In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modernity and Decoloniality

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • The Concept of Coloniality
  • History
  • Decolonial Aesthetics
  • Geopolitical Opening

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Latin American Studies Modernity and Decoloniality
Walter D. Mignolo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0017


The epistemic and political project known as modernity/(de)coloniality originated in South America, more specifically in the Andean region. To say “modernity and decoloniality” is to name in a colonial way the project that is being decolonized. Modernity/(de)coloniality are complex, heterogeneous, and historical structural concepts. They are entangled in ways shown by the work of groups introduced in this article. The key concept, however, is coloniality. Like many other similar and parallel projects (see the article on the Caribbean Philosophical Association), the key concept of coloniality calls into question the idea that knowledge is disembodied and independent of any specific geohistorical locations. The members involved in the project argue that such belief has been created and implanted by dominant principles of knowledge that originated in Europe since the Renaissance. In order to build a universal conception of knowledge, Western epistemology (from Christian theology to secular philosophy and science) has pretended that knowledge is independent of the geohistorical (Christian Europe) and biographical conditions (Christian white men living in Christian Europe) in which it is produced. As a result, Europe became the locus of epistemic enunciation, and the rest of the world became the object to be described and studied from the European (and, later on, the United States), perspective. This article concentrates on the overall profile of the project and on those members of the collective that, in the first stage, provided the foundational concepts and, in the second stage, expanded the base toward new horizons. We have entered a period in which universal assumptions about knowledge production are being displaced. In other words, knowledge, like capitalism, no longer comes from one center; rather, it is geopolitically distributed. That global distribution demanded a concept to account for it. Geopolitics of knowledge is a key concept in modernity, coloniality, and decoloniality.

Introductory Works

The project has its point of origination in Latin America, but it is not for Latin America only, in the same way that Marxism, postmodernism, or psychoanalysis originated in Europe but is not for Europe only. The concept of decolonization originated in the Bandung Conference (see Wright 1956). The concept of coloniality originated in South America in the 1990s (Quijano 2009, cited in Aníbal Quijano and Coloniality of Power). Postcoloniality originated in the 1980s, right after the publication of Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1978). Both postcolonialism and (de)coloniality are results of the Bandung Conference. The conference was neither for capitalism nor for Communism, and it was not a compromise—a “third way,” as was proposed in the 1990s. It was something else, a delinking from both, that is, decolonialization (see Quest’s The Lessons of the Bandung Conference), and that means that both capitalism and Communism were indeed two types of colonialism (one with an emphasis on free market and the other with an emphasis on state control of the market), but both inheritors of the Enlightenment. Bandung was a departure, a delinking and the initiation of a long process of decolonization and decoloniality as a set of global, interrelated projects without a center. A historical description of decolonization in Africa and Asia can be found in Duara 2003. The poetics and politics of decolonization were magisterially articulated by Césaire 1955 and by Fanon 2004. In Latin America, the legacy of José Carlos Mariátegui (see Mariátegui 1971) was a key antecedent of the concept of coloniality. The “failure” of the process of political and economic decolonization was not questioning coloniality, as Quijano has shown us, but rather in the logic that underlined the particular historical form of colonialism. The experience that Africans and Asian countries were going through had already happened at the beginning of the 19th century in Latin America, and it was already known by the 1960s that “independences” were indeed a new form of colonialism: that is, international colonialism in the process of building the national states (see González Casanova 2003). It was also clear at the time that coloniality operated not only in the sphere of the political and the economic but basically at the epistemic (see Fals Borda’s Uno siembra semilla pero ella tienen su propia dinámica and Sánchez Lopera 2008), cultural, and aesthetics levels (see Achinte’s Comida y colonialidad cited under Decolonial Aesthetics).

  • Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Translated by Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review, 1955.

    Written in France during the Algerian war, a decade after the end of fascism in Germany and at the moment when Paris was at the crossroads of African liberation movements and French Caribbean intellectualism, Discourse on Colonialism is a necessary point of reference for any discourse on decolonization and decoloniality.

  • Duara, Prasenjit. Decolonization: Perspectives from Now and Then. Rewriting Histories. London: Routledge, 2003.

    A necessary reading to understand the historical background common to both postcoloniality and decoloniality.

  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove, 2004.

    Written during the trying years of the Algerian wars of liberation, and at the end of Fanon’s short and influential life, this book is a key treatise on decolonial political theory in the line of Guaman Poma de Ayala in the early 17th century and Ottobah Cugoano in the late 18th century. Foreword by Homi K. Bhabha; preface by Jean-Paul Sartre.

  • González Casanova, Pablo. “Colonialismo interno (una redefinición).” Rebeldía 12 (2003): 409–434.

    This classical article provides a missing link between postcoloniality and decoloniality: internal colonialism and the colonial history of the Americas and the Caribbean. Decolonization in Africa and Asia are the second wave of decolonization in the modern/colonial world. In the Americas we have talked about revolutions (American and Haitian) and independences (South and Central America). Available at Biblioteca CLASCO.

  • Mariátegui, José Carlos. Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality. Texas Pan American Series. Translated by Marjory Urquidi. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

    Mariátegui´s book is a turning point in the history of Latin American thought and a landmark in the geopolitics of knowledge. The problem of the Indian is a socioeconomic problem, states Mariátegui, refuting centuries of arguments that makes the Indians a cultural problem. It is also a turning point in Marxist theory—Mariátegui introduces the decolonial option. Originally published in Spanish in 1928.

  • Sánchez Lopera, Alejandro. “Orlando Fals Borda. Aporías de un pensamiento sin desilusión.” Nómadas 29 (2008): 206–211.

    A useful article to understand the decolonial work avant la lettre that this Colombian sociologist engaged in, next to other sociologists such as Pablo González Casanova and Rodolfo Stavenhagen.

  • Quest, Matthew. The Lessons of the Bandung Conference: Reviewing Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain 40 Years Later.

    This is useful review of the book and the consequences of the Bandung Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement.

  • Uno siembra semilla pero ella tienen su propia dinámica. Interview with Orlando Fals Borda.

    Fals Borda was a pioneer in not just opening up the social sciences and area studies but also decolonizing them. He initiated these arguments in the 1970s, and they are nicely recollected in this interview.

  • Wright, Richard. The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference. New York: World, 1956.

    A classic report on the conference, written by a black author right after the event.

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