3:1 — On “Decoloniality” (and the Nonhuman) — Post 3 of 3

This is the third post from the trenches of the Eastern Sociological Society’s conference in NYC this past weekend. The linked workshop entitled, “Decoloniality and the Social Sciences,” explored such diverse topics as floating medical clinics, non-GMO seed sharing, the high seas, cargo, zombies, pedagogy, dolphins, and derivatives.

For my part, I reflected upon decoloniality and the nonhuman. Elsewhere I have discussed the dolphin and posthuman security, and this topic has stayed on my mind. I recently visited Barataria Bay (home of the bottlenose dolphin, at least until the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Venice, LA. I found it hauntingly desolate with a devastated post-disaster aesthetic; a place only a true ecologist can love—or an oil exec just off the heliport from the tour of his oil rig.





Pictures taken by the author, Feb 2015

The decolonial literature is new to me, and as I did my due diligence with a literature review, I was intrigued by Mignolo’s insistence on “decolonial thinking and doing.” Decolonial thinking de-links epistemically and politically from what he calls “the imperial web of knowledge.”

In short, we must decolonialize our very ways of thinking and being in the world. This epistemic disobedience is necessary for acts of civil disobedience that transform the world. This means body-politics comes before disciplinary management, or more pointedly, decolonial thinking places “human lives and life in general first.” Mignolo writes:

De-colonial thinking presupposes de-linking (epistemically and politically) from the web of imperial knowledge (theo- and ego-politically grounded) from disciplinary management. A common topic of conversation today, after the financial crisis on Wall Street, is ‘how to save capitalism’. A de-colonial question would be: ‘Why would you want to save capitalism and not save human beings? Why save an abstract entity and not the human lives that capitalism is constantly destroying?

Returning to the nonhuman, can this epistemic disobedience be a tactic that aids in co-creating a more just and kind world for all species on this planet? To rephrase as Mignolo’s question: Why would want to save neoliberal forms of production that destroy the only livable planet accessible to us? Capitalism is destroying more than human lives. It is destroying the very biosphere that allows life to persist and thrive. How is this topic not all that we talk, write, and think about in all epistemic communities? 

In my terms, can decolonialty be used against a human centered politics that takes the biosphere as a place to colonize and deplete?

In many ways, decolonial thinking and doing could encompass the nonhuman. Bodies of color and gendered bodies have been animalized in colonial and paternal regimes. Woman are chicks, bitches, sows, cows, birds. Rod Coronado reminds us that the treatment of wolves in the United States twins the way indigenous people were (and are) treated during North American colonization. In human centered politics, non- human animals are useful only in their kill-ability/eat-ability and nature for its rape-ability/use-ability. They are use value only.

This is another kind of “colonial wound,” (regions and peoples classified as underdeveloped economically and mentally), as Mignolo terms it. If decolonial thinking can link diverse experiences and histories heretofore ignored in colonial/imperial systems of knowledge, can it also create an ecological thinking? If colonial ways of being still can’t allow humans to be full humans, how is it even possible to widen this to the nonhuman world? I hope so, but I also know that hope will wear thin with the changes wrought by the Anthropocene.

Be it trees, lemurs, bacteria, mosquitos, koalas or homo sapien sapiens, we should, as members of a shared biosphere, be able to thrive on this planet—even if the way we thrive is different for all of us. A new complex web of co-worlding—snatched from the imperial one—is the only answer. Accomplice networks must be created. 


Walter D. Mignolo. Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom Theory, Culture & Society 2009 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 26(7–8): 1–23

10 thoughts on “3:1 — On “Decoloniality” (and the Nonhuman) — Post 3 of 3

  1. That is true; the closing discussion about defining terms — at the end, not the beginning — was a bit frustrating. Had I known that that was the state of affairs, I would have left my presentation behind and just walked the group through the basics of the concepts.


  2. That is a fair counter-point; “saving capitalism over saving the Earth” can also be easily construed as a piece of postmodern “like” activism where a smug person notes how ironic/true it is, and then goes on to do nothing.


  3. not sure if framing it in such broad/abstract terms helps much in the to and fro of politics where people tend to focus/act more issue by issue (can I pay my bills and such), personality by personality, etc.
    Also not sure if this is a call to revolution as all current US pols are pretty fullsquare behind some version of capitalism or another and times running down on the environmental issues:


  4. given the scales of the problems (and the vast reaches&resources of our opposition) how would a more localized/particularized and diversified approach be a timely and yet sustainable


  5. That quote about saving capitalism of saving humans is exactly — and I mean exactly — what Latour was trying to say in Politics of Nature; a SOLID STS and Decoloniality linkage (as a means to de-link, of course): https://www.academia.edu/729915/REVIEW_Politics_of_Nature_Science_and_Technology_Studies_Saves_Planet_Earth_via_Latour

    Hell, just framing questions plainly like that — save capitalism or save people? Or, I concluded that book review: “In 1997,scientists, philosophers, politicians, and many more from all over the Earth (maybe even some sociologists) convened in Kyoto, Japan. They asked, as acommunity, if ‘the health of the American economy is more or less important than the health of the earth’s climate’ (p. 107). This capturesLatour’s vision of politics – politics ‘as the entire set of tasks that allow theprogressive composition of a common world’ (p. 53).”


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