Center for Global Studies and the Humanities

Duke University

01Apr2008 The Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise Project Presents

Volume 2, Dossier 2: On the De-Colonial (II): Gender and Decoloniality

Preface — Walter Mignolo

This dossier focuses on the “question” of gender in the colonial matrix of power. “Power” is conceived neither in the sphere of the power of the sovereign (the line of reflections we find in Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben) nor in the “michrophysics of power.” In conversation although de-linking from both, “power” is conceived as the conflict for, on the one hand, control/domination/exploitation and, on the other, for liberation/self empowerment/freedom (which is the consequence of liberation). The conflict and struggle around power take place in a number of interrelated spheres: 1) appropriation of land and control of natural resources; 2) labor and its products; 3) sexuality and the reproduction of the species; 4) control of subjectivity and inter-subjective relations; 5) knowledge and 6) and authority (monarchic and democratic forms of state; military organization; police body). (1)

“Coloniality of power” refers to particular strategies (technologies we would say today) of control/domination/exploitation put in place during the sixteenth century. Massive appropriation of lands (in the “Americas”) and massive exploitation of labor and slave trade were the visible consequences. What Carl Schmitt described as “global linear thinking” and the new nomos of the earth (the rhetoric of modernity), was “complemented” by expropriation, domination and exploitation (the logic of coloniality). People to be controlled and dominated (or expelled from ones territory) needed to be construed as inferior (or as dangerous). The first were Africans and Indians in the New World; the second Moors and Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. Racism was the consequence of such classification. Theology was the discursive frame in which the classification was founded. The theological apparatus of enunciation was erected on two basic assumptions: the sources of enunciation were male, Christians and, later on in time, whites. Thus, Christianity and Manhood were taken as the point of reference and epistemic foundation of the modern/colonial corporeal apparatus of enunciation. The responses to colonial techniques of domination were—and still are–de-colonial strategies of liberation and the search of freedom. The array of responses is to large to be reviewed here and I have dealt with the issue elsewhere. (2) De-coloniality refers to the vast array of responses to the design and attempts to implement the colonial matrix of power in any of its interrelated spheres mentioned above.

“Woman” as Maria Lugones argues here, was a category absent in either African kingdoms and in the Inca and Aztec societies. It was an imperial/colonial strategy of controlling by re-organizing. Gender and racism work hand in hand in the logic of coloniality. Isabel Jiménez-Lucena explores the reproduction of coloniality currently, at the cross-road of gender and racism, in Spain and Morocco in the sphere of health and medical discourse. Madina Tlostanova look at the reproduction of the colonial matrix of power in the colonies of “dependent” imperial formations: Russia and the Soviet Union. The dossier closes with a report by Svetlana Shakirova of some of the work being carrying on by women’s activism in NGO’s in Central Asia and related regions. The array of fields and regions in this dossier complement the same kind of variety in our previous one on de-coloniality, (WKO, 2,1, Fall 2007). De-coloniality at large refers to all kind of work and projects that engage in the struggle between forms of colonial control (racially and patriarchally base) and strategies of liberation, self-empowrement and freedom to build a non-imperial colonial world. And that engage the struggle not only as resistance but as re-existence: de-linking from the mono-cultures of the mind and engaging, adventurously, in building a pluri-versal world.

Two commonly asked questions. First question: I see the potential of de-coloniality as a critical device (nowadays it is common to say “technology of”) to disclose the hidden mechanisms of coloniality. But…what is it the de-colonial project offers to imagining and working toward a non imperial/colonial future? Second question: De-colonial projects seem to focus on the force of racism in structuring the modern/colonial world, but what about patriarchy? Shall we talk also on de-patriarchy next to de-coloniality?

Let’s address the second question as it directly addresses arguments in this dossier. Patriarchy and racism are two basic, fundamental, markers of the hegemonic structure of Western and modern knowledge.

By Western I mean knowledge that was built and sustained on categories of thoughts and concepts grounded in Greek and Latin languages and unfolded in the six European imperial and modern (Renaissance and Enlightenment) languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German and English). One of the consequences is that ancient Sanskrit, Persian or Mandarin, Aymara, Arabic, Russian, and others were cast out both of the foundation (Greek and Latin) and of its modern and imperial unfolding.

The edifice of knowledge in Greek and Latin found its home in the North of the Mediterranean and toward the West of Athens; that is, toward Rome and the Atlantic coast of Europe. In the fifteenth century, Italian city states (like Venice Florence, Bologna), were powerful commercial, artistic and intellectual centers. These cities were in constant commercial contact with the South (Fess, Timbuktu) and with the East (Baghdad, Calcutta and Beijing). These cities, together with Toledo (Spain) in the 13th century, housed a wealth of learning institutions and learned scholars. Scholars were all men; they were all Christians and their skin was generally white. They built, through the century, an impressive edifice of knowledge that is today the foundation of social and natural science, arts and humanities and the professional schools (e.g., law, medicine and engineering). Numeracy and alphabetic literacy were the two most potent tools through which a diversified array of knowledge and a wide-ranging specter of artistic expression became the landmark of the European Renaissance and the historical establishment of modernity. By the sixteenth century, the three Italian cities, plus the Papacy in Rome and Seville, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon in the Iberian Peninsula, found themselves involved in a surprising event: the surprising emergence in the European mind of massive extension of lands and millions of un-known inhabitants. The edifice of knowledge in the sixteenth century was built in two concurrent directions: updating the past (e.g., colonizing time) and the other re-ordering the earth (e.g., colonizing space and putting in motion what Carl Schmitt called “global linear thinking.”)

Well, you have here all the necessary ingredients to understand the “corporeal apparatus of enunciation.” Several decades ago, noted French linguist Emile Benveniste published a ground-breaking article titled “L’appareil formel de l’enonciation” (the formal apparatus of enunciation).” The article marked a linguist’s (sharp) turn in relation to the legacy and influence of Ferdinand de Saussure’s analysis of the linguistic sign, broken down into signifier and signified. Saussure has focused on the enoncé; Benveniste turned toward the enunciateur, the person speaking or writing. Benveniste revealed that any act of discourse is anchored by a series of linguistic markers (or deictics): pronominal, temporal and spatial. In other words, any act of discourse presupposes the first person, I; which also makes it possible to identify acting, impersonations or free indirect style. Any act of discourse presupposes that it is said in the present, here; which makes it possible to understand speech within speech in two different places. And, finally, any act of discourse is, has to be, in the present (now). You see now why knowledge is situation; even more, it cannot be other than situated. The question is, why all of the sudden it was necessary to state (and celebrate) that knowledge(s) is (are) situated? The reason is that the edifice of knowledge was built as if it no one was building it. Knowledge was conceived as translation of what was already given in the world and the human knower was a transparent translator: impersonal, out of time and of space. Benveniste’s formal apparatus of enunciation brought knowledge down to earth, anchoring it in the inescapable structure of language. Today we can say that the formal apparatus of enunciation, in any language, is embedded in a corporeal apparatus of enunciation: geo-historical, ethnic and gender locations are as inescapable as the linguistic markers.

The edifice of knowledge in the European Renaissance was built then upon the invention of its own past (Greece and Rome) and the classification of the world impelled by the sudden encounters of Europeans with un-known land and people. People of the world were classified (by blood and religion first, by skin color later on, and by languages and nationality more recently) in relation to a model which was provided by their own experience of those who were creating the classification. That is to say, by the experience of Western Christians, knowing Greek and Latin and modern European languages, dwelling in the memories built by generations living in the North of the Mediterranean Sea, predominantly males and white-skinned. Racism was a conceptual construction—in the European Renaissance—with two main purposes: to justify the expulsion of Moors and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula; to justify the invasion and appropriation of Indian lands as well as the massive enslavement of Africans. Racism consisted in engineering the idea that certain people were ontologically inferior to others; mainly to those who were manufacturing the classification. Therefore, people ontologically inferior were also epistemically inept and irrational in different degrees and their knowledge also consider deviant in relation to the norm set up by Greek and Latin categories of thought. That is, ontological racism went hand in hand with epistemic racism.

Modern construction of racism, propelled by the two events just mentioned, was one side of a double classificatory operation. The other was sexism. Since human agents building knowledge were males, there was already in Christianity (as well as in Islam) a built in ranking by gender: females were not considered equals in the house of knowledge and in the distribution of intellectual labor. Gender was a necessary category to establish a hierarchy between men and women. In other words, if racism materialized in particular categories of Moors and Jews in Europe and Indians and enslaved Africans in the New World, sexism materialized in the radical distinction between two genders. Consequently, coloniality of knowledge and of being refers to processes of acting out and classifying the population by their religion, skin color, language or nationality and by their gender to justify and naturalize their control and domination. The corporeal apparatus of enunciation that sustained the edifice of modern knowledge geo-historically grounded in Greco-Latin history and geography and bio-graphically embodied in a cohort of male agency. Consequently, de-coloniality of knowledge and of being refers to both to de-racialization and de-genderization of experience; to the transformation of imperial/colonial subjectivities formed upon the assumption that there are inferior races and inferior sexes. The three articles in this dossier bear witness of a fundamental task of de-colonizing knowledge and being: the critical task of denunciating the masculine, Eurocentered, heterosexual and white historicity of dominant knowledge is necessary but not sufficient. It requires also to build and affirm corporeal apparatus of enunciation-others upon which knowing-otherwise is already the necessary step to being-otherwise. Maria Lugones, Isabel Martinez and Madina Tlostanova build such arguments. Svetlana Shakirova reports of a series of activities and institutional building, in Central Asia, that complements the arguments advanced in the three articles.

And that brings us directly to the first question: whether there is a constructive side that complements the analytical and critical endeavor of de-colonial projects. Let’s think for a minute of the concept of development, in developmental projects. Development seems to be exactly the opposite of de-coloniality. Historically, both concepts were introduced after WWII. The second half of the twentieth century was conceived as the era of development (parallel in time to the era of renaissance). But the second half of the twenty century was also marked by the processes of de-colonization in Africa and Asia. Thus, while development was a concept advanced by the intelligentsia of the developed and First World countries, de-colonization was a concept that articulated the struggles for liberation in the Third World. The problem that prompts the question is then what? What comes after liberation? In this regard, the promoters of de-colonization have a harder time to respond; a much harder time than the promoters of development. Development, in a nutshell, is the road to freedom through market economy and democratic organization of societies. This idea, that was implicit through the second half of the twenty century (and that explains the success of neo-liberal doctrines), was clearly (although not necessarily convincingly) argued by Amartya Sen (Development as Freedom, 1999). The concept of development invites us to look at the future, while de-colonization invites us to look at the past. The first promotes economic growth as a road to happiness. De-colonization is a reminder than the road to freedom is steeped in past and present blood and injustices. De-colonial thinking is not opposed of course to building democratic futures; but it does opposed the idea that development is the road to happiness. De-colonial thinking argues that development is the new format of coloniality, of knowledge and of being.

I do not have a blue-print of the road to freedom as one can find in developmental arguments. And this dossier is not the place to do it either. However, the reader can find already many clues pointing towards imagining de-colonial futures in the articles and documents of this dossier, as well as in the previous dossier (Dossier 2.1, Fall 2007). The conversation will continue in future issues.

Introduction — Maria Lugones, Coordinator

To understand feminism in a de-colonial vein is to do several things at once, the doing itself requiring a multiple perception/vision. The multiplicity in the exercise is constituted as a sensing/perceiving/understanding of the structural as well as the nuanced intimate in layers of dominance and resistance in tension, in a gamut that constructs and is constructed by selves, practices, the fabric of everyday living. At the same time, the multiple sensing/understanding takes up colonialism as a complex, variable, nuanced, textured relational historical dynamics of domination and subordination met by resistant, insurgent, agents in the process of being molded, turned, de-animated, dehumanized, gendered in the de-humanizing process. The over and over process of making/being made subordinate itself a crossing and remaking of multiple cosmologies, framings of reality, including social reality. If confession is a Christianizing tool instilling a framing of reality in the Manichean division between good evil that is a gendering instrument for subjects both understood as beasts and brutally punished for the sins of the turned sexed sinful flesh, it is also an Andean female taking confession from her ayllu (community) and instructing her people to confess to Spanish priests, the confession not just “arranged” but felt/known from a framing of the real where good and evil, being inscribed in the knowing flesh, lack sense. (see Silverblatt, cf. Marcos)

The many tasks: Decolonial feminism takes up the task of uncovering the colonial practices of gender imposition and formation (the coloniality of gender) as marking the colonial divide differentially, inseparably from the processes of racialization and from the processes of emptying the colonized souls/bodies of the relational, cosmological practices constituting them as social, and inseparably from the processes of turning them into docile instruments of capital accumulation. Thus, as decolonial feminism takes the imposition of gender as a colonial imposition, it takes up pre-colonial cosmologies, practices, knowledges in their constitution of the social and in their giving meaning to embodied differences, often fluid, non-dichotomous, largely conceived in communal rather than individual terms, and often connected to the largely germinative, rather than narrowly tied to the narrowly reproductive. Decolonial feminism, concomitantly, takes up the constitution of modern European colonial knowledges/ideologies/framing structures and the constitution of modern practices of manipulation, control, molding of the bodies/subjectivities within the gamut of power from colonizer to colonized as inseparable from the coloniality of power. These knowledges, framing structures, and practices of manipulation and control all come into focus in the deep reduction of selves in social and cosmological relation that constitutes colonial gender. Decolonial feminism also, concomitantly, inseparably takes up the resistant and insurgent active inhabitation of to-be-reduced/in-the-process-of-reduction embodied desire, knowing bodies, embodied memory, animated flesh, peopled subjects. These are inseparable tasks, as the processes and makings form an intricate texture, una trama, that permeates the social and within which springs an active non-eurocentered decolonial animation and imagination.

These tasks are being done, lived, at risk by those of us who inhabit that to-be-seen, covered-over-and-over terrain of the coloniality of gender, the soul, body, nature, community, destructive imposition of the subordinate and less than human in her lacks and excesses construction of us, our dispossession. The invitation, pressing towards decolonial being in relation, is to cultivate the uncovering as constitutive of all decoloniality.

Articles & Commentaries

  • The Coloniality of Gender Maria LUGONES This paper advances and argues for the position that colonialism did not impose pre-colonial, “European” gender arrangements on the colonized. It rather imposed new gender systems that created very different arrangements for colonized males and females than for white bourgeois colonizers. Thus, it introduced many genders and gender itself as a colonial concept and mode of organization of relations of production, property relations, of cosmologies and ways of knowing. The heterosexualist patriarchy has been an a-historical framework of analysis. To understand the relation of the birth of the colonial/modern gender system to the birth of global colonial capitalism--with the centrality of the coloniality of power to that system of global power--is to understand our present organization of life anew. Dr. Maria Lugones is the Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Interdisciplinary Research Center in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture at the University of New York at Binghamton. Dr. Lugones can be reached at
  • Gender and Coloniality in Morocco and Southern Spain Isabel JIMÉNEZ-LUCENA Approaching from a perspective that takes discourse as a tool of power in arranging and shaping the ‘social body,’ Jiménez-Lucena shows the importance of looking at gender when addressing the issues of coloniality and the colonial difference in general and whenaddressing the issue of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco in particular. This reflection and analysis concentrates on the relevance of gender relations, and of women, in the medical-sanitary discourse and practices of the colonial period. Dr. Isabel Jiménez-Lucena is Professor of the History of Science at the University of Málaga, Spain. Dr. Jiménez-Lucena can be reached at
  • The Janus-faced Empire Distorting Orientalist Discourses: Gender, Race, and Religion in the Russia/(post)Soviet Constructions of the Orient Madina TLOSTANOVA Tlostanova discusses the ways the discourses of gender, race and religion intertwined and worked together in the mutant space of the Russian and Soviet empires, the subaltern empires of modernity, and in their non-European Islamic colonies, Caucasus and Central Asia. The text theoretically engages such key categories as the imperial and colonial difference and the ideas of secondary Eurocentrism and secondary Orientalism as specific products of the Russian imperial mind. The article subsequently dwells on the three phases or variants of orientalist gendered discourses, which correspond to the Romantic stage of exotic other, the pseudo-scientific race taxonomies, and the “othered” forms of rendering the colonial gender discourse in Soviet modernity. Dr. Madina Tlostanova is Professor of Comparative Politics and Philosophy at the The People Friendship's University of Russia. Dr. Tlostanova can be reached at
  • Women's Movement and Feminism in Central Asia: From a Not Comforting Forecast to Efficient Strategies Svetlana SHAKIROVA Documents. Dr. Svetlana Shakirova is the Director of the Center for Gender Studies in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Dr. Shakirova can be reached at
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