Tag Archives: decoloniality

Mariana Mora and Antonio Carmona Báez on ‘Decolonizing Knowledge and Research in ‘Latin’ America and the Caribbean’

By Amanda González Izquierdo

For the fourth event of the “What is Decoloniality?” speaker series, the Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies, the Center for Cultural Analysis, and the Program in Comparative Literature were proud to host Dr. Mariana Mora (Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, México) and Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez (President, University of St. Martin, St. Maarten). On the morning of October 25, Dr. Mora and Dr. Carmona Baéz gave a talk titled “Decolonizing Knowledge and Research in ‘Latin’ America and the Caribbean.” This was the first talk in the speaker series that featured two scholars in conversation and listening to them side-by-side allowed us to understand that even though there are commonalities in the experience of colonization, we should be careful not to make generalizations and should instead be mindful of the nuances and particularities of the distinct modalities of colonialism and their effects on different communities. 

Dr. Carmona Baez, co-editor of Smash the Pillars: Decoloniality and the Imaginary of Color in the Dutch Kingdom (2018), focused on St. Maarten, a constituent state of the Dutch Kingdom. He opened the discussion by highlighting the dichotomy of servitude vs. ownership that he has witnessed at the University of St. Maarten. The university specializes in hospitality, which is directly related to the fact that revenues from tourism are the backbone of the island. However, the business program is growing steadily because students are interested in owning corporations. This is due in large part to colonial powers and investment banks creating a market for international entrepreneurs.  This is often followed by the emigration of qualified students, which Dr. Carmona Báez describes as a brain drain to the island, or, unsustainable recovery and development. To offset that, Dr. Carmona Báez proposes a decolonial sustainable recovery and development, which is based on brain gain. This means creating the conditions for the “return of the diaspora”:  the return of the knowledgeable people that have left the island. He also proposes the use of local research and community-based development. He closed his portion of the talk by talking about jollification: a celebration of collective efforts. This celebration occurs as members of a community build houses and the elderly sit with children to tell them their histories. For him, a big part of decolonial recovery and development is precisely this kind of activity, where action and celebration happen not separately but simultaneously and, most importantly, in community.

Dr. Mora, author of Kuxlejal Politics: Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities (2017) discussed the form her research took in writing her recently-published book. Dr. Mora opened by saying that academia is not absolved from neo-colonialism and explained how academic research has colonial overtones: it is seen as an extractivist knowledge wherein base/raw material that takes the form of oral histories provided by subjugated peoples is provided to a researcher, who then makes meaning out of that information by classifying and systematizing it in writing. Though the Zapatistas accepted that Dr. Mora do research in their communities, they redefined the terms of that research. First, they rejected Dr. Mora’s plan to conduct individual case stories in favor of a collective story in the form of group interviews. They also rejected Dr. Mora’s proposal to do a deep study of two communities, since they believed that this would silence the rest. Instead, they required that she go to at least twelve of the thirty-five municipalities. In their most decolonial action, they subverted the notion of extractivist knowledge. During Dr. Mora’s interviews, the Zapatistas themselves prepared their own synthetizations of their own histories, which they then read out loud, thus destabilizing the oral/written dichotomies and the suggestive power of the binary. This allowed them to have an active role in the production of knowledge and in the process situated themselves as subjects of their own histories. 

The exchange challenged us to think about coloniality and decoloniality across geopolitical frameworks and reminded us that the effects of colonization are still being felt and require radical praxes. It also provided us with original, context-sensitive responses from agents actively fighting colonial epistemes and redefining knowledge in their day-to-day lives.  

 

Literary and feminist summer in Mexico and Brazil

By Paulina Barrios

Looking back to this summer seems so far away it is hard to think that it only happened a few months ago. The first thing that comes to mind is sunshine and walking around different cities. I started the summer at home, enjoying warm weather and dog-sitting, as I planned out the field research I would do. My general goal this summer was to reconnect with colleagues across feminist movements in Mexico and visit feminist collectives and organizations that use literature in their projects. However, I was also interested in establishing new contacts and learning more about cartoneras and decolonial thought. As a follow up on my class on Spanish American short stories with Prof. Marcy Schwartz, and thanks to her support, I contacted cartonera groups and interviewed them about their work. I wanted to understand if there were any connections between self-narrative and storytelling efforts and self-publishing. Additionally, following a recommendation from Prof. Nelson Maldonado-Torres I applied to the summer school on Decolonial Black Feminism in Bahia, Brazil and was accepted. Although I had initially planned to do research in 8-9 cities in Mexico it slowly became clear that this was overly ambitious considering time and funds. For example, I hadn’t factored in time for transcribing and processing the data, traveling more than two or three times a month would be unrealistic. I also needed time to reach out to people and buy plane tickets that were quickly escalating in price. Therefore, in May I set up my geographic trail for the summer; between June and July I would visit five cities in Mexico, and end the summer at Bahia and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

San Cristobal, Chiapas

I loved my summer work since it gave me the opportunity to watch independent theater productions, learn how to make books out of cardboard, speak with activists, visit new places, and rethink my research project. My time in both countries added new concepts and ideas to my incipient dissertation project such as space, race, self-publishing, decolonial feminisms, and positionality. I was particularly struck by the origins of cartoneras (simply put, these are editorial groups that make cardboard-based artisanal books) and the different aspects that inspire their work: independent editing, responding to editorial monopolies, socioeconomic issues in Latin American countries, the aim to socialize literature that would otherwise be inaccessible to people, bringing literature and craft together, participating in youth-driven projects, etc. In addition to visiting groups in Mexico I was able to speak with Dulcineia Cartonera in Sao Paulo, which is located next to a recycling site. Seeing the different spaces that cartoneras work in (editor’s homes, small bookstores, rooms/offices next to recycling sites, loaned spaces, etc) made me think of the centrality of space in literary production and activism. This relates in part to the physical space of where cartoneras do their work and hold their workshops, for example, but also space as related to performance and theater.

Space also came up when I spoke to theater companies or LBTQ collectives and organizations that use theater as part of their creative and activist work. In some cases these groups choose to use public spaces and the street. In others, part of their activism involves having a space of their own for their and others’ performances and theater productions. Hence, this experience led me to rethink the concept of space, and the practical elements attached to having a physical space for activist groups. In some cases, groups do believe that having a physical space benefits their work, and in others they see their mobility as a positive aspect. Not only this, but many groups spoke about the threat of shrinking space for both cultural projects (specifically in the case of Guadalajara) and feminist or human rights activist work. Thus, space arose as both an issue and an opportunity regarding physical space and the concept of space in a less tangible fashion.

The final element of my summer, the decolonial feminism school, was a crucial addition to my research project’s theoretical framework. Held from August 6-10 in Cachoeira, Bahia (Brazil), the Decolonial Black Feminism Summer School is described on their website as “an initiative exploring Black Feminist Thought from a Trans-American perspective”. They further aim to generate a regional discussion surrounding black feminisms that have risen out of the continent, reframing intersectionality around race and inequality, as well as adding decolonial analyses of capitalism and patriarchy. The sessions focused on black feminist thought in the United States taught by Prof. Kimberle Crenshaw, Brazilian black feminist history taught by Prof. Angela Figueroa, and Latin American decolonial feminisms taught by Prof. Karina Ochoa. In addition to the academic training, the personal exchanges between participants was a wonderful experience, and I had the opportunity to meet fellow graduate students, activists, and professors. The school also included afternoon or evening walks throughout Cachoeira, meeting

Memorial das Baianas in Salvador, Bahía

local cultural and activist groups, as well as a samba presentation-invitation to participate. The spiritual element of the exchanges and learning is difficult to put into words but made this into one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my life.

The funds granted by the Program in Comparative Literature, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Off-Campus Dissertation Development Award were crucial for my work in Mexico and my participation in the summer school in Bahia. After this summer I was left with many questions, new ideas, and a conviction that academy and activism should be in constant communication and that we need more ‘South-South’ exchanges. My summer work has already extended into my second year under the PhD program in Comparative Literature, inspiring many of my classes and triggering conversations around my future dissertation project. In the future I hope to maintain a constant communication with decolonial and black feminisms, further my understanding and use of ‘space,’ as well as continue to put Brazil and Mexico into conversation.

Decoloniality in China: A Sideways Gaze

By Rafael Vizcaíno

At the Great Wall, photo by Suzy Jung

While the first time I read Roland Barthes’s Travels in China I found it to be a cringe-worthy example of a type of postmodern orientalism, rereading it before my first trip to China led me to wonder if what he meant by the “sideways gaze” to look at China (neither Chinese nor Western) could instead be better understood as a type of decolonial gaze. After all, Chela Sandoval recovers Barthes and semiotics into the project of decolonization. From June 23 to June 29, I had the privilege of taking part in a scholarly and cultural exchange between Rutgers and Jilin University, where I presented my dissertation research and met humanities and social sciences scholars, graduate and undergraduate students from Jilin University. This exchange, as brief as it was, has further convinced me of the importance of strengthening South-South dialogues towards the development of that new gaze through which we can interpret our world-making practices beyond modern/colonial lenses.

Opening ceremony

The format of the scholarly forum consisted of concurrent colloquia across disciplinary boundaries. As the sole humanities scholar in the entire event, I was part of a group of psychologists and sociologists whose work analyzed how social identity markers of difference affect both the self-perception and the social role of marked subjects, e.g., biracial American college students or provincial Chinese women in urban settings. Such multidisciplinary audience was an ideal interlocutor for my work on the epistemic critiques decolonial thinking makes on method across fields and disciplines. Given the limited reception of decolonial thinking in that particular audience, however, I decided not to present my prepared paper on the coloniality of secularism and instead presented a contextualization of decoloniality vis-à-vis the historical formations of anti-colonialism and postcolonial studies. The ensuing discussion on the significance of importing foreign methodological frameworks to the analysis of an-Other socio-cultural and historical reality was very rich and conducive to future conversations across colonial/imperial differences, e.g., Latin American, African, and East Asian critiques of Western modern methodologies.

Talking about decoloniality, photo by Zhang Si

Besides the scholarly component of the forum, I had the opportunity of visiting several museums in the city of Changchun, as well as taking part in a cultural exchange with students from Jilin University where all of us learned about the educational systems of our counterparts. I found this event to be extremely fruitful because students’ questions about the American university system were honestly answered by Rutgers doctoral students. Among these included very serious and difficult questions, such as intellectual theft or other abuses of power like sexual harassment by one’s supervisors. After the event, there was an informal period of about ten minutes where we could have one-on-one discussions with each other. This proved to me to be the most enjoyable part of the forum, as I connected with many students interested in my areas of work, some of whom I remain in conversation today.

Warm welcome from Jilin University, photo by Zhang Si

The second part of the official visit consisted of a guided sight-seeing tour of Beijing not unlike the one Barthes describes in his Travels—indeed, I now laugh at the similarities. With a heat factor of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we visited Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall over two days. The Great Wall is truly magnificent, and I hope to visit it again sometime soon. While I still cringe while reading Barthes’s descriptions of Chinese people, this trip has certainly given me new lenses through which to read his text, as well as concrete experience over what it could mean to look at China (and any other place of colonial difference for that matter) decolonially with a “sideways gaze.” I hope to continue building on these dialogues over the years to come.

My daily travel journal, a la Barthes

I would like to thank the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies and the Rutgers Global and China Offices for allowing me to take part in the Rutgers-Jilin Graduate Forum. Also, my gratitude goes to my student hosts at Jilin for their hospitality and incredible kindness.

 

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “Kusch en el trópico: Phagocytosis and Transculturation in the Work of Irka Mateo”

By F. Joseph Sepúlveda with editorial input by Rafael Vizcaíno

Before the end of the Spring 2018 semester, the Decoloniality Workshop held its fourth meeting of the year, where Professor Carlos Decena (Latino and Caribbean Studies, Women and Gender Studies) gave a talk titled “Kusch en el trópico: Phagocytosis and Transculturation in the Work of Irka Mateo.” Professor Decena started his discussion by contextualizing how his current research project, which seeks to attend to “needs that are not scholarly,” follows up on his previous work Tacit Subjects (Duke University Press, 2011). An intervention within Latinx and sexuality studies, the tacit subject resists the dominant paradigm of “coming out” and visibility within North American queer theorizing. In Professor Decena’s work in progress, this framework is deployed to understand how Dominicans experience the sphere of the sacred/divine, beyond a Judeo-Christian understanding.

Grounded on ethnographic experiences in rural Dominican communities, Professor Decena spoke of how some people retain the memory of indigenous Taino figures (e.g. Anacaona) through a relationship with the land which could be understood as tacitly sacred. Professor Decena presented imagery showcasing elaborate religious shrines inside Dominican homes, which include a ritual practice of the “feeding of stones” that is often associated with Afro-Caribbean Santeria. These practices, however, also point out the persistence of indigenous Taino beliefs within Dominican culture, against the dominant historiography within the island.

Professor Decena specifically addressed the musical/visual production of Irka Mateo, a Dominican folk musician whose work seeks to retrieve the importance of indigenous symbols and practices. Mateo’s work illuminates and strives to remedy a long-standing belief in the total annihilation and disappearance of the indigenous population within the Dominican Republic. Professor Decena’s focus on figures like Mateo points to the multiplicity of Dominican racial identity and permits rethinking Dominican racial and cultural heritage as more complex than previously imagined. This has the potential to challenge some of the island’s most repressive national mythologies, including what Dominican historian April Mayes calls the Hispanist nationalism of the Dominican elites.

The Decoloniality Workshop is a space for junior scholars to present work in progress and receive constructive feedback in a relaxed and committed community setting. In the Fall of 2018, Haruki Eda (Sociology) will open the 2018-2019 line-up. Please visit https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com/ for more information about past and future events.

When the Divine Wind Blow On Ye: The Spirit of Bandung and Transpacific Becoming

By Virginia Conn

As the official Imperial Japanese Navy marching song from the Second World War played in the background, Comp Lit students and guests took their seats around the table, greeting each other and settling in for the third and final graduate student colloquium, one of the last big events of the semester. Comp Lit students had a chance to happily catch up with each other’s memories of the last few weeks. As Annabel would go on to explain, the marching music was used to mobilize the imperial troops during World War II, which tied into her paper’s overall discussion of military mobilization.

For Comp Lit’s third colloquium, Jeong Eun Annabel We presented an in-work chapter from her dissertation, titled “When the Divine Wind Blow on Ye: The Spirit of Bandung and Transpacific Becoming.” While resisting the easy joke that we were all blown away, I think it’s safe to say that everyone present was extremely impressed by the depth and breadth of Annabel’s research, to say nothing of the deftness with which she wove together numerous and disparate weighty concepts.

Focusing on the novel The Typhoon by Ch’oe In-Hun, Annabel explained that her dissertation, broadly construed, was about how the effects of military mobilizations are used to control movement, affect, and bodies, and situates the novel at a crossroads of thinking about decolonial movements across the transpacific. While Cold War structures have continued to exist long past the ostensible thaw—structures such as the military occupation of the Pacific and East Asia, the peninsula’s division into South and North Korea, and the cyclical threats of nuclear devastation that continue to this day, among others—the Pacific region continues to be erased even as it is strategized upon. Annabel’s dissertation, then, asks, what kind of work has to be forged out of imperial militarization towards decolonizing knowledge production?

Beginning with the invocation of a curse from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to consider the wind as a colonial curse that brings one into conflict, The Typhoon returns to the 1940s to cast new light on 1970s Cold War regimes and, in doing so, decenters neoliberal modes of knowing and engages with the recruitment of colonial populations that were previously imperially mobilized. Written in Korean in 1970s South Korea, the novel is a work of speculative fiction/alternate history about an alternative historical trajectory that critically maps the nature of political and military mobilization.

Annabel’s intervention into this novel and its place within the process of decolonial praxis was to situate it at the forefront of several separate and significant political scripts. Each rewritten script functions as a theory of movement, performing the dual task of assessing the coloniality of military mobilization and offering transpacific becoming as an alternative movement towards decolonization and Korean reunification.

This literary analysis in and of itself would have been fascinating enough, but Annabel went on to situate the novel within and against the backdrop of the spirit of solidarity and decolonial movements (such as the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity movement, Asian-African conference on Women at Colombo, Non-Aligned movement at Belgrade, etc.) inspired by the Bandung Conference in 1955. While both the political spirit wrought by the conference itself and the project attempted by Cho’e each had their limits, Annabel invited us to see how they both challenged historiography. The presentation concluded with the question: how could one have lived as if one has no regrets for the fact of one’s mobilization? Annabel suggested that the task is that of thinking mobility in the postwar juncture.

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis”

By: Thato Magano

The Decoloniality Workshop held its second meeting of the spring semester on Thursday, March 8th, 2018, to discuss Jeong Eun Annabel We’s dissertation chapter, “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis.” Annabel framed her discussion around the complex questions related to how a multivocal reading of Hegelian dialectics can be productive in thinking through nonalignment movement(s) of Cold War geopolitics. Reading Takeuchi Yoshimi, Ernst Bloch, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and Ch’oe In-Hun together, Annabel’s approach is to think through questions of mobilization towards decolonization in order to examine how these thinkers conceptualized imperial mobilization in early to mid-twentieth century, and consequently, the problematics they identified in imperial conceptions of movement. Locating questions of modernity, coloniality, mobility and relationality alongside each other, Annabel worked with these thinkers’ theorization on movement to situate transpacific and indigenous sovereignty within the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and argued that a “new understanding of movement based on relational praxis emerges from this paradigm, challenging imperial model(s) of mobilization.”

Thinking along with Japanese thinker Takeuchi Yoshimi on mobilization and Hegel’s master-slave dialectics, Annabel proposed that a critical tracking of movement to conversion for the “slave” becomes essential to the project of decolonization in order to understand how this “movement”, which she reads as transformation, can also be seen as a “confrontation with mobility: the directionality of recognition, whether horizontal (slave-slave) or vertical (master-slave), is determined by the colonial mobilization of the slave.”

For Annabel, these forms of mobilization presented a challenge to Cold War movements that sought alignment with Cold War liberalism’s colonial roots, built as it is with colonized resources and enslaved populations of the world. In situating the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and nonalignment movements within this framework, productive questions can then be asked about the epistemic challenges posed to (neo)liberal democratic capitalism’s failures to deliver a real redistributive praxis.

Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres served as the discussant for the workshop and asked Annabel to critically consider how she might mobilize mobility in the chapter as it relates to the entwinement of intellectual work and military work as the thinkers she is thinking through served in the military. The discussion afterwards centered on the topics of Pan-Asianism, decolonization, and nonalignment.

The next meeting of the Decoloniality Workshop will be held on April 11, 2018, where Professor Carlos Decena (Latino and Caribbean Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies) will present material from his current book project. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com.