Decoloniality, a term coined by sociologist Anibal Quijano, “is a perspective, stance, and proposition of thought, analysis, sensing, making, doing, feeling, and being that is actional (in the Fanonian sense), praxistical, and continuing.” In other words, it is about doing—or rather, undoing—and creating just situations where unjust ones have long prevailed. “It is in this sense that decoloniality can be understood as a process” (Mignolo loc 2603).
Decoloniality is predicated on the idea that colonization was cruel, that it imposed itself on people on many levels, and that it didn’t fully end in any societies when the colonizing force left. In order to subjugate people to their will, colonial forces used military might, torture, and other forms of violence. But in order to maintain that power, they established social hierarchies and ideologies that centralized their own interests while denigrating others. Native languages, religions, and cultural practices were forbidden, often at the risk of imprisonment or death, and (Eurocentric) education was denied to all but a select few. According to Smith (loc 782) “[I]mperialism and colonialism brought complete disorder to colonized peoples, disconnecting them from their histories, their landscapes, their languages, their social relations and their own ways of thinking, feeling and interacting with the world.” Decoloniality recognizes that the effects of these forms of cultural imperialism must be undone for those liberated or descended from colonial oppression to thrive.
To fully understand decoloniality, it may be best to explore what it is not. Decoloniality is not decolonization. Decolonization refers to the physical, political shift of power between colonizing powers and their soon-to-be-former subjects. Decolonization occurs when colonized people militarily overthrow an occupying power or, more rarely, negotiate their freedom in some other way and reclaim their country as independent. Decoloniality, on the other hand, is a mindset or praxis; it is an orientation toward culture marked by a commitment to route out that which remains in culture, education, society, and so on from the colonial era. Decoloniality “disobeys, and delinks from [the colonial matrix of power], constructing paths and praxis toward an otherwise of thinking, sensing, believing, doing, and living” (Mignolo and Walsh loc 194).
In the academy, decolonial praxis takes many forms. But it too may be best understood by exploring what it is not. As frequently as the two terms are used interchangeably, decolonisation in the academy is not diversity. “Diversity initiatives,” according to anthropologist Aneeth Kaur Hundle, “sustain the status quo of racial, economic, and epistemological injustices at the university” (Hundle 290). Decolonial efforts seek to undo them. Decoloniality entails an “ongoing undoing of colonization” and “an understanding of the decolonizing methodologies in relation to research, knowledge production, and social criticism” (Hundle 298-299).
Some scholars eschew the use of the term, stating that the decolonization is only possible with the removal of settler colonialists from occupied lands (Tuck and Yang). But most believe that systems of coloniality can and should be dismantled within present conditions. Still others have gone on to imagine a new world--called a pluriverse (Reiter)—in which non-Western people have successfully brought their ideologies, identities, epistemologies, and ontologies to full strength alongside and in no way subordinate to those of their Western former oppressors. According to decolonial literary scholar Walter D. Mignolo, “The pluriverse consists on seeing beyond [the West’s] claim to superiority [and its universalizing tendency] and sensing the world as pluriversally constituted. Or, if you wish, pluriversality becomes the decolonial way of dealing with forms of knowledge and meaning exceeding the limited [European] regulations of epistemology and hermeneutics” (Mignolo in Bernd Loc 88).
Hundle, Anneeth Kaur. “Decolonizing Diversity: The Transnational Politics of Minority Racial Difference.” Public Culture, vol. 31, no. 2, May 2019, pp. 289-322.
Mignolo, Walter D. and Katherine E. Walsh. On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Duke University Press, 2018.
Mignolo, Walter D. “Foreword. On Pluriversailty and Multipolarity in Constructing the Pluriverse." Constructing the Pluriverse: The Geopolitics of Knowlegde, edited by Bernd Reiter, Duke University Press, 2018, pp. 78-216.
Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
Smith, Tuhiwei. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books, 2012.