico-military organizations controlled by European males and institutionalized in colonial administrations (Wallerstein 1979);

4) a global racial/ethnic hierarchy that privileged European people over non-European
people (Quijano 1993; 2000);
5) a global gender hierarchy that privileged males over females and European patriarchy
over other forms of gender relations (Spivak 1988; Enloe 1990);
6) a sexual hierarchy that privileged heterosexuals over homosexuals and lesbians (it is
important to remember that most indigenous peoples in the Americas did not consider
sexuality among males a pathological behaviour and had no homophobic ideology);

7) a spiritual hierarchy that privileged Christians over non-Christian/non-Western
spiritualities institutionalized in the globalization of the Christian (Catholic and later
Protestant) Church;

8) an epistemic hierarchy that privileged western knowledge and cosmology over non-
Western knowledge and cosmologies, and institutionalized in the global university
system (Mignolo 1995, 2000; Quijano 1991).
9) a linguistic hierarchy between European languages and non-European languages that
privileged communication and knowledge/theoretical production in the former and
subalternized the latter as sole producers of folklore or culture but not of knowledge/theory
(Mignolo 2000).

It not accidental that the conceptualization of the world-system, from
decolonial perspectives of the South, will question its traditional conceptualizations
produced by thinkers from the North. Following Peruvian Sociologist Aníbal Quijano
(1991; 1998; 2000), we could conceptualize the present world-system as a historical- structural heterogeneous totality with a specific power matrix, which he calls a “colonial
power matrix” (“patrón de poder colonial”). This matrix affects all dimensions of social
existence such as sexuality, authority, subjectivity and labour (Quijano 2000). The 16th
century initiated a new global colonial power matrix that by the late 19th century came to
cover the whole planet. Taking a step further from Quijano, I conceptualize the
coloniality of power as an entanglement or, to use US Third World feminist concept,
intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989; Fregoso 2003) of multiple and heterogeneous global
hierarchies (“heterarchies”) of sexual, political, epistemic, economic, spiritual, linguistic
and racial forms of domination and exploitation. Here, the racial/ethnic hierarchy of the
European/non-European divide transversally reconfigures all the other global power
structures. What is new in the “coloniality of power” perspective is how the idea of race
and racism becomes the organizing principle that structures all of the multiple hierarchies
of the world-system (Quijano 1993). For example, the different forms of labour that are
articulated to capitalist accumulation at a world-scale are assigned according to this racial
hierarchy; coercive (or cheap) labour is done by non-European people on the periphery and
“free wage labour” at the core. The global gender hierarchy is also affected by race:
contrary to pre-European patriarchies, where all women were inferior to all men, in the
new colonial power matrix some women (of European origin) have a higher status and
access to resources than some men (of non-European origin). The idea of race organizes
the world’s population into a hierarchical order of superior and inferior people that
becomes an organizing principle of the international division of labour and of the global
patriarchal system. Contrary to the Eurocentric perspective, race, gender, sexuality,
spirituality, and epistemology are not additive elements to the economic and political structures of the capitalist world-system, but an integral, entangled and constitutive part
of the broad entangled “package” called the European modern/colonial
capitalist/patriarchal world-system (Grosfoguel 2002). European patriarchy and European
notions of sexuality, epistemology and spirituality were exported to the rest of the world
through colonial expansion as the hegemonic criteria to racialize, classify and pathologize
the rest of the world’s population in a hierarchy of superior and inferior races.

This conceptualization has enormous implications that I can only briefly mention

1) The old Eurocentric idea that societies develop at the level of the nation-state in terms
of a linear evolution of modes of production from pre-capitalist to capitalist is
overcome. We are all encompassed within a capitalist world-system that articulates
different forms of labour according to the racial classification of the world’s population
(Quijano 2000; Grosfoguel 2002).
2) The old Marxist paradigm of infrastructure and superstructure is replaced by a
historical-heterogeneous structure (Quijano 2000) or a “heterarchy” (Kontopoulos
1993), that is, an entangled articulation of multiple hierarchies, in which subjectivity
and the social imaginary is not derivative but constitutive of the structures of the
world-system (Grosfoguel 2002). In this conceptualization, race and racism are not
superstructural or instrumental to an overarching logic of capitalist accumulation,
but are constitutive of capitalist accumulation at a world-scale. The “colonial power
matrix” is an organizing principle involving exploitation and domination exercised in
multiple dimensions of social life, from economic, sexual, or gender relations, to political organizations, structures of knowledge, state institutions, and households
(Quijano 2000).
3) The old division between culture and political-economy as expressed in postcolonial
studies and political-economy approaches is overcome (Grosfoguel 2002). Postcolonial studies conceptualize the capitalist world-system as being constituted
primarily by culture, while political-economy place the primary determination on
economic relations. In the “coloniality of power” approach, what comes first, “culture
or the economy”, is a chicken-egg dilemma that obscure the
complexity of the capitalist world-system (Grosfoguel 2002).
4) Coloniality is not equivalent to colonialism. It is not derivative from, or antecedent
to, modernity. Coloniality and modernity constitute two sides of a single coin. The
same way as the European industrial revolution was achieved on the shoulders of the
coerced forms of labour in the periphery, the new identities, rights, laws, and
institutions of modernity such as nation-states, citizenship and democracy were
formed in a process of colonial interaction with, and domination/exploitation of, non-
Western people.
5) To call the present world-system “capitalist” is misleading, to say the least. Given the
hegemonic Eurocentric “common sense”, the moment we use the word “capitalism”
people immediately think that we are talking about the “economy”. However,
“capitalism” is only one of the multiple entangled constellations of colonial power
matrix of the “European modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system”. It is an
important one, but not the sole one. Given its entanglement with other power
relations, destroying the capitalist aspects of the world-system would not be enough to destroy the present world-system. To transform this world-system, it is crucial to
destroy the historical-structural heterogenous totality called the “colonial power
matrix” of the “world-system”.
6) Anti-capitalist decolonization and liberation cannot be reduced to only one dimension
of social life. It requires a broader transformation of the sexual, gender, spiritual,
epistemic, economic, political, linguistic and racial hierarchies of the modern/colonial
world-system. The “coloniality of power” perspective challenges us to think about
social change and social transformation in a non-reductionist way.

From global colonialism to global coloniality

We cannot think of decolonization in terms of conquering power over the
juridical-political boundaries of a state, that is, by achieving control over a single nation-
state (Grosfoguel 1996). The old national liberation and socialist strategies of taking
power at the level of a nation-state are not sufficient because global coloniality is not
reducible to the presence or absence of a colonial administration (Grosfoguel 2002) or to
the political/economic structures of power. One of the most powerful myths of the 20th
century was the notion that the elimination of colonial administrations amounted to the
decolonization of the world. This led to the myth of a “postcolonial” world. The
heterogeneous and multiple global structures put in place over a period of 450 years did
not evaporate with the juridical-political decolonization of the periphery over the past 50
years. We continue to live under the same “colonial power matrix”. With juridical-
political decolonization we moved from a period of “global colonialism” to the current
period of “global coloniality”. Although “colonial administrations” have been almost
entirely eradicated and the majority of the periphery is politically organized into independent states, non-European people are still living under crude European/Euro-
American exploitation and domination. The old colonial hierarchies of European versus
non-European remain in place and are entangled with the “international division of
labour” and accumulation of capital at a world-scale (Quijano 2000; Grosfoguel 2002).

Herein lies the relevance of the distinction between “colonialism” and
“coloniality”. Coloniality allows us to understand the continuity of colonial forms of
domination after the end of colonial administrations, produced by colonial cultures and
structures in the modern/colonial capitalist world-system. “Coloniality of power” refers to
a crucial structuring process in the modern/colonial world-system that articulates
peripheral locations in the international division of labour with the global racial/ethnic
hierarchy and Third World migrants’ inscription in the racial/ethnic hierarchy of
metropolitan global cities. Peripheral nation-states and non-European people live today
under the regime of “global coloniality” imposed by the United States through the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the Pentagon and NATO.
Peripheral zones remain in a colonial situation even though are no longer under
colonial administration.

“Colonial” does not refer only to “classical colonialism” or “internal colonialism”,
nor can it be reduced to the presence of a “colonial administration”. Quijano
distinguishes between colonialism and coloniality. I use the word “colonialism” to refer
to “colonial situations” enforced by the presence of a colonial administration such as the
period of classical colonialism, and, following Quijano (1991; 1993; 1998), I use
“coloniality” to address “colonial situations” in the present period in which colonial
administrations have almost been eradicated from the capitalist world-system. By “colonial situations” I mean the cultural, political, sexual and economic
oppression/exploitation of subordinate racialized/ethnic groups by dominant racial/ethnic
groups with or without the existence of colonial administrations. Five hundred years of
European colonial expansion and domination formed an international division of labour
between Europeans and non-Europeans that is reproduced in the present so-called “post-
colonial” phase of the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein, 1979; 1995). Today the core
zones of the capitalist world-economy overlap with predominantly white/European/Euro-
American societies such as western Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States,
while peripheral zones overlap with previously colonized non-European people. Japan is
the only exception that confirms the rule. Japan was never colonized nor dominated by
Europeans and, similar to the West, played an active role in building its own colonial
empire. China, although never fully colonized, was peripheralized through the use of
colonial entrepots such as Hong Kong and Macao, and through direct military

The mythology of the “decolonization of the world” obscures the continuities
between the colonial past and current global colonial/racial hierarchies and contributes to
the invisibility of “coloniality” today. For the last fifty years, peripheral states that are
today formally independent, following the dominant Eurocentric liberal discourses
(Wallerstein, 1991a; 1995), constructed ideologies of “national identity”, “national
development”, and “national sovereignty” that produced an illusion of “independence,”
“development,” and “progress”. Yet their economic and political systems were shaped by
their subordinate position in a capitalist world-system organized around a hierarchical
international division of labour (Wallerstein, 1979; 1984; 1995). The multiple and heterogeneous processes of the world-system, together with the predominance of
Eurocentric cultures (Said, 1979; Wallerstein, 1991b; 1995; Lander 1998; Quijano 1998;
Mignolo 2000), constitute a “global coloniality” between European/Euro-American
peoples and non-European peoples. Thus, “coloniality” is entangled with, but is not
reducible to, the international division of labour. The global racial/ethnic hierarchy of
Europeans and non-Europeans is an integral part of the development of the capitalist
world system’s international division of labour (Wallerstein, 1983; Quijano, 1993;
Mignolo, 1995). In these “post-independence” times, the “colonial” axis between
Europeans/Euro-Americans and non-Europeans is inscribed not only in relations of
exploitation (between capital and labour) and relations of domination (between
metropolitan and peripheral states), but in the production of subjectivities and knowledge.
In sum, part of the Eurocentric myth is that we live in a so-called “post”-colonial era and
that the world, and in particular metropolitan centres, are in no need of decolonization. In
this conventional definition, coloniality is reduced to the presence of colonial
administrations. However, as the work of Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano (1993,
1998, 2000) has shown with his “coloniality of power” perspective, we still live in a
colonial world and we need to break from the narrow ways of thinking about colonial
relations, in order to accomplish the unfinished and incomplete 20th century dream of
decolonization. This forces us to examine new decolonial utopian alternatives beyond
Eurocentric and “Third Worldist” fundamentalisms.

Postcoloniality and world-systems: A call for a dialogue

Rethinking the modern/colonial world from the colonial difference modifies
important assumptions of our paradigms. Here I would like to focus on the implication of the “coloniality of power” perspective for the world-system and postcolonial paradigms.
Most world-system analyses focus on how the international division of labour and
geopolitical military struggles are constitutive of capitalist accumulation processes at a
world-scale. Although I use this approach as a point of departure, thinking from the
colonial difference forces us to take more seriously ideological/symbolic strategies as well
as the colonial/racist culture of the modern/colonial world. World-system analysis has
recently developed the concept of geoculture to refer to global ideologies. However, the
use of “geoculture” in the world-system approach is framed within the infrastructure-
superstructure Marxist paradigm. Contrary to this conceptualization, I take global
ideological/symbolic strategies and colonial/racist culture as constitutive, together with
capitalist accumulation processes and the inter-state system, of the core-periphery
relationships at a world-scale. These different structures and processes form a heterarchy
(Kontopoulos, 1993) of heterogeneous, complex and entangled hierarchies that cannot be
accounted for in the infrastructure/superstructure paradigm.

Postcoloniality shares with the world-system approach a critique of developmentalism, of Eurocentric forms of knowledge, of gender inequalities, of racial
hierarchies, and of the cultural/ideological processes that foster the subordination of the
periphery in the capitalist world-system. However, the critical insights of both
approaches emphasize different determinants. While postcolonial critiques emphasize
colonial culture, the world-system approach emphasizes the endless accumulation of
capital at a world-scale. While postcolonial critiques emphasize agency, the world-
system approach emphasizes structures. Some scholars of the postcolonial theory such as
Gayatri Spivak (1988) acknowledge the importance of the international division of labour as constitutive of the capitalist system while some scholars of the world-system approach
such as Immanuel Wallerstein acknowledge the importance of cultural processes such as
racism and sexism as inherent to historical capitalism. However, the two camps in
general are still divided over the culture vs. economy and the agency vs. structure binary
oppositions. This is partly inherited from the “two cultures” of western knowledge that
divide the sciences from the humanities, premised upon the Cartesian dualism of mind
over matter.

With very few exceptions, most postcolonial theorists come from fields of the
humanities such as literature, rhetoric, and cultural studies. Only a small number of
scholars in the field of postcoloniality come from the social sciences, in particular from
anthropology. On the other hand, world-system scholars are mainly from disciplines in
the social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, political sciences, and economics.
Very few of them come from the humanities, with the exception of historians which tend
to have more affinities with the world-system approach, and very few come from
literature. I have emphasized the disciplines that predominate in both approaches because
I think that these disciplinary boundaries are constitutive of some of the theoretical
differences between both approaches.

Postcolonial criticism characterizes the capitalist system as a cultural system.
They believe that culture is the constitutive element that determines economic and
political relations in global capitalism (Said, 1979). On the other hand, most world-
system scholars emphasize the economic relations at a world-scale as constitutive of the
capitalist world-system. Cultural and political relations are conceptualized as
instrumental to, or epiphenomenon of, the capitalist accumulation processes. The fact is that world-system theorists have difficulties theorizing culture while postcolonial
theorists have difficulties conceptualizing political-economic processes. The paradox is
that many world-system scholars acknowledge the importance of culture, but do not
know what to do with it nor how to articulate it in a non-reductive way; while many post-
colonial scholars acknowledge the importance of political-economy but do not know how
to integrate into cultural analysis without reproducing a “culturalist” type of
reductionism. Thus, both literatures fluctuate between the danger of economic
reductionism and the danger of culturalism. Postcolonial studies and world-system
analysis are in need of decolonial intervention.

I propose that the culture vs. economy dichotomy is a “chicken-egg” dilemma,
that is, a false dilemma that comes from what Immanuel Wallerstein has called the
legacy of nineteenth century liberalism (Wallerstein, 1991a: 4). This legacy implies the
division of the economic, political, cultural and social as autonomous arenas. According
to Wallerstein, the construction of these “autonomous” arenas and their materialization in
separate knowledge domains such as political science, sociology, anthropology, and
economics in the social sciences as well as the various disciplines in the humanities are
a pernicious result of liberalism as a geoculture of the modern world-system. In a critical
appraisal of world-system analysis, Wallerstein states that:

World-system analysis intends to be a critique of nineteenth century social science. But
it is an incomplete, unfinished critique. It still has not been able to find a way to surmount
the most enduring (and misleading) legacy of nineteenth century social science – the
division of social analysis into three arenas, three logics, three levels – the economic, the political and the socio-cultural. This trinity stands in the middle of the road, in granite,
blocking our intellectual advance. Many find it unsatisfying, but in my view no one has
yet found the way to dispense with the language and its implications, some of which are
correct but most of which are probably not.” (1991a: 4)

All of us fall back on using the language of the three arenas in almost everything we
write. It is time we seriously tackled the question […] we are pursuing false models and
undermining our argumentation by continuing to use such language. It is urgent that we
begin to elabourate alternative models. (1991: 271).

We have yet to develop a new decolonial language to account for the complex
processes of the modern/colonial world-system without relying on the old liberal
language of the three arenas. For example, the fact that world-system theorists characterize
the modern world-system as a world-economy misleads many people into thinking that
world-system analysis is about analyzing the so-called “economic logic” of the system.
This is precisely the kind of interpretation Wallerstein attempts to avoid in his critique of
the three autonomous domains. However, as Wallerstein himself acknowledges, the
language used in world-system analysis is still caught in the old language of nineteenth-
century social science; to dispense of this language is a huge challenge. What if
capitalism is a world-economy, not in the limited sense of an economic system, but in the
sense of Wallerstein’s historical system defined as “an integrated network of economic,
political and cultural processes the sum of which hold the system together” (Wallerstein,
1991a, 230)? We need to find new concepts and a new language to account for the complex entanglement of gender, racial, sexual, and class hierarchies within global
geopolitical, geocultural, and geo-economic processes of the modern/colonial world-
system, where the ceaseless accumulation of capital is affected by, integrated to,
constitutive of, and constituted by those hierarchies. In order to find a new decolonial
language for this complexity, we need to go “outside” our paradigms, approaches,
disciplines and fields. I propose that we examine the metatheoretical notion of
“heterarchies” developed by Greek social theorist, sociologist and philosopher Kyriakos
Kontopoulos (1993) as well as the notion of “coloniality of power” developed by Aníbal
Quijano (1991; 1993; 1998).

Heterarchical thinking (Kontopoulos, 1993) is an attempt to conceptualize social
structures with a new language that breaks with the liberal paradigm of nineteenth
century social science. The old language of social structures is a language of closed
systems, that is, of a single, overarching logic determining a single hierarchy. To define a
historical system as a “nested hierarchy”, as Wallerstein proposed in the Gulbenkian
Commission report “Open the Social Sciences”, undermines the world-system approach
by continuing to use a meta-theoretical model that corresponds to closed systems,
precisely the opposite of what World-System approach attempts to do. In contrast,
heterarchies move us beyond closed hierarchies into a language of complexity, open
systems, entanglement of multiple and heterogeneous hierarchies, structural levels, and
structuring logics. The notion of “logics” here is redefined to refer to the heterogeneous
entanglement of multiple agents’ strategies. The idea is that there is neither autonomous
logics nor a single logic, but multiple, heterogeneous, entangled, and complex processes
within a single historical reality. The notion of entanglement is crucial here and is close to Wallerstein’s notion of historical systems understood as “integrated networks of
economic, political and cultural processes”. The moment multiple hierarchical
relationships are considered to be entangled, according to Kontopoulos, or integrated,
according to Wallerstein, no autonomous logics or domains remain. The notion of a
single logic runs the risk of reductionism, which is contrary to the idea of complex
systems, while the notion of multiple logics runs the risk of dualism. The solution to
these ontological questions (the reductionist/autonomist dilemma) in heterarchichal
thinking is to go beyond the monism/dualism binary opposition and to talk about an
emergent materialism that implies multiple, entangled processes at different structural
levels within a single historical material reality (which includes the symbolic/ideological
as part of that material reality). Heterarchies keep the use of the notion of “logics” only
for analytical purposes in order to make certain distinctions or to abstract certain
processes that, once integrated or entangled in a concrete historical process, acquire a
different structural effect and meaning. Heterarchical thinking provides a language for
what Immanuel Wallerstein calls a new way of thinking that can break with the liberal
nineteenth-century social sciences and focus on complex, historical systems.

The notion of “coloniality of power” is also helpful in terms of decolonizing the
culture vs. economy dilemma. Quijano’s work provides a new way of thinking about this
dilemma that overcomes the limits of both postcolonial and world-system analysis. In
Latin America, most dependentista theory privileged the economic relations in social
processes at the expense of cultural and ideological determinations. Culture was
perceived by the dependentista school as instrumental to capitalist accumulation
processes. In many respects dependentistas and world-system analysts reproduced some of the economic reductionism of orthodox Marxist approaches. This led to two problems:
first, an underestimation of colonial/racial hierarchies; and, second, an analytical
impoverishment that could not account for the complexities of global heterarchical
political-economic processes.

Dependency ideas must be understood as part of the “longue durée” of concepts of modernity
in Latin America. Autonomous national development has been a central ideological theme
of the modern world-system since the late eighteenth century. Dependentistas reproduced
the illusion that rational organization and development can be achieved from the control
of the nation-state. This contradicted the position that development and
underdevelopment are the result of structural relations within the capitalist world-system.
Although dependentistas defined capitalism as a global system beyond the nation-state,
they still believed it was possible to delink or break with the world system at the nation-
state level (Frank, 1970: 11, 104, 150; Frank, 1969: Chapter 25). This implied that a
socialist revolutionary process at the national level could insulate the country from the
global system. However, as we know today, it is impossible to transform a system that
operates on a world-scale by privileging the control/administration of the nation-state
(Wallerstein, 1992b). No “rational” control of the nation-state would alter the location of
a country in the international division of labour. “Rational” planning and control of the
nation-state contributes to the developmentalist illusion of eliminating the inequalities of
the capitalist world-system from a nation-state level.

In the capitalist world-system, a peripheral nation-state may experience
transformations in its form of incorporation to the capitalist world-economy, a minority
of which might even move to a semi-peripheral position. However, to break with, or transform, the whole system from a nation-state level is completely beyond their range of
possibilities (Wallerstein, 1992a; 1992b). Therefore, a global problem cannot have a
national solution. This is not to deny the importance of political interventions at the
nation-state level. The point here is not to reify the nation-state and to understand the
limits of political interventions at this level for the long-term transformation of a system
that operates at a world-scale. The nation-state, although still an important institution of
historical capitalism, is a limited space for radical political and social transformation.
Collective agencies in the periphery need a global scope in order to make an effective
political intervention in the capitalist world-system. Social struggles below and above the
nation-state are strategic spaces of political intervention that are frequently ignored when
the focus of the movements privileges the nation-state. Social movements’ local and
global connections are crucial for effective political interventions. The dependentistas
overlooked this due, in part, to their tendency to privilege the nation-state as the unit of
analysis and to the economistic emphasis of their approaches. This had terrible political
consequences for the Latin American Left and the credibility of the dependentista political

For most dependentistas and world-system analysts, the “economy” was the
privileged sphere of social analysis. Categories such as “gender” and “race” were
frequently ignored, and when used they were reduced (instrumentalized) to either class or
economic interests. Quijano (1993) is one of the few exceptions.
“Coloniality of power” is a concept that attempts to integrate as part of a heterogeneous
structural process the multiple relations in which cultural, political and economic
processes are entangled in capitalism as a historical system. Quijano uses the notion of “structural heterogeneity”, which is very close to the notion of “heterarchy” discussed
above. Similar to world-system analysis, the notion of “coloniality” conceptualizes the
process of colonization of the Americas and the constitution of a capitalist world-
economy as part of the same entangled process. However, different from world-system
approach, Quijano’s “structural heterogeneity” implies the construction of a global
racial/ethnic hierarchy that was simultaneous in time and space to the
constitution of an international division of labour with core-periphery relationships at a
world-scale. Since the initial formation of the capitalist world-system, the ceaseless
accumulation of capital has been entangled with racist, homophobic and sexist global
ideologies. The European colonial expansion was led by European heterosexual males.
Everywhere they went, they exported their cultural prejudices and formed heterarchical
structures of sexual, gender, class, and racial inequality. Thus, in “historical capitalism”,
understood as a “heterarchical system” or as a “heterogeneous structure”, the process of
peripheral incorporation to the ceaseless accumulation of capital was constituted by, and
entangled with, homophobic, sexist, and racist hierarchies and discourses. As opposed to
world-system analysis, what Quijano emphasizes with his notion of “coloniality of
power” is that there is no overarching capitalist accumulation logic that can
instrumentalize ethnic/racial divisions and that precedes the formation of a global,
colonial, Eurocentric culture. The “instrumentalist” approach of most world-system
analysis is reductive and is still caught in the old language of nineteenth century social
science. For Quijano, racism is constitutive and entangled with the international division
of labour and capitalist accumulation at a world-scale. The notion of “structural
heterogenerity” implies that multiple forms of labour co-exist within a single historical process. Contrary to orthodox Marxist approaches, there is no linear succession of modes
of production (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, etc.). From a Latin American peripheral
perspective, as a general trend these forms of labour where all articulated simultaneously
in time and entangled in space between “free” forms of labour assigned to the core or
European origin populations and “coerced” forms of labour assigned to the periphery or
non-European populations. Capitalist accumulation at a world-scale operates by
simultaneously using diverse forms of labour divided, organized and assigned according to
the racist Eurocentric rationality of the “coloniality of power”. Moreover, for Quijano
there is no linear teleology between the different forms of capitalist accumulation
(primitive, absolute and relative, in this order according to Marxist Eurocentric analysis).
For Quijano, multiple forms of accumulation also co-exist simultaneously, are coeval
in time. As a long-term trend, the “violent” (called “primitive” accumulation in
Eurocentric Marxism) and “absolute” forms of accumulation are predominant in the non-
European periphery, while the “relative” forms of accumulation predominate in the “free”
labour zones of the European core.

The second problem with the dependentista underestimation of cultural and
ideological dynamics is that it impoverished their own political-economy approach.
Ideological/symbolic strategies as well as Eurocentric forms of knowledge are
constitutive of the political-economy of the capitalist world-system. Global
symbolic/ideological strategies are an important structuring process of the core-periphery
relationships in the capitalist world-system. For instance, core states develop
ideological/symbolic strategies by fostering “occidentalist” (Mignolo, 1995) forms of
knowledge that privileged the “West over the rest”. This is clearly seen in developmentalist discourses which have become a “scientific” form of knowledge in
the last fifty years. This knowledge privileged the “West” as the model of development.
Developmentalist discourse offers a colonial recipe for how to become like the “West”.

Although the dependentistas struggled against these universalist/occidentalist
forms of knowledge, they perceived this knowledge as a “superstruture” or an
epiphenomenon of some “economic infrastructure”. Dependentistas never perceived this
knowledge as constitutive of Latin America’s political-economy. Constructing peripheral
zones such as Africa and Latin America as “regions with a “problem” or with a
“backward stage of development” concealed European and Euro-American responsibility
in the exploitation of these continents. The construction of “pathological” regions in the
periphery as opposed to so-called “normal” development patterns of the “West”
justified an even more intense political and economic intervention from imperial powers.
By treating the “Other” as “underdeveloped” and “backward”, metropolitan exploitation
and domination were justified in the name of the “civilizing mission”.

The ascribed superiority of European knowledge in many areas of life was an
important aspect of the coloniality of power in the modern/colonial world-system.
Subaltern knowledges were excluded, omitted, silenced, and/or ignored. This is not a call
for a fundamentalist nor an essentialist rescue mission for authenticity. The point here is
to put the colonial difference (Mignolo, 2000) at the centre of the process of knowledge
production. Subaltern knowledges are those knowledges at the intersection of the
traditional and the modern. They are hybrid, transcultural forms of knowledge, not
merely in the traditional sense of syncretism or “mestizaje”, but in Aimé Cesaire’s sense
of the “miraculous arms”, or what I have called “subversive complicity” (Grosfoguel, 1996) against the system. These are forms of resistance that resignify and transform
dominant forms of knowledge from the point of view of the non-Eurocentric rationality
of subaltern subjectivities thinking from border epistemologies. They constitute what
Walter Mignolo (2000) calls a critic of modernity from the geo-political experiences and
memories of coloniality. According to Mignolo (2000), this is a new space that deserves
further exploration both as a new critical dimension to modernity/coloniality and, at the
same time, as a space from where new utopias can be devised. This has important
implications for knowledge production. Are we going to produce a new knowledge that
repeats or reproduces the universalistic, Eurocentric, God’s eye view? To say that the unit
of analysis is the world-system, not the nation-state, is not equivalent to a neutral god’s-
eye view of the world. I believe that world-system analysis needs to decolonize its
epistemology by taking seriously the subaltern side of the colonial difference: the side of
the periphery, the workers, women, racialized/colonial subjects, homosexuals/lesbians
and anti-systemic movements in the process of knowledge production. This means that
although world-system takes the world as a unit of analysis, it is thinking from a
particular perspective in the world. Still, world-system analysis has not found a way to
incorporate subaltern knowledges in processes of knowledge production. Without this
there can be no decolonization of knowledge and no utopistics beyond Eurocentrism. The
complicity of the social sciences with the coloniality of power in knowledge production
and imperial global designs makes a call for new institutional and non-institutional
locations from which the subaltern can speak and be heard.

Border thinking

So far, the history of the modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system has
privileged the culture, knowledge, and epistemology produced by the West (Spivak 1988;
Mignolo 2000). No culture in the world remained untouched by European modernity.
There is no absolute outside to this system. The monologism and monotopic global
design of the West relates to other cultures and peoples from a position of superiority and
is deaf toward the cosmologies and epistemologies of the non-Western world.

The imposition of Christianity in order to convert the so-called savages and
barbarians in the 16th century, followed by the imposition of “the white man’s burden” and
“civilizing mission” in the 18th and 19th century, the imposition of the “developmentalist
project” in the 20th century and, more recently, the imperial project of military
interventions under the rhetoric of “democracy” and “human rights” in the 21st century,
have all been imposed by militarism and violence under the rhetoric of modernity of
saving the other from its own barbarianisms. Two responses to the Eurocentric colonial
imposition are Third World nationalisms and fundamentalisms. Nationalism provides
Eurocentric solutions to an Eurocentric global problem. It reproduces an internal
coloniality of power within each nation-state and reifies the nation-state as the privileged
location of social change (Grosfoguel 1996). Struggles above and below the nation-state
are not considered in nationalist political strategies. Moreover, nationalist responses to
global capitalism reinforce the nation-state as the political institutional form per
excellence of the modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system. In this sense,
nationalism is complicit with Eurocentric thinking and political structures. On the other
hand, Third World fundamentalisms of different kinds respond with the rhetoric of an
essentialist “pure outside space” or “absolute exteriority” to modernity. They are “anti- modern modern” forces that reproduce the binary oppositions of Eurocentric thinking. If
Eurocentric thinking claims “democracy” to be a western natural attribute, Third World
fundamentalisms accept this Eurocentric premise and claim that democracy has nothing
to do with the non-West. Thus, it is an inherent European attribute imposed by the West.
Both deny the fact that many of the elements that we consider to be part of modernity,
such as democracy, were formed in a global relation between the West and the non-West.
Europeans took a lot of its utopian thinking from the non-Western historical systems they
encounter in the colonies and appropriated them as part of Eurocentred modernity. Third
World fundamentalisms respond to the imposition of Eurocentred modernity as a
global/imperial design with an anti-modern modernity that is as Eurocentric, hierarchical,
authoritarian and anti-democratic as the former.

One of many plausible solutions to the Eurocentric versus fundamentalist
dilemma is what Walter Mignolo, following Chicano(a) thinkers such as Gloria Anzaldua
(1987) and Jose David Saldivar (1997), calls “critical border thinking” (Mignolo 2000).
Critical border thinking is the epistemic response of the subaltern to the Eurocentric
project of modernity. Instead of rejecting modernity to retreat into a fundamentalist
absolutism, border epistemologies subsume/redefine the emancipatory rhetoric of
modernity from the cosmologies and epistemologies of the subaltern, located in the
oppressed and exploited side of the colonial difference, towards a decolonial liberation
struggle for a world beyond eurocentered modernity. What border thinking produces is a
redefinition/subsumption of citizenship, democracy, human rights, humanity, economic
relations beyond the narrow definitions imposed by European modernity. Border thinking is not an anti-modern fundamentalism. It is the decolonial transmodern response of the
subaltern to Eurocentric modernity.

A good example of this is the Zapatista struggle in Mexico. The Zapatistas are not
anti-modern fundamentalist. They do not reject democracy and retreat into some form of
indigenous fundamentalism. On the contrary, the Zapatistas accept the notion of
democracy, but redefine it from a local indigenous practice and cosmology,
conceptualizing it as “commanding while obeying” or “we are all equals because we are
all different”. What seems to be a paradoxical slogan is really a critical decolonial
redefinition of democracy from the practices, cosmologies and epistemologies of the
subaltern. This leads to the question of how to transcend the imperial monologue
established by the European-centric modernity.

Transmodernity or critical cosmopolitanism as utopian projects

An inter-cultural North-South dialogue cannot be achieved without a
decolonization of power relations in the modern world. A horizontal dialogue as opposed
to the vertical monologue of the West requires a transformation in global power
structures. We cannot assume a Habermasian consensus or an equal horizontal
relationship among cultures and peoples globally divided between the two poles of the colonial
difference. However, we could start imagining alternative worlds beyond Eurocentrism
and fundamentalism. Transmodernity is the Latin American philosopher of liberation
Enrique Dussel’s utopian project to transcend the Eurocentric version of modernity
(Dussel 2001). As opposed to Habermas’s project, where what needs to be done is to fulfil
the incomplete and unfinished project of modernity, Dussel’s transmodernity is the
project to fulfil the 20th century’s unfinished and incomplete project of decolonization. Instead of a single modernity centred in Europe and imposed as a global design to the
rest of the world, Dussel argues for a multiplicity of decolonial critical responses to
Eurocentred modernity from the subaltern cultures and epistemic location of colonized
people around the world. In Walter Mignolo’s interpretation of Dussel, transmodernity
would be equivalent to “diversality as a universal project”, which is a result of “critical
border thinking” as an epistemic intervention from the diverse subalterns (Mignolo
2000). Subaltern epistemologies could provide, following Walter Mignolo’s (2000)
redefinition of Caribbean thinker Edward Glissant’s concept, a “diversality” of responses
to the problems of modernity leading to “transmodernity”.

Liberation philosophy for Dussel can only come from the critical thinkers of each
culture in dialogue with other cultures. One implication is that the diverse forms of
democracy, civil rights or women’s liberation can only come out of the creative responses
of local subaltern epistemologies. For example, western women cannot impose their
notion of liberation on Islamic women. Western men cannot impose their notion of
democracy on non-Western peoples. This is not a call for a fundamentalist or nationalist
solution to the persistence of coloniality nor to an isolated parochial particularism. It is a
call for critical border thinking as the strategy or mechanism towards a decolonialized
“transmodern world” as a universal project that moves us beyond Eurocentrism and

During the last 510 years of the “European/Euro-American, capitalist/patriarchal
modern/colonial world-system”, we went from the 16th century “convert or I shoot
you,” to the 19th century “civilize or I shoot you”, to 20th century “develop or I shoot
you”, to the late 20th century “neoliberalize or I shoot you”, and to the early 21st century “democratize or I shoot you”. Never has there existed respect and no recognition for Indigenous, African, Islamic or other non-European forms of democracy. The liberal form of democracy is the
only one accepted and legitimated. Forms of democratic alterity are rejected. If the non-
European population does not accept the Euro-American terms of liberal democracy then
it is imposed by force in the name of civilization and progress. Democracy needs to be
reconceptualized in a transmodern form in order to be decolonized from liberal
democracy, that is, the western racialized and capitalist-centered form of democracy.

By radicalizing the Levinasian notion of exteriority, Dussel sees a radical
potential in those relatively exterior spaces not fully colonized by European
modernity. These exterior spaces are not pure or absolute. They have been affected and
produced by European modernity, but never fully subsumed nor instrumentalized. It is
from the geopolitics of knowledge of this relative exteriority, or margins, that “critical
border thinking” emerges as a critique of modernity towards a pluriversal (Mignolo 2000)
transmodern world of multiple and diverse ethico-politcal projects in which a real
horizontal dialogue and communication could exist between all peoples of the world.
However, to achieve this utopian project it is fundamental to transform the systems of
domination and exploitation of the present colonial power matrix of the modern/colonial
capitalist/patriarchal world-system.

Anti-capitalist struggles today

The pernicious influence of coloniality in all of its expressions at different levels
(global, national, local) as well as its Eurocentric knowledges have been reflected in anti-
systemic movements and utopian thinking around the world. Thus, the first task of a
renewed leftist project is to confront the Eurocentric colonialities not only of the Right but also of the Left. For example, many leftist projects underestimated the racial/ethnic
hierarchies and reproduced white/Eurocentered domination over non-European peoples
within their organizations and when in control of the state structures. The international
Left never radically problematized the racial/ethnic hierarchies built during the European
colonial expansion and still present in the world’s “coloniality of power”. No radical
project can be successful today without dismantling these colonial/racial hierarchies. The
underestimation of the problem of coloniality has greatly contributed to the popular
disillusionment with leftist projects. Democracy (liberal or radical) cannot be fully
accomplished if the colonial/racist dynamics keep a large portion or, in some cases, the
majority of the population as second-class citizens.

The perspective articulated here is not a defence of “identity politics.” Subaltern
identities could serve as an epistemic point of departure for a radical critique of
Eurocentric paradigms and ways of thinking. However, “identity politics” is not
equivalent to epistemological alterity. The scope of “identity politics” is limited and
cannot achieve a radical transformation of the system and its colonial power matrix.
Since all modern identities are a construction of the coloniality of power in the
modern/colonial world, their defence is not as subversive as it might seem at first sight.
“Black”, “Indian”, “African”, or national identities such as “Colombian”, “Kenyan”, or
“French” are colonial constructions. Defending these identities could serve some
progressive purposes depending on what is at stake in certain contexts. For example, in
the struggles against an imperialist invasion or in anti-racist struggles against white
supremacy, these identities can serve to unify the oppressed people against a common
enemy. But identity politics only addresses the goals of a single group and demands equality within the system rather than developing a radical anti-capitalist struggle against
the system. The system of exploitation is a crucial space of intervention that requires
broader alliances along not only racial and gender lines but also along class lines and
among a diversity of oppressed groups around the radicalization of the notion of social
equality. But instead of Eurocentric modernity’s limited, abstract and formal notion of
equality, the idea here is to extend the notion of equality to every relation of oppresion
such as racial, class, sexual, or gender. The new universe of meaning or new imaginary of
liberation needs a common language, despite the diversity of cultures and forms of
oppresion. This common language could be provided by radicalizing the liberatory
notions arising from the old modern/colonial pattern of power, such as freedom (press,
religion, or speech), individual liberties or social equality and linking these to the radical
democratization of the political, epistemic, gender, sexual, spiritual and economic power
hierarchies at a global scale.

Quijano’s (2000) proposal for a “socialization of power” as opposed to a “statist
nationalization of production” is crucial here. Instead of “state socialist” or “state
capitalist” projects centred in the administration of the state and in hierarchical power
structures, the strategy of “socialization of power” in all spheres of social existence
privileges global and local struggles for collective forms of public authority.

Communities, enterprises, schools, hospitals and all of the institutions that currently
regulate social life would be self-managed by people under the goal of extending social
equality and democracy to all spaces of social existence. This is a process of
empowerment and radical democratization from below that does not exclude the
formation of global public institutions to democratize and socialize production, wealth and resources at a world-scale. The socialization of power would also imply the
formation of global institutions beyond national or state boundaries to guarantee social
equality and justice in production, reproduction and distribution of world resources. This
would imply some form of self-managed, democratic global organization that would
work as a collective global authority to guarantee social justice and social equality at a
world-scale. Socialization of power at a local and global level would imply the formation
of a public authority that is outside and against state structures.

Based on the old Andean indigenous communities and the new urban marginal
communities where reciprocity and solidarity are the main forms of social interaction,
Quijano sees the utopian potential of a social private alternative to private property and
an alternative non-state public that is beyond the capitalist/socialist Eurocentric notions of
private and public. This non-state public (as opposed to the equivalence of state and
public in liberal and socialist ideology) is not, according to Quijano, in contradiction to a
social private (as opposed to a corporate, capitalist private property). The social private
and its institutional non-state public authority are not in contradiction with
personal/individual liberties and collective development. One of the problems with liberal
and socialist discourses is that the state is always the institution of public authority which
is in contradiction to the development of an alternative “private” and “individual”

Developmentalist projects that focus on policy changes at the level of the nation-
state are obsolete in today’s world-economy and leads to developmentalist illusions. A
system of domination and exploitation that operates on a world-scales such as the
capitalist world-system cannot have a “national solution”. A global problem cannot be solved at the nation-state level. It requires global decolonial solutions. Thus, the
decolonization of the political-economy of the modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal
world-system requires the eradication of the continuous transfer of wealth from South to
North and the institutionalization of the global redistribution and transfer of wealth from
North to South. After centuries of “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2003), the
North has a concentration of wealth and resources inaccessible to the South. Global
redistributive mechanisms of wealth from North to South could be implemented by the
direct intervention of international organizations and/or by taxing global capital flows.
However, this would require a global decolonial power struggle at a world-scale towards
a transformation of the global colonial matrix of power and, consequently, to a
transformation of the modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system. The North is
reluctant to share the concentration and accumulation of wealth produced by non-
European labour from the South after centuries of exploitation and domination of the latter
by the former. Even today, the neo-liberal policies represent a continuation of the
“accumulation by dispossesion” (Harvey 2003) began by the European colonial
expansion with conquest of the Americas in the 16th century. Many peripheral countries
were stolen of their national wealth and resources during the last twenty years of neo-
liberalism at a world-scale under the supervision and direct intervention of the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These policies have led to the
bankruptcy of many countries in the periphery and the transfer of wealth from the South
to transnational corporations and financial institutions in the North. The space of
manoeuvre for peripheral regions is very limited given the constraints to the sovereignty of
peripheral nation-states imposed by the global inter-state system. In sum, the solution to global inequalities requires the need to imagine anti-capitalist global decolonial utopian
alternatives beyond colonialist and nationalist, Eurocentric fundamentalist and Third
World fundamentalist binary ways of thinking.

Towards a “radical universal decolonial anti-capitalist diversality” project

The need for a common critical language of decolonization requires a form of
universality that is not anymore a monologic, monotopic imperial global/universal
design, from the right or the left, imposed by persuasion or force to the rest of the world
in the name of progress or civilization. This new form of universality I will call a “radical
universal decolonial anti-capitalist diversality” as a project of liberation. As opposed to
the abstract universals of Eurocentric epistemologies, that subsume/dilute the particular
into the same, a “radical universal decolonial anti-capitalist diversality” is a concrete
universal that builds a decolonial universal by respecting the multiples local
particularities in the struggles against patriarchy, capitalism, coloniality and eurocentered
modernity from a diversity of decolonial epistemic/ethical historical projects. This
represents a fusion between Dussel’s “transmodernity” and Quijano’s “socialization of
power”. Dussel’s transmodernity lead us to what Walter Mignolo (2000) has
characterized as “diversality as a universal project” to decolonize eurocentered
modernity, while Quijano’s socialization of power makes a call for a new form of radical
anti-capitalist universal imaginary that decolonizes Marxist/Socialist perspectives from
its Eurocentric limits. The common language should be anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal,
anti-imperialist and against the coloniality of power towards a world where power is
socialized, but open to a diversality of institutional forms of socialization of power
depending on the different decolonial epistemic/ethical responses of subaltern groups in the world-system. Quijano’s call for a socialization of power could become another
abstract universal that leads to a global design if it is not redefined and reconfigured from
a transmodern perspective. The forms of anti-capitalist struggles and socialization of
power that emerge in the Islamic world are quite different than the ones that emerge from
indigenous peoples in the Americas or Bantu people in West Africa. All share the
decolonial anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-imperialist project but providing
diverse institutional forms and conceptions to the project of socialization of power
according to their diverse, multiple epistemologies. To reproduce the Eurocentric socialist
global designs of the 20th century, that departed from a unilateral eurocentered epistemic
centre, would just repeat the mistakes that led the left to a global disaster. This is a call
for a universal that is a pluriversal (Mignolo 2000), for a concrete universal that would
include all the epistemic particularities towards a “transmodern decolonial socialization
of power.” As the Zapatistas say, “luchar por un mundo donde otros mundos sean


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Published 4 July 2008

Original in English
First published in Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais 80 (2008) (Portuguese version)

Contributed by Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais
© Ramón Grosfoguel/Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais Eurozine


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