Epistemologies of the South Justice against Epistemicide
HREE BASIC IDEAS underlie this book. First, the understanding of the world by far exceeds the Western understanding of the world. Second, there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice. Third, the emancipatory transformations in the world may follow grammars and scripts other than those developed by Western-centric critical theory, and such diversity should be valorized. A critical theory is premised upon the idea that there is no way of knowing the world better than by anticipating a better world. Such anticipation provides both the intellectual instruments to unmask the institutionalized, harmful lies that sustain and legitimate social injustice and the political impulse to struggle against them. Critical theory is therefore meaningless without a search for truth and healing, even if in the end there is no final truth or definitive cure. History shows that the most entrenched social lies have been limited in scope and duration, even if, while in force and dominant, they appear to be the very source of truth and healing. Viewed from the perspective of the excluded and discriminated against, the historical record of global capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy is full of institutionalized, harmful lies. It is a record of social regulation in the name of social emancipation, appropriation in the name of liberation, violence in the name of peace, the destruction of life in the name of the sanctity of life, violation of human rights in the name of human rights, societal fascism in the name of political democracy, illegal plundering in the name of the rule of law, assimilation in the name of diversity, individual vulnerability in the name of individual autonomy, constitution ofsubhumanities in the name of humanity, putting price tags on convictions in the name of priceless values, commodification in the name of redemption, standardization in the name of choice, massification in the name of freedom, racism in the name of tolerance, constitutional wrongs in the name of constitutional rights, ontologies of inferiority in the name of Immanuel Kant’s Was ist die Aufklärung?, inequalities after the law in the name of equality before the law, compulsive consumption in the name of happiness, and hypocrisy in proclaiming principles (St. Thomas’s habitus principiorum) in order to cover up for the most hideous negations ofrecta vita. Given the peculiar pervasiveness and intensity of the institutionalized, harmful lies running our contemporary world, the adequate recognition of injustice and the possible overcoming of oppression can only be achieved by means of an epistemological break. The focus on such an epistemological break is what best distinguishes the theory expounded in this book from the Western-centric critical tradition. The latter, of which the most brilliant exemplar is the Frankfurt School, has failed to account for the emancipatory struggles of our time, in part at least because it shares with the bourgeois thinking it criticizes the same epistemological foundations that suppress the cognitive dimension ofsocial injustice, and thus renders universal the Western understanding and transformation of the world. Moreover, it sees itself as a vanguard theory that excels in knowing about, explaining, and guiding rather than knowing with, understanding, facilitating, sharing, and walking alongside. This book aims to depart from this Eurocentric critical tradition. It proposes a teoria povera, a rearguard theory based on the experiences of large, marginalized minorities and majorities that struggle against unjustly imposed marginality and inferiority, with the purpose of strengthening their resistance. The critical theorizing laid out in this book seeks to be non-Eurocentric because it prepares the ground for both valorizing non-Eurocentric conceptions of emancipation or liberation and for proposing counterhegemonic understandings and uses of Eurocentric concepts, such as human rights, the rule of law, democracy, and socialism. This book stands on its own but it will benefit from a reading in conjunction with my forthcoming Epistemologies of the South: Reinventing Social Emancipation. The wager of this latter book is that vast political landscapes of emancipation and liberation will emerge once the epistemological work proposed in the current book is accomplished. This volume starts with a preamble presented in a counterpoint mode, a counterpoint between an imagined manifesto for good living/buen vivir and a minifesto thus designated in order to challenge the grandiose purposes underlying modernist manifestos. The manifesto presents the imagined voices ofsocial movements with which I have been working over the years. The minifesto presents my own response, highlighting the limitations of writing at a time of impossible radicalism, as this book intends to show. In order best to visualize the counterpoint structure, the manifesto is printed on the even pages, the minifesto on the odd pages. In the introduction I defend the need for creating a distance in relation to Western-centric political imagination and critical theory. I show the reasons why the Western-centric critical tradition (Marxism included) fails to account for the forms of struggle, social actors, and grammars of liberation that have developed in the last twenty years. In the past decade the World Social Forum has provided a dramatic illustration of this failure. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, I show that in order to be solid and convincing the critique of Western modernity must take into account the complexity and internal diversity of this social, political, and cultural paradigm. What is usually called Western modernity is a very complex set of phenomena in which dominant and subaltern perspectives coexist and constitute rival modernities. Critiques of predominant Western modernity tend to ignore this fact. To that extent they run the risk of becoming reductionist and of being like the very conceptions of modernity they criticize, that is, mere caricatures. In Chapter 1, drawing on a famous essay by the nineteenth-century Cuban intellectual-activist José Martí, I identify some Calibanesque views on America and Western modernity. In Chapter 2, I resort to Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus in order to analyze the turbulence that is currently shaking one of the grounding metaphors that underlies modern identities (or, rather, modern processes of identification): the double metaphor of roots and options. In Chapter 3, I ask whether a nonOccidentalist West is possible. Resorting to two early modern philosophers, Nicholas of Cusa and Blaise Pascal, I show how alternative understandings of Western modernity were set aside because they failed to fit the capitalist-colonial enterprise. In the second part, by means of various approximations, I expound my criticisms of the dominant epistemologies (Northern epistemologies) and present my own epistemological proposal, which I have been calling epistemologies of the South, a set of inquiries into the construction and validation of knowledge born in struggle, of ways of knowing developed by social groups as part of their resistance against the systematic injustices and oppressions caused by capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. In Chapter 4, the central chapter of my postcolonial or decolonial approach, I analyze the abyssal lines drawn by the dominant abyssal thinking of our time through which both human and nonhuman realities existing on the other side of the line are made invisible or even actively produced as nonexistent. This results in the most radical forms of social exclusion. In Chapter 5, I approach invisibility from another angle, which I call the epistemology of blindness. Taking the epistemological foundations of modern economics as an extreme example, I show the different mechanisms through which the immense lot of the unseen is generated. In Chapter 6, and still from another perspective, which I term the sociology of absences and the sociology of emergences, I show how the laziness of dominant modern forms of reason leads to an enormous waste of social experience that otherwise might be useful to identify emancipatory possibilities. In Chapter 7, I focus on ecologies of knowledges; I present the outline of the epistemologies of the South by showing how the sociology of absences and the sociology of emergences open up the possibility both for ecologies of knowledges and for intercultural translation. Finally, in Chapter 8, I deal with intercultural translation that I conceive of as the alternative both to the abstract universalism grounding Western-centric general theories and to the idea of incommensurability between cultures. This is a book soaked in tragic optimism, neither radical pessimism nor radical hope. Nothing is so oppressive as to eliminate the sense of a nonoppressive alternative. But, on the other hand, no such alternative is strong or convincing enough to avoid running the risk of somehow conflating itself with oppression. If the human condition were slavery, there would be no need for the institution of slavery. Conversely, if the human condition were freedom, there would be no need for constitutions and human rights. The human condition is the condition of humans carrying a heavy load of history on their shoulders and half-blindly choosing ways of making the load easier to carry. I have worked on this book for many years. I am indebted to much precious support from many colleagues and collaborators over the course of that time. I am afraid I will not be able to mention them all. This book owes a lot to Maria Irene Ramalho, to our many stimulating dialogues and challenging interdisciplinary exchanges, and to her inspiration regarding my incursions into literary theory. She has also helped on occasion to render some of my ideas into English. My committed research assistant of many years, Margarida Gomes, has once again brought competence and professionalism to support my research and to prepare the manuscript for publication. Over the years my books in English have benefited from the invaluable support of Mark Streeter as an outstanding copy editor. The invisible hand of my devoted secretary, Lassalete Simões, makes itself present, directly or indirectly, in everything I have written for the past twenty years. My colleagues João Arriscado Nunes and Maria Paula Meneses were precious collaborators in crucial moments of my research. Over the years, my doctoral and postdoctoral students at the Universities of Coimbra, Wisconsin— Madison, Warwick, and London were a constant source of inspiration for me to embark on novel topics and perspectives. At different moments of my research, I could always count on the unfailing support of collaborators, colleagues, and friends: Agustin Grijalva, Alison Phipps, Allan Hunter, Ana Cristina Santos, António Casimiro Ferreira, António Sousa Ribeiro, Armando Muylema, Bill Whitford, Carlos Lema, Cesar Baldi, César Rodríguez-Garavito, Claire Cutler, Conceição Gomes, Cristiano Gianolla, David Larraz, David Schneiderman, Diane Soles, Efua Prah, Élida Lauris, Emilios Christodoulidis, Erik O. Wright, Gavin Anderson, Heinz Klug, Immanuel Wallerstein, Ivan Nunes, James Tully, Javier Couso, Jeremy Webber, João Pedroso, Joaquin Herrera Flores, John Harrington, José Luis Exeni, José Manuel Mendes, Joseph Thome, Juan Carlos Monedero, Juan José Tamayo, Len Kaplan, Liliana Obregón, Luís Carlos Arenas, Marc Galanter, Margarida Calafate Ribeiro, Maria José Canelo, Mario Melo, Mary Layoun, Michael Burawoy, Michael Wall, Neil Komesar, Raul Llasag, Raza Saeed, Rebecca Johnson, Sara Araújo, Sílvia Ferreira, Tiago Ribeiro, and Upendra Baxi. My heartfelt thanks to all of them, and I just hope the end result will not disappoint them. Last but not least, a very special word of gratitude to Dean Birkenkamp of Paradigm Publishers for the extraordinary incentive he gave me for the swift completion of this book and its timely publication.