Duke University Press launched its new series, “On Decoloniality,” in 2018 with an inaugural volume co-authored by Catherine Walsh and Walter Mignolo.[1] The same year also saw Duke University Press publish four other books by members of the Decolonial Studies school. These books carry the flags of anti-colonialism, anti-Eurocentrism, anti-racism, and social justice for which Decolonial Studies is named, and provoke new thinking about global North/South relations, geopolitics, cultural and economic geography, and interdisciplinary social sciences. These five volumes often attempt to bridge turbulent disagreements between activists and academics, critics from the global South and the global North, NGO professionals and grassroots activists, anti-racists and those exercising white privilege, and Indigenous and non-indigenous activists. As geographers and activists consider decolonizing practices, how successfully do they respond to these debates?

The Walsh and Mignolo co-authored volume, On Decoloniality, links limited forms of activism to academic work across multiple movements with a focus on the Americas south and north, while questioning universalist notions of truth as politically neutral. Walsh’s opening chapters urges the constructive project of centering on what decolonization is “for” (15-32), emphasizing “relationality” grounded in different local histories and embodied in practice (1, 17). Drawing on Adolfo Albán Achinte’s notion of “re-existence,” she argues against resistance conventionally understood to put the “pluriverse” into praxis (3, 18, 120).

Walsh’s use of the Marxist term “praxis” without contrasting it with Marxian conceptions (7, 99-102) carries out the turn away from Marx seen in this and other Decolonial Studies volumes. This obscures any need for decolonial political organizing to transform colonial material relations and land theft.[2] Similar problems are found in Walsh’s casual use of “insurgency” based on a vague analogy with the Zapatista struggle (33-35, 46-50) without mention of the Mexican state’s counterinsurgency efforts, intimidation campaigns by Indigenous and mestizo paramilitaries and political party thugs, and other ways the Eurocentric postcolonial state enforces “western” values (Nirmal and Rocheleau 2019). The troubled politics of Walsh’s summary are also seen in her substitution of pedagogy for social struggle to define praxis (88-94), drawing on Paolo Freire and Sylvia Wynter despite well-known critiques of Freire’s paternalism and Wynter’s humanism.[3] Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang’s (2012) influential critique of decolonial pedagogies producing settler innocence without supporting the return of land offers readers a much stronger version of decolonial praxis.

The emphasis on race in Walsh’s sections of this volume presses her into identitarian politics without confronting her own whiteness as shaped in white supremacist settler colonies North and South, a problem also found in Mignolo’s chapters and in other volumes reviewed here.[4] Walsh’s assumption of a single frame for feminism also fails to address well-known debates of rural Indigenous women in the Zapatista movement with mostly-middle class and educated NGO feminists, among a number of other issues (Hernández Castillo 2006: 59-64).

Mignolo begins his half of the volume by identifying decolonization not as a broad-based project but as the work of a specific collective in South America that investigated “the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality” (105-6, 108, 130-31n1). Drawing on the sociologist Anibal Quijano’s notion of “coloniality,” Mignolo contrasts the overall project with the decolonization efforts of national liberation by “tak[ing] hold of the state.” Mignolo wants his readers instead “to engage in epistemic and subjective reconstitution” (120) so that “institutional organizations…at the service of life” may be conceived and created (126-7). Mignolo’s discussion of Quijano’s notion of the “colonial matrix of power” (135-75, 180-85) persistently asserting the primacy of knowledge over economics, politics, or history (135). Mignolo tends to focus on etymologies and dictionary definitions of specific terms, e.g., “decoloniality”, reducing the specificity of Quijano’s class critique and anti-racism to a universalized objection to colonial knowledge.[5]

Mignolo  often plays fast and loose with the terms “epistemology” and “ontology” by adding the adjective “political” based on vague assertions that truth claims have a politics. There is no effort to engage with recent major works in the fields of political ontology [6] underlying debates in epistemology, nor is there an effort to respond to postcolonial feminist approaches to knowledge politics.[7] Mignolo, a founding father for Decolonial Studies, also claims to be a subaltern from the global South, mobilizing identity politics while obscuring his light-skinned privilege and class background.[8] While both Walsh and Mignolo certainly have their own biographical ties to Latin America, their logics and social science evidence-based mode of argumentation come straight out of modern Europe and do little to challenge the “Western” science they claim to oppose.

The End of the Cognitive Empire by Boaventura de Sousa Santos continues the emphasis on epistemology seen in Walsh and Mignolo’s volume, an emphasis on which Decolonial Studies has made its name. Yet the political stakes of this focus here come more sharply into focus when de Sousa Santos openly declares that the epistemological turn is a reversal of Marx’s famous declaration of the need to enact social revolution in Thesis Eleven. In doing so De Sousa Santos aligns with Mignolo’s emphasis on semiotics over social change, arguing for putting (re-)interpretation before revolution (vii-viii). Yet de Sousa Santos soon reverses direction, declaring his allegiance to social movements, as Decolonial Studies authors often do, demanding that epistemes must be evaluated “according to their usefulness in maximizing the possibilities of success of the struggles against oppression” (38). This dramatic statement would certainly provoke very important changes in society and schooling if it were only carried out, shifting societies and schools away from truth for its own sake to truths that produce equality and justice (Patton and Protevi 2003: 18).

Part I presents a summary of epistemologies that de Sousa Santos argues are outside of European knowledge regimes. He briefly develops an important critique of appropriation as a form of capitalist, colonial, and patriarchal violence (21-3), and distinguishes between exclusion for students or middle-class people of color, migrants, or women and those who suffer what he terms “abyssal” exclusion in the form of direct violence by police, racists, or rapists (22-23). Yet while critical of appropriation, he also argues that ecological activists in world struggles “don’t need to ask permission of the Andean Indigenous peoples” if they wish to use the “Andean ideas of pachamama and sumac kawsay” (12). This position attacks an important mechanism holding academics accountable to Indigenous communities, conveniently releasing them to pursue their own interests in publication and activism.

There is little doubt that the general argument of this volume is true: that the epistemes of the global North are flourishing in the global South (1), and that they carry out a form of epistemic empire despite national liberation. In an important critique of knowledge systems hidden by Eurocentric knowledge practices, de Sousa Santos works to “turn absent subjects into present subjects” (2). By absent subjects de Sousa Santos resorts to the term subaltern, yet he conveniently ignores the important class implications of the term, since attention to class would implicate him in the transnational division of labor (Spivak 1988:  287-9), a problem also found in the other five volumes. Despite his critique of the epistemes of the global North, de Sousa Santos’ analysis draws heavily on major white European U.S. philosophers (Kant, Mills, Merleau-Ponty, Nussbaum) complemented by white anthropologists (Geertz, Taussig, Scott) rather than on knowledge authored by Indigenous community members educated in Indigenous-led organizations.

De Sousa Santos explores social struggle in Chapter Four, but rather than turning to grassroots movements he speaks only of what he calls “superauthors”: movement elites from Asia and Africa and Latin America who he assumes speak for all (54-55, 77). Here he aligns with those activists who continue to believe that vanguards will lead the way to revolution, a belief that has been widely debated in activist circles. In Chapter 5 he emphasizes the Andean notion of healing as corozonar (99-102) in exploring how social justice changes the body to the exclusion of well-known embodied activism and epistemic innovation emerging from feminists of the global North and South.[9] Unlike the other four volumes reviewed here, de Sousa Santos places the orthodox Decolonial Studies vocabulary (coloniality, the decolonial) within long-standing debates (109-10) before briefly introducing a range of twentieth-century thinkers of the South unfortunately limited only to males.[10]

He then presents a guide for anti-imperial research on the South that stresses the importance of contributing knowledge to “social struggles against capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy” (121, 132, 137) both for those from inside communities and for outsiders. The principles of this knowledge recommend collective or minga research practices (161-3), the importance of “knowing-with” rather than “knowing-about” (145-62), and agreements by outsider researchers for reciprocal relations and mutual benefits of the research (156). These important principles for collective research with mutual benefits is unfortunately not linked to any community accountability mechanisms or concrete benefits for communities being researched.

Arturo Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse charts a new direction in his work. An ambitious effort to displace development and modernization theory (8-10), Escobar argues for transforming the “world-making capacity” of design towards “justice and the Earth” (20). Through an emphasis on “the radical interdependence of all beings,” Escobar bridges a broad range of European theorists and Latin American social movements (20). Escobar centers his project not on pedagogy but on design as “creating cultural meanings and practices…and particular ways of living” (2).

The shift in this volume from the critique of empire implicit in the category “decolonial” to Mignolo’s slippery notion of “pluriverse” allows Escobar to focus on a constructive positive project, as did Walsh. Despite his general claims, however, the theoretical frame of the book is tied to the 1970s Gandhian work of the Austrian critic Ivan Illich (6-10) and other grand old men of the 1970s (Mumford, Fromm, Virilio) (8-10) rather than drawing on the well-known Indigenous planners of the Indigenous Planning Network and others.[11]

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this volume is the way Escobar uses “autonomy” to discuss design. Often associated in Latin American social movements with grassroots social movements, Escobar instead links this powerful term to European and U.S. designers like Ezio Manzini, Tim Brown, Anne Balsamo, and a project at Carnegie Mellon University (2 and Part II) and to Humberto Matarana and Francisco Varela’s work of the 1980s on autopoeisis (167ff). In this way Escobar reproduces the appropriation problem seen in other Geography and Planning practices, as noted by the co-editors of a recent theme issue in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space (Demaria, Kallis, and Bakker 2019: 439).

While Escobar clearly questions design practices supporting “patriarchal capitalist modernity” (3), readers seeking a critique of gender and economic systems will be disappointed. As in Walsh’s essay the feminist critique in this volume reproduces essentialist notions, such as  “emotioning” and “matristic cultures” (12-15) found in Escobar’s earlier work, rather than advocating for social change. While Escobar has built relations of the Decolonial Studies school with feminists in Latin America (Escobar 2014), in this volume Escobar credits his critique of patriarchy to the Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana and the German psychologist Gerda Verden Zöller (12), neither of whom might be considered feminist activists. Escobar also draws his defining notions of feminism from the Austrian feminist Claudia von Werlhof (10-11), rather than from Indigenous or other feminists activists of the global south.[12] These oddly undifferentiated notions of feminism and other identities here and in the volumes already discussed fail to respond to powerful weapons developed by those who prefer to take differance as central. [13]

When Escobar does discuss grassroots movements in Part III, he focuses briefly on a 2013 meeting in Colombia’s southwest of several hundred Indigenous and Afro-descended intellectuals and activists, participants in social movements and grassroots communities, workers, peasants, environmentalists, and urban activists. This important type of meeting space exemplifies autonomy practices “relying on, and creating, nonliberal, non-State, and noncapitalist forms of being, doing, and knowing…[and] horizontal…power…communal assemblies and the rotations of obligations” (181). Yet Escobar’s theoretical interests in “ontological occupation” (167) prevent him from exploring how Indigenous spaces may resist concrete forms of land theft and violence beyond brief mentions of the difficult conditions in which many autonomous movements operate (167, 183). Strategies for surviving under such hostile conditions are notably missing from his overview of design principles (184-90).

Constructing the Pluriverse: The Geopolitics of Knowledge, edited by Bernd Reiter, collects essays by many of the canonical authors of the school (Escobar, Mignolo, Harding, Walsh), making it a useful introduction to the field of Decolonial Studies. Mignolo introduces in his Foreword the concept key to the school’s work of “pluriversality” to invite readers to use his own semiotic reading of Indigenous knowledge through a hodgepodge of such terms as epistemology, ontology, cosmology, and hermeneutics. Mignolo gives his reason for not confronting the state or capitalism as the decolonial drive “for love, conviviality, and harmony” (xiv), returning to the positive line of argumentation seen in the volumes discussed above.

Mignolo’s central strategy here for addressing power differentials is limited to abstract claims about rhetoric and gnosis (x-xi) coupled with a response to the state based on a foreign policy notion of “multipolarity” to support BRICS and Mercosur, while ominously singling out the authoritarian Vladimir Putin for particular praise (xii). This argument does not respond to important critiques of pluralism as legitimating colonial structures and epistemic violence (Chukwudi 1997; Yeğonoğlu 1998: 32-35) or to attempts to reclaim pluralism from its European colonial heritage (Gratton and Morin 2012; Campbell and Schoolman 2008). Ignoring the poststructuralist revolution in ethics and the politics of meaning, Mignolo’s important statement overlooks the need for reconstituting power relations and runs the risk of abstraction and idealism (Nichols 2014).[14] This is one unfortunate outcome of the Decolonial Studies turn away from Foucault, Spivak, and other activists who argue for conceptualizing knowledge in relation to power as an opening into ethics.[15] The same turn prevents Decolonial Studies authors from engaging with an emerging generation of Indigenous activists in North America navigating theorizations of power by Indigenous elders, modern Europeans, and postmodern theories to strengthen their communities.[16]

The volume also serves as a sort of manifesto for a new type of social science academic scholarship, unlike the earlier volumes that seemed aimed more at activists. Bernd Reiter’s “Introduction” provides a brief overview of many common statements in Decolonial Studies and citations of the canonical authors: anti-universalism (Enrique Dussel); multiple epistemologies (Mignolo); coloniality of power (Quijano); world systems (Wallerstein); and partial knowledge (Harding). Reiter calls for “a postcolonial successor science” (4) to address the need for new ways for social sciences to approach “development, economic growth, identity, democracy, political power, and self-rule” (2, 10). Yet Reiter’s introduction and the volume essays have little to say about how science might contribute to social justice, unlike the other volumes reviewed here.

Part 1 of the volume opens with Raewyn Connell’s essay on “mosaic epistemology,” a concept adapted from her 2007 book, Southern Theory, where Connell does not address problems of appropriation  and complicity with white privilege and settler colonialism (Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill 2013; Espinosa Miñoso 2009; Parker 2012). Sandra Harding’s standpoint epistemology supports the canonical notion of plurality in Decolonial Studies but rejects the ground-breaking work of North American Indigenous feminists, such as Joanne Barker, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Eve Tuck, Maile Arvin, and others.[17] After these white scholars frame the general project in Part 1, scholars of color introduce specific epistemes in Part 2 to make the project seem more pluralistic. The abstracted idealism of the chapters in Part 2 makes it impossible to develop countermeasures to state violence, corporate thuggery, and cartel and paramilitary oppression of Indigenous communities, as seen in the killing of Berta Caseres, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, and many others.[18] Ehsan Kashfi’s essay on Iranian reformism questions European forms of secularism, but takes electoral democracy as a universal value (302-3) rather than as part of the European postcolonial heritage and subject to critique. Even Aram Ziai’s considerations of problematic practices of speaking for others, a controversial practice in anthropology and other ethnography, makes the obligatory nods to the Zapatistas but ultimately promotes the philosophy of a spokesman for the Left Party in Germany, Christoph Spehr (125-30), which does not seem to contribute much to a pluriverse if plurality is to include the non-European.

The introductory essay to the Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser collection, A World of Many Worlds, makes claims to be activist in orientation while also being the most centered of the five volumes in the academic field of anthropology. Taking its title from the Zapatista credo, “A World Where Many Worlds Fit,” the editors argue here for a response to the global climate crisis through recognizing “other-than-human” (12) as active agents. Joining the current flood of interest in critiques of the anthropocene, Blaser and de la Cadena draw on their ethnographic familiarity with Indigenous practices in Paraguay and the Andes that find forest animals and mountains to be worthy partners. Aligning with opposition to extractivism and racist nationalisms, Blaser and de la Cadena support heterogeneous partnerships of “peasants, Afro-descendant groups…small merchants,…workers’ unions, …students,…feminists lawyers, and…environmentalists” (3-4).

Such important political work is all too soon subordinated, however, to “the pluriverse as an analytic tool…for producing ethnographic compositions.” (4) Conceding this is “an abstraction,” the editors argue for ethnography as “a scholarly genre that conceptually weaves together…the theoretical and the empirical…a concept-making genre.” (5) Blaser and de la Cadena reject political economy and political ecology to instead turn to “political ontology,”  which “designates an imaginary for a politics of reality…to think antagonisms [of] mountains and forests…as resources…but also as persons.”( p.5) Once again this essay allows anti-racist and other activist projects to be overcome by an enthusiasm for analytical transformation.

Other essay contributors include major philosophers of (European) science, such as Isabelle Stengers and Helen Verran. Verran’s theorization of the ethnographic subject’s “dissolving” of the self (126) fails to confront the well-known persistence of force relations working to reconstitute the modern subject, as Foucault (1982) and Spivak (1993; 2016) have argued, force relations that require certain types of training in freedom and agency to reconfigure. Marilyn Strathern’s important exploration of the problematic objectification of people studied in ethnography does not address the histories and structures of colonialism. The influential Indigenous perspectivism of anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro co-authored with Déborah Danowski responds to Bruno Latour’s work, a well-known defender of European science. The authors argue in grand terms that the “biocosmopolitical consciousness” of the nonmoderns, the AmerIndians (183-4), specifically the Zapatistas, have something to teach the world (193-4). Yet perspectivism is a controversial aspects to ontological anthropology (Keane 2019), since it requires essentialist homogenization blocking consideration both of gender or class or racial or rural/urban differences and also of the radical Others of the European liberal imaginary.[19]

As decolonial anthropologists venturing into territory often reserved for conservationists, Viveiros de Castro and Danowski echo Blaser and de la Cadena’s call in their earlier publications for major changes in modern knowledge protocols. In this volume Blaser and de la Cadena share common goals with postcolonial activists disrupting modern Eurocentric epistemes by exploring “political thought and practice beyond the onto-epistemic limits of modern politics” (6). This is a rich area for ontological and political work, only increasing in importance as the ecological crisis of our time deepens, and holds great promise.

Yet much of the ethnographic work by Decolonial Studies authors ignores long-established critiques of ethnography as an exploitative and colonizing enterprise (Tuhiwai Smith 1999: 11, 66-67; Simpson 2017). Rather than exploring strategies for refusing that heritage (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Thomas 1991), they return instead to the troubled European scientific epistemes of Stengers, Strathern, Harding, Latour, Maturana, and Viveiros de Castro. Those interested in decolonial knowledge practices through epistemes other than ethnography will find several, ranging from Participatory Action Research (where ethnographers in Indigenous communities will have to renegotiate their positionalities)[20] and political economy of knowledge (Rivera Cusicanqui 2012) to radical ethnography or Spivak’s “open plan field work” (2003: 35-38, 48-51).[21]

Appropriation remains a significant problem when settler colonizers South and North make implicit claims seen in these five volumes to synthesize and represent communities of color without recognizing the pitfalls of appropriation. The anthropological assumption of full knowability of the Other is a major divide separating most Decolonial Studies authors from those who confront the ethics and politics of the limits to their liberal humanist training, to their racialized and gendered class positions, to entrenched relations to radical Others, and their material complicity with capitalist globalization.[22] The extensive rethinking of the politics of translation of the past two decades, for example, can only be ignored when the imperial authority of the ethnographer’s rendering into English (or Spanish) of an Indigenous language is not interrogated.[23] Decolonial Studies authors often finesse this problem by leaving certain fetishized terms untranslated (buen vivir; vincularidad) with little recognition of the irony of displacing one colonial language (English) with another (Spanish) in a decolonial project.

The five Decolonial Studies volumes make important contributions to multiple academic fields. By attacking subtle forms of Eurocentrism and European-derived epistemes, these authors demand room for other possible worlds. The shift in Escobar’s volume from academic knowledge to spatial design takes the all-important step outside the limits of the academy. A pluriverse responding to Indigenous recognitions of forests and animals as active agents in the de la Cadena and Blaser volume will be fruitful for many decades. The rich discussions in transnational networked Indigenous alliances and grassroots movements hold great promise for transforming force relations without falling back into a focus on the neoliberal state.

In their call for transforming everyday life these authors also invite participation in decentralized egalitarian community and autonomy without waiting for elected leaders always already captured by oligarchs to change policies. Such positioning of decolonization work as a constructive project will be important as more communities and collectives search for ways to leave colonizing practices in daily living.

While these volumes clearly wish to transform the world both within and beyond the academy, their claims to activism are less successful. These authors do not clarify how epistemic critique will transform social space and reduce socio-economic, cultural, and infrastructural violence and inequality. Instead, they narrowly limit activism to epistemic and pedagogical change, and explicitly reject modes of activism that engage with power differences in both Marxian and Foucauldian frames. The recent shift seen in these volumes from “Decolonial” to “Pluriverse” seems to further reduce engagement with grassroots social struggle. This narrowing of activism provides cover for those doing social science field work and academic publication to be seen as activists while operating without mechanisms holding them accountable to Indigenous communities or race- and class-specific subaltern social movements.

These are two established weaknesses already seen in earlier Decolonial Studies work (Rivera Cusicanqui 2014; Merino 2014). More substantive efforts in Decolonial Studies circles towards participation in the collaborations of Indigenous communities and “social movements and grassroots communities, workers, peasants, environmentalists, and urban activists” working in “horizontal…power” relations called for in Escobar (180-81, qtd above) and in the de la Cadena and Blaser volumes would go a long way to addressing these weaknesses.

Perhaps most importantly, given the name of the school, these five volumes reduce decolonization to rhetoric and meaning rather than opposing settler colonialism South and North and ongoing colonization in social, economic, political, and cultural terms. As Amilcar Cabral has warned, if all we seek is decolonization of the mind then we will have already conceded what Martineau and Ritskes call “the loss of the most precious and transformative foundation of decolonization: land and place.” (Cabral 1979, ctd. Martineau and Ritskes 2014: II)  Moreover, the reliance on the European-derived fields of semiotics (Mignolo), sociology (de Sousa Santos), philosophy (Escobar), anthropology (de la Cadena/Blaser), and science (Reiter) is troubling for academics promoting decolonial arguments about epistemic change. The stakes in decolonial work are high. Land struggles and opposition to mining and deforestation are often deadly for Indigenous peoples. So claims to ownership of the topic must be made with caution.

Anti-colonial and anti-racist critique requires careful interrogation of points of complicity.[24] Whatever the identity claimed, internalized racism is as common as internalized sexism and colonialism, and both are compounded by problems of class privilege (Rivera Cusicanqui 2012; Spivak 1988). Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s warning about briefcase-carrying Indigenous people in her influential Decolonizing Methodologies must not be overlooked (2012 (1999), and Fanon’s cautions against urban-educated intellectuals must not be forgotten (2000: 66-72) .

The racism and colorism of the Americas complicates the dominance of white-identified and light-skinned mestizo academics in the Decolonial Studies school.[25] Decolonial Studies authors citing Quijano’s work generally do not pursue his critique of whiteness in Latin America, which distinguished between the waged whites from Spain and Portugal and the more “whitened” of the mestizo population, while warning that “social classes in Latin America are marked by color.” (2000: 536, 572). Critique of white supremacist settler colonialism across nations South and North would interrupt such settler moves to innocence, to use the language of Tuck and Yang (2012), and address the present-day white supremacy of settler colonialism.

Yet skin color does not determine politics. Numerous white-identified and light-skinned mestizo activists and academics have supported Indigenous and grassroots struggles for land and material resources, including Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Clare Land, Scott Morgensen and, perhaps most famously, Subcommandante Marcos (also Galleano) of the Zapatista movement.[26] Long ago Gayatri Spivak demanded that white academics take the risk to criticize someone who is Other to white European masculinity after developing “a historical critique of your position as the investigating person” (1990: 62-3). As a person of European descent living on Tongva land, this reviewer must confront the complicity of my own and other settler colonial histories while taking leadership from Tongva elders in their fight for material resources for Indigenous resurgence. So the call in Mignolo’s work for “subjective reconstitution” requires more than changes in meaning: it requires reflexive critique of complicity as part of activist work for land and material resources held accountable to Indigenous or grassroots leadership.

Decolonial Studies open important space for critiques of colonization outside of the political sphere narrowly conceived. Despite the difficulties seen in these five volumes of carrying out epistemic and socio-economic change together, many other authors have shown how epistemic change can be part of activist work.[27]  Future volumes of the ”On Decoloniality” series may carry out “activism” in ways that go well beyond the narrow limits set in these five volumes and bring concrete benefits to colonized communities.

By emphasizing a positive vision of other worlds that already exist, these authors give credit to Indigenous and other grassroots activists that have made those worlds possible. Recalling how much has been taken from Indigenous peoples and more-than-human beings, epistemic change can be put to work to return territorial control and socio-economic autonomy to their communities.

Books reviewed: 

de la Cadena M and Blaser M (eds) (2018) A World of Many Worlds. Durham, NC:  Duke University Press; 232 pp.: $99.95 (hbk), $25.95 (pbk)

de Sousa Santos B (2018) The End of the Cognitive Empire: The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 392 pp.: $109.95 (hbk), $29.95 (pbk).

Escobar A (2018) Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds, New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 312 pp.: ISBN , $104.95 (hbk), ISBN, $27.95 (pbk)

Mignolo W and Walsh C (2018) On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. On Decoloniality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 304 pp.: $104.95 (hbk), $27.95 (pbk).

Reiter B (ed) (2018) Constructing the Pluriverse: The Geopolitics of Knowledge. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 352 pp.: $104.95 (hbk), ISBN, $28.95 (pbk).


[1] The new series may be contrasted with another recently launched interdisciplinary book series on decolonial practices in the Americas, Dissident Acts, ed. Diana Taylor and Macarena Gómez-Barris, also published by Duke University Press, that seems less taken with abstract pronouncements and more focused on embodied politics.
[2] This can be compared with the call by Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui for knowledge useful for “action in the streets and for engaging with concrete indigenous struggles” (2014).
[3] Among many critiques of Freire’s elitism and paternalism, see Roberts (2015) and Edwards (1992). Influential critiques of humanism are found throughout poststructuralist work, for example, in Derrida (2008) or Foucault (1984). Critics of color who have questioned the racism of modern humanism include Ferreira da Silva (2007), Spivak (1996) and Chukwudi (1997).
[4] See, among many others, Lipsitz (2006). Ferreira da Silva argues for the importance of confronting the racialized character of the “conditions of the production of modern subjects,” specifically the racialized production of the whiteness of the universalized subject producing (social) scientific knowledge, what she terms the “transparent” subject (2007: 9-10).
[5] Mignolo’s semiotics may be contrasted with structuralist and poststructuralist practices confronting the entanglement of signification in colonizing power relations, as in Yeğenoğlu (1998), Bhabha (1984) and Spivak (1999: 423-431).
[6] See Nancy (2000); Abbott (2014); Marchart (2007);  Dillon (1999); Cheah and Guerlac (2009).
[7] See Yeğenoğlu (1998); Spivak (1996); Lewis and Mills (2003).
[8] Enrique Dussel and Walter Mignolo’s alignment with the world systems analysis of Immanual Wallerstein makes it impossible to retain a sense of class differences in discussions of the subaltern (Dussel 2001: 111); Mignolo 2000: 33-4). In granting themselves membership in “the periphery” and in “AmerIndia,” Dussel and Mignolo conflate themselves (both highly literate, European-descended and European-educated middle-class persons) with illiterate underclass subalterns and the Indigenous. Centering decolonial work on a class-specific subaltern becomes useful to interrogate the limits of history, knowledge, and culture through analysis of the rural internal colonies that Gramsci analyzed in Italy (1978) and the rebelling peasants Guha found in colonial India (2000), as well as the gendered rural communities and urban subalterns of Algeria, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and China that Spivak highlights (2000: 324-25; 2010).
[9] While de Sousa Santos mentions feminist and decolonial critics’ attention to the value of the body in a note (314n5), he mentions mostly white authors practicing science (Haraway) or social science (Csordas, Taussig) without attention to feminists of color. For women of color constructions of the body, see Díaz (2012), Davis (1995), Jindal (2008), and Finley (2011) among much other work.
[10] Indigenous women making important statements about epistemological issues overlooked by de Sousa Santos include Byrd (2006), Simpson L (2008), Goeman (2013), Million (2014), and Simpson A (2017).
[11] For the North American context, see Jojola (2008);  Walker, Jojola and Natcher (2013); Porter et al. 2017).  Much planning and design work in Indigneous communities takes place in oral contexts and is largely missing from the imperial archive and from academic and professional journals.
[12]  Escobar discusses black and Indigenous feminisms in Chapter Two, but in developing his conceptual framework for the overall project he simply asserts in a note (231n6) that Werlhof differs from Eurocentric feminists without giving evidence or reasons.
[13] Among the extensive activist work that brings differance to the center of critical analysis, major works either implicitly or explicitly focused on decoloniality include Derrida (1982), Mohanty (2003 (1984)),  Spivak (1988),  Castro-Gómez (2001), Rifkin (2014) , and Day I (2015).
[14] This refusal of poststructuralist approaches may be an outcome of the disputes in which Mignolo was involved that led to the collapse of the Latin American subaltern studies group in 2005, leading some to reject poststructuralist methods and epistemes. See Ziarek (2001), Rapaport (2001), and Fagan (2013).
[15] Foucault argues, for example, “that by truth I do not mean ‘the ensemble of truths which are to be discovered and accepted’, but rather ‘the ensemble of rules according to which the true and the false are separated and specific effects of power attached to the true’, it being understood also that it’s not a matter of a battle ‘on behalf’ of the truth, but of a battle about the status of truth and the economic and political role it plays.” (1980: 132). See also Foucault (1979: 22-28), Spivak (1993), Spivak (1999: 120-22, 252-3), Palencia Frener (2013), and Weber (2013).
[16] See Coulthard (2014); Simpson and Smith (2006); Byrd (2011), and Lyons (2010).
[17] See Barker (2017), Smith and Kauanui (2008), and Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill  (2013).
[18] In contrast, Anne Mahler’s recent From the Tricontienntal to the Global South[1] explores important differences in present-day radical anti-racist movements that destabilize essentialist notions of the revolutionary subject through decentralized networked actors.
[19] See Derrida (1998), Spivak (1988), andSpivak (1993).
[20] Among many other works, see Greenwood (2009), Gibson-Graham (2000: 106-107), and Maguire (2001).
[21] Escobar refers to the knowledge production of the well-known Argentinian Colectivo Situaciones as militant research (182), but does not explore their practices in this volume. See also Valenzuela-Fuentes (2018); Juris and Khasnabish (2013); Speed (2006; and Graeber (2009).
[22] See Rabasa (2010); Williams (2002); Acosta (2014); Espinosa Miñoso (2014); and Spivak (1999). Thanks are due to Claudia Arteaga who introduced me to the work of Yuderkys Espinosa Miñoso and other feminists in the Tejiendo de Otro Modo collection.
[23] Bassnett and Trivedi (1999); Berman and Wood 2005; Derrida (1988); Patell (2005); Spivak (2012); Venuti (2018).
[24] Derrida (1987) suggests that resistance and opposition are bound in a relation of complicity with the thing that is being criticized, a problem which in Spivak’s view is one of the most difficult challenges posed to political forms of criticism, such as Marxism, feminism, and postcolonialism. (Morton 2007: 8). Derrida’s view is that “The question of knowing which is the least grave of these forms of complicity is always there—its urgency and its seriousness.” (Derrida 1987: 40, qtd. Morton 2007: 8)
[25] This may be contrasted with the overview of indigenous methodologies by Margaret Kovach (2009) that centers on the work of six indigenous researchers.
[26] See Gutiérrez Aguilar, “Rebuilding a Dissident Common Sense,” (3 July 2013); Land (2017);Morgensen (2011); Fortier (2017); Marcos (2004).
[27] Exemplary work retaining a strong sense of indigenous ontologies while confronting nation-state violence and predatory capitalism may be found in Jodi Byrd, et al. (2018); Zibechi (2010); Larsen and Johnson (2017); Gutiérrez Aguilar (2014); and Coulthard (2014).


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Joe Parker taught Critical Global Studies at Pitzer College and blogs at http://democracies2come.blogspot.com/. He published Democracy Beyond the Nation-State: Practicing Equality (2017) and co-edited Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice: Revisioning Academic Accountability (2010). He is on twitter @democracy2come.