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date: 29 March 2023

Postcolonialism, Decoloniality, and Epistemologies of the Southlocked

Postcolonialism, Decoloniality, and Epistemologies of the Southlocked

  • Boaventura de Sousa SantosBoaventura de Sousa SantosSociology, University of Coimbra


Postcolonialism, decoloniality, and epistemologies of the South (ES) are three main ways of critically approaching the consequences of European colonialism in contemporary social, political, and cultural ways of thinking and acting. They converge in highlighting the unmeasurable sacrifice of human life; the expropriation of cultural and natural wealth; and the destruction, by suppressing, silencing, proscribing, or disfiguring, of non-European cultures and ways of knowing. The differences among them stem in part from the temporal and geographical contexts in which they emerged. Postcolonial studies emerged in the 1960s in the aftermath of the political independence of European colonies in Asia and Africa. They focused mainly on the economic, political, and cultural consequences of decolonization, highlighting the postindependence forms of economic dependence, political subordination, and cultural subalternization. They argue that while historical colonialism had ended (territorial occupation and ruling by a foreign country), colonialism continued under different guises. Decolonial studies emerged in the 1990s in Latin America. Since the political independence of the Latin American countries took place in the early 19th century, these analytical currents assumed that colonialism was over, but it had in fact been followed by coloniality, a global pattern of social interaction that inherited all the social and cultural corrosiveness of colonialism. Coloniality is conceived of as an all-encompassing racial understanding of social reality that permeates all realms of economic, social, political, and cultural life. Coloniality is the idea that whatever differs from the Eurocentric worldview is inferior, marginal, irrelevant, or dangerous. The ES, formulated in the 2000s, aim at naming and highlighting ancient and contemporary knowledges held by social groups as they resisted against modern Eurocentric domination. They conceive of modern science as a valid (and precious) type of knowledge but not as the only valid (and precious) type of knowledge; they insist on the possibility of interknowledge and intercultural translation. ES share with postcolonialism the idea that colonialism is not over. However, they insist that modern domination is constituted not only by colonialism but also by capitalism and patriarchy. Like decolonial studies, the ES denounce the cognitive and ontological destruction caused by coloniality, but they focus on the positiveness and creativity that emerge from knowledges born in struggle and on how they translate themselves into alternative ways of knowing and practicing self-determination.


  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Cultural Studies

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