Decoloniality of Power and further application of the concept

Decoloniality of Power and further application of the concept

Decoloniality of poweris an approach adopted by Latin Americanists to define a strategy for breaking away with the colonial legacy. This approach emerged within the Subaltern Studies project that by definition puts in parallel the experiences of postcolonial societies in perspective and relates to the broader field of Postcolonial Theory. The coherence in this field has been under harsh criticism. But to the time to date the critics have not yet consider the nuances of postcolonial critique but have conceived it as a whole. Subalternity does imply a non-European mode of thinking and it is in fact fostered in opposition to Eurocentrism. I believe it would be naive to expect a non-European perspective to converge with European ideals. But nonetheless the authors involved in the Subaltern project – e.g. Quijano and Mignolo – are keen to draw a convergence between contemporary postcolonial and European societies. I do agree that both regions have a lot to learn from each other in both praxis and theoretical experiences. This mostly palpable if one draws a parallel between the current austerity measures in Europe and the implementation of the Washington Consensus in Latin America. In both cases such policies spurred popular discontent and the need to reconceptualize the political.

The ripening of nations in Latin America has often occurred in a non-linear fashion. Although that is also true for the case of Europe – take as an example the atrocities of last century. The affirmation or empowerment of a people within a polity, those who have no part in society, has for a while now taken place in Latin American politics. When in 2006 Bolivia, Evo Morales was elected president and the indigenous question received a greater attention, it indeed marked a shift in the country. Nationality of power was then established (Ribeiro 295). In this specific case one can interpret the maintenance of coloniality in the moment that Gonzales Sanchez de Lozada, also known as Goni, was elected after a massive campaign strategy put forward by a North-American consultancy agency, a common practice throughout Bolivian electoral practice (Pogossian). Goni who spoke an americanized spanish – since he lived in the US for most of his life – and was an enthusiast of market capitalism got strong support from the Bolivian elite who saw in his conservative figure the possibility to maintain its status quo by intensifying public cuts. Followed by the mobilization of the indigenous groups who marched to La Paz and requested his impeachment, decoloniality filled the political imaginary in Bolivia. Moralesrumble attitude and positive discourse enabled a nationality of power i.e. the articulation of demands from those who previously had no part in society and now were able to affirm their political subjectivity.

However Morales presidency managed to do so within the same structure of nation-state that is the result of enlightened European ideals. Which is why – if we consider the imaginary of decolonialitynationality of power is but a synthesis of colonial and postcolonial structures with the potentiality of liberation in its core. That in part not excludes but can explain the strong opposition of Bolivian elite and also recently, manifestations of indigenous groups (Mignolo, “Yes We Can”) against Evo Morales and his communitarian socialism – being the indigenous the same group in society that prompted his candidacy. That does not take his merits away but signals the complexity involved in empowering a social group and making changes from within the same structures that once served to delegitimize the same social group. The further step in decoloniality of power would entail not state-provided communitarian socialism but rather communal organization of society in the modes of Andean civilizations. And this represents a clash between figures such as, on one side, Slavoj Žižek (1998) and Chibber Vivek (2013) that defend a Marxist interpretation of history denying the relevance of the Subaltern project, and on the other, Mignolo and Quijano with an outlook grounded on culture. The forerunners of decoloniality do not engage much in how the concept can be applied in Latin American societies where a return to pre-Colombian communal forms prove to be enviable or at least unlikely to happen(Ribeiro). And the Marxists either simply ignore the production of knowledge in Latin America (Žižek 1998; see also Mignolo 2013) or do not dissociate between the nuances of Subalternity in Latin American, African or Indian scholarships (Vivek). In his recently groundbreaking book – according to the critics – entitled Postcolonialism and the Specter of Capital Vivek refers to Quijano once (2) without any engagement with his work and Mignolo is not even cited.

After the 2008 crisis Latin Americanists have been keen to affirm that Europe can take lessons of the current Latin American experience (Mignolo 2012; Quijano 2000, 2007; Sader 2011). I understand it with a double meaning. Europe can learn from the failure of Latin American Left to reject the austerity measures imposed under the Washington Consensus but it can also learn from the political articulation that paved the way to progressive politics in both national and transnational extension. It can be argued that a transnational coalition that envisions a common goal despite local particularities was the result of a gathering together in the name of a common frontier: coloniality of power and its Eurocentrism. This argument indeed draws a line of coherence and opposition between the global south and north. But how to explain the major whole played by Brazil in this process? The only country in the region that was the capital of colonial power, which fostered the ambition to create a Brazil empire (Ribeiro). Not to mention that throughout its history it has been disconnect from the Spanish speaking countries in the region having Portuguese as the official language. The betterment of Brazilian society and its excluded emulates the same principles that Evo Morales identified in the indigenous movement or that of in the periphery of Caracas that Hugo Chávez embodied. This understanding is crucial in order to make sense of decoloniality of power and avoid the temptations of the nationality of power.

The ones that have no part speak many languages and operate in diverse mind-sets. In this respect, I believe the Subaltern project has not done enough to go beyond a reaction to Eurocentrism and toward a critique to global capitalism. There are growing similarities between on one hand, post-Washington consensus Latin America which was an economic and political agenda imposed by local elites together with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and a few North-American banks (Klein 2007; Black 2013) and on the other, resembling current austerity measures recently implemented Europe by the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). As the Greek intellectual Costas Douzinas suggests, there is in place neocolonial relations between western and south Europe. Resentment led the Subalterns to look away from Europe as an ideal model and go through an introspection. Not long ago public discourse referred to Greece in a diminishing way very much similar to that of the founding statement of the Washington Consensus in relation to Latin America (Black 2013; Douzinas 2011). Golden Dawn and Syriza are two opposites of the exhaustion of institutionalized political channels that in the case of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela led to a revitalization of the political system. The unfolding of the current crisis in Greece is still uncertain. But so far little has been done toward a mutual recognition as equals within the EU. Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist, once describe the world as being divided in a geopolitics of emotions where Europe is consumed by fear related to the economic downturn and influx of migrants (“Geopolitics of Emotion”). Asia as hope related to economic prosperity and the Arab-islamic World, humiliation due to constant foreign intervention in the region. It seems to me that Europe has has internalized these conflicts and what we have is Greece being downplayed in European politics as a colonial subject (Douzinas) and extreme right movements such as Golden Dawn seizing the opportunity to construct a discourse in opposition to this feeling of humiliation and subjugation.

These political deadlocks a lot reassemble those experienced in Latin America during the Washington Consensus. The theoretical grounds of Subalternity may prove to have some relevance also within Europe social and political dynamics. I believe a whole new positioning can be adopted by using coloniality of power as a tool of analysis. Not necessarily a complete negation of European legacy but rather a continuous articulation of both the differences and similarities between these two regions. From both sides the other is an intrinsic feature of their polity formation. And that should be a starting point for a dialogue of theory and practice concerned to the betterment of society within its particularities but not overshadowing the bonds among these includingthe common goal to a more just and equal world.


Black, William K. “Blocking a Bad Idea That Enriches the Rich: Peterson, Austerity and the Washington Consensus.” Huffington Post 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 April 2013.

Douzinas, Costas and Papaconstantinou, Petros. Greece is standing up to EU neocolonialism: The usurious conditions of the Greek bailout reveals Brussels’ colonial mindset – but Athens is showing citizens can resist.” The Guardian 27 June 2011. Web. 10 April 2013.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Penguin Books, 2008. Print.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2013. Yes, we can: Non-European thinkers and philosophers. Aljazeera 19 Feb 2013. Web. 10 April.

———. 2012. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global futures, Decolonial Options. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Munoz-Pogossian, Betilde. Electoral Rules and the Transformation of Bolivian Politics: The Rise of Evo Morales. 2008. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. Print.

Quijano, Aníbal. 2012. ‘Live Well’: Between the Development and the Descoloniality of Power. In: Latin American Critical Thought: Theory and Practice. Ed. Alberto L. Bialakowsky. et al. 1st ed. Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires: Clacso, 2012. Print.

———. 2007. El Giro Decolonial: Reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global. Ed. Ramón Grosfoguel. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores: 93-126.

Ribeiro, Gustavo, Lins. Why (post)colonialism and (de)coloniality are not enough: a post-imperialist perspective. Postcolonial Studies. 14. March (2011):285-297. Web. 12 April 2013.

Sader, Emir. The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left. London: Verso., 2011. Print.

Vivek, Chibber. 2013. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj. 1998. A Leftist Plea for Eurocentrism. Critical Inquiry. 24. 4:988-1009.


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