The Latin American modernity/coloniality Research Program

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Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise”:1

The Latin American modernity/coloniality Research Program

Revised from a version presented at the Tercer Congreso Internacional de Latinoamericanistas en Europa, Amsterdam, July 3-6, 2002. In CEISAL, ed. Cruzando Fronteras en America Latina. Amsterdam: CEDLA, 2002.

Arturo Escobar

Department of Anthropology

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA.
and Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, Bogotá.

Introduction: Cruzando Fronteras and the Borders of Thought
Cruzando Fronteras, the timely organizing theme for the 2002 CEISAL Congress celebrated in Amsterdam on July 3-6, sought to signal, and rethink, the ever increasing relevance of “borders” to the construction of political, social, and cultural imaginaries from, and about, Latin America at the dawn of the new millennium. The present paper focuses on a “border” that is gaining salience in recent years, particularly as a result of the work of an increasingly interconnected group of researchers in Latin America and the United States, with smaller branches elsewhere. I am referring to the concepts of “border thinking” and “border epistemologies” associated with a larger effort that I will call here “the modernity/coloniality research program.” I am using the concept of research program loosely (not in a strict Lakatosian sense) to refer to what seems to be an emergent but already significantly cohesive perspective that is fueling a series of researches, meetings, publications, and so forth around a shared –even if course contested—set of concepts. In keeping with the spirit of the group, I would argue that this body of work, still relatively unknown in the English speaking world for reasons that go beyond language and that speak to the heart of the program, constitutes a novel perspective from Latin America but not only for Latin America but for the world of the social and human sciences as a whole. By this I do not mean that the work of this group is just of interest to allegedly universal social and human sciences, but that that the group seeks to make a decisive intervention into the very discursivity of the modern sciences in order to craft another space for the production of knowledge –an other way of thinking, un paradigma otro, the very possibility of talking about “worlds and knowledges otherwise.” What this group suggests is that an other thought, an other knowledge (and another world, in the spirit of Porto Alegre’s World Social Forum), are indeed possible.
A proper contextualization and genealogy of the modernity/coloniality research program (MC from now on) would have to await future studies. It suffices to say, for now, that there are a number of factors that could plausibly enter into the genealogy of this group’s thinking, including: liberation theology from the 1960s and 1970s; debates in Latin American philosophy and social science around notions of liberation philosophy and autonomous social science (e.g..Enrique Dussel, Rodolfo Kusch, Orlando Fals Borda, Pablo Gonzales Casanova, Darcy Ribeiro); dependency theory; the debates on Latin American modernity and postmodernity in the 1980s, followed by discussions on hybridity in anthropology, communications and cultural studies in the 1990s; and, in the United States, the Latin American Subaltern Studies group. The modernity/coloniality group certainly finds inspiration in a number of sources, from European and North American critical theories of modernity and postmodernity to South Asian subaltern studies, Chicana feminist theory, postcolonial theory, and African philosophy; many of its members operate within a modified world systems perspective. Its main driving force, however, is a continued reflection on Latin American cultural and political reality, including the subaltern knowledge of exploited and oppressed social groups. If dependency theory, liberation theology, and participatory action research can be said to have been the most original contributions of Latin American critical thought in the twentieth century (with all the caveats that may apply to such originality), the MC research program emerges as heir to this tradition. As we shall see, however, there are significant differences. As Walter Mignolo puts it, MC should be seen as un paradigma otro. Rather than a new paradigm “from Latin America” (as it could have been the case with dependency), the MC project does not fit into a linear history of paradigms or epistemes; to do so would mean to integrate it into the history of modern thought. On the contrary, the MC program should be seen as an other way of thinking that runs counter to the great modernist narratives (Christianity, liberalism, and Marxism); it locates its own inquiry in the very borders of systems of thought and reaches towards the possibility of non-eurocentric modes of thinking.
Part I of the paper presents an overview of the current MC landscape. I must emphasize that this is my own particular reading of this group’s work, from my limited engagement with it and my equally limited understanding. This paper should be read as a “report from the field,” so to speak. Part II deals with open and unresolved questions facing the MC research program. Among these questions, I will highlight gender, nature, and the need to think about alternative economic imaginaries.

I. The Modernity/Coloniality Research Program
Why, one may ask, do these group of Latin Americans and Latin Americanists feel that a new understanding of modernity is needed? To fully appreciate the importance of this question, it is instructive to begin by discussing the dominant tendencies in the study of modernity from what we can call “intra-modern perspectives” (the term will become clear as we move along). I am very much aware that the view of modernity to be presented below is terribly partial and contestable. I am not presenting it with the goal of “theorizing modernity,” but rather in order to highlight, by way of contrast, the stark difference that the MC program poses in relation to the dominant inquiries about modernity. In the last instance, the goal of this brief excursus into modernity is political. If, as most intra-modern discussion suggest, globalization entails the universalization and radicalization of modernity, then what are we left with? How can we think about social change? Does radical alterity become impossible? More generally, what is happening to development and modernity in times of globalization? Is modernity finally becoming universalized, or is it being left behind? The question is the more poignant because it can be argued that the present is a moment of transition: between a world defined in terms of modernity and its corollaries, development and modernization, and the certainty they instilled –a world that has operated largely under European hegemony over the past two-hundred years if not more; and a new (global) reality which is still difficult to ascertain but which, at opposite ends, can be seen either as a deepening of modernity the world over or, on the contrary, as a deeply negotiated reality that encompasses many heterogeneous cultural formations –and of course, the many shades in between. This sense of a transition is well captured by the question: Is globalization the last stage of capitalist modernity, or the beginning of something new? As we shall see, intra-modern and MC perspectives on modernity give a very different answer to this set of questions.

Globalization as the radicalization of modernity. An intra-modern view of modernity
The idea of a relatively single globalization process emanating out of a few dominant centers remains prevalent. It is useful to review succinctly how this image arose in the most recent period and why it seems so difficult to dispel. From a philosophical and sociological perspective, the root of the idea of an increasingly overpowering globalization lies in a view of modernity as essentially an European phenomenon. Recent challenges to this view from peripheral locations have questioned the unexamined assumption –found in thinkers like Habermas, Giddens, Taylor, Touraine, Lyotard, Rorty, etc., as much as in Kant, Hegel, and the Frankfurt School philosophers before them– that modernity can be fully explained by reference to factors internal to Europe. The views of Habermas and Giddens have been particularly influential, having given rise to a veritable genre of books on modernity and globalization. From this perspective, modernity may be characterized as follows:
1. Historically, modernity has identifiable temporal and spatial origins: Seventeenth century northern Europe (especially France, Germany, England), around the processes of Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. These processes crystallized at the end of the eighteenth century (Foucault’s modern episteme) and became consolidated with the Industrial Revolution.
2. Sociologically, modernity is characterized by certain institutions, particularly the nation state, and by some basic features, such as self-reflexivity (the continuous feedback of expert knowledge back into society, transforming it); the dismembedding of social life from local context and its increasing determination by translocal forces; and space/time distantiation, or the separation of space and place, since relations between “absent others” become more important than face to face interaction (Giddens 1990).
3. Culturally, modernity can be further characterize in terms of the increasing appropriation of previously taken for granted cultural backgrounds by forms of expert knowledge linked to capital and state administrative apparatuses (Habermas 1973). Habermas (1987) describes this process as the increasing rationalization of the life-world, accompanied by universalization and individuation. Modernity brings about an order on the basis of the constructs of reason, the individual, expert knowledge, and administrative mechanisms linked to the state. Order and reason are seen as the foundation for equality and freedom, and enabled by the language of rights.
4. Philosophically, one may see modernity in terms of the emergence of the notion of “Man” as the foundation for all knowledge and order of the world, separate from the natural and the divine (a pervasive anthropocentrism; Foucault 1973; Heidegger 1977; Panikkar 1993). On the other, modernity is seen in terms of the triumph of metaphysics, understood as a tendency –extending from Plato and some of the pre-Socratics to Descartes and the modern thinkers, and criticized by Nietzsche and Heidegger among others– that finds in logical truth the foundation for a rational theory of the world as made up of knowable (and hence controllable) things and beings (e.g., Vattimo 1991). For Vattimo, modernity is characterized by the idea of history and its corollary, progress and overcoming. Vattimo emphasizes the logic of development –the belief in perpetual betterment and overcoming– as crucial to the philosophical foundations of the modern order.
On the critical side, the disembeddedness of modernity is seen to cause what Paul Virilio (1999) calls global de-localization, including the marginalization of place (the here and now of social action) in the definition of social life. The underside of order and rationality is seen in various ways, from the domination and disenchantment that came about with secularization and the predominance of instrumental reason to the normalization of life and the disciplining of populations. As Foucault put it, “the Enlightenment, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines” (1979: 222). Finally, modernity’s anthropocentrism is related to logocentrism and phallogocentrism, defined here simply as the cultural project of ordering the world according to rational principles from the perspective of a male eurocentric consciousness –in other words, building an allegedly ordered, rational, and predictable world. Logocentrism has reached unprecedented levels with the extreme economization and technification of the world (Leff 2000). Modernity of course did not succeed in constituting a total reality, but enacted a totalizing project aimed at the purification of orders (separation between us and them, nature and culture), although inevitably only producing hybrids of these opposites along the way (thus Latour’s dictum that “we have never been modern,” 1993).
Is there a logical necessity to believe that the order so sketchily characterized above is the only one capable of becoming global? For most theorists, on all sides of the political spectrum, this is exactly the case. Giddens (1990) has made the argument most forcefully: globalization entails the radicalization and universalization of modernity. No longer purely an affair of the West, however, since modernity is everywhere, the triumph of the modern lies precisely in its having become universal. This may be call “the Giddens effect”: from now own, it’s modernity all the way down, everywhere, until the end of times. Not only is radical alterity expelled forever from the realm of possibilities, all world cultures and societies are reduced to being a manifestation of European history and culture. The “Giddens effect” seems to be at play, directly or indirectly, in most works on modernity and globalization at present. No matter how variously qualified, a “global modernity” is here to stay. Recent anthropological investigations of “modernity at large” (Appadurai 1996) have shown modernity to be seen as de-territorialized, hybridized, contested, uneven, heterogenous, even multiple, or in terms of conversing with, engaging, playing with, or processing modernity; nevertheless, but in the last instance these modernities end up being a reflection of a eurocentered social order, under the assumption that modernity is now everywhere, an ubiquitous and ineluctable social fact.2
Could it be, however, that the power of Eurocentered modernity –as a particular local history– lies in the fact that is has produced particular global designs in such a way that it has “subalternized” other local histories and their corresponding designs? If this is the case, could one posit the hypothesis that radical alternatives to modernity are not a historically foreclosed possibility? If so, how can we articulate a project around this possibility? Could it be that it is possible to think about, and to think differently from, an “exteriority” to the modern world system? That one may envision alternatives to the totality imputed to modernity, and adumbrate not a different totality leading to different global designs, but as network of local/global histories constructed from the perspective of a politically enriched alterity? This is precisely the possibility that may be gleaned from the work of a group of Latin American theorists that in refracting modernity through the lens of coloniality engage in a questioning of the spatial and temporal origins of modernity, thus unfreezing the radical potential for thinking from difference and towards the constitution of alternative local and regional worlds. In what follows, I present succinctly some of the main arguments of these works.3
The modernity/coloniality research program
The conceptualization of modernity/coloniality is grounded in a series of operations that distinguish it from established theories of modernity. Succinctly put, these include the following: 1) an emphasis on locating the origins of modernity with the Conquest of America and the control of the Atlantic after 1492, rather than in the most commonly accepted landmarks such as the Enlightenment or the end of the eighteenth century;4 2) a persistent attention to colonialism and the making of the capitalist world system as constitutive of modernity; this includes a determination not to overlook the economy and its concomitant forms of exploitation; 3) consequently, the adoption of a world perspective in the explanation of modernity, in lieu of a view of modernity as an intra-European phenomenon; 4) the identification of the domination of others outside the European core as a necessary dimension of modernity, with the concomitant subalternization of the knowledge and cultures of these other groups; 5) a conception of eurocentrism as the knowledge form of modernity/coloniality –a hegemonic representation and mode of knowing that claims universality for itself, and that relies on “a confusion between abstract universality and the concrete world hegemony derived from Europe’s position as center” (Dussel 2000 471; Quijano 2000: 549).
A number of alternative notions emerge from this set of positions : a) a decentering of modernity from its alleged European origins, including a debunking of the linear sequence linking Greece, Rome, Christianity and modern Europe; b) a new spatial and temporal conception of modernity in terms of the foundational role of Spain and Portugal (the so-called first modernity initiated with the Conquest) and its continuation in Northern Europe with the industrial revolution and the Enlightenment (the second modernity, in Dussel’s terms); the second modernity does not replace the first., it overlaps with it, until the present; c) a focus on the peripheralization of all other world regions by this “modern Europe,” with Latin America as the initial “other side” of modernity (the dominated and concealed side); and d) a re-reading of the “myth of modernity,” not in terms of a questioning of the emancipatory potential of modern reason, but of modernity’s “underside,” namely, the imputation of the superiority of European civilization, coupled with the assumption that Europe’s development must be followed unilaterally by every other culture, by force if necessary –what Dussel terms “the developmentalist fallacy” (e.g., 1993, 2000). Some additional consequences include the re-valuing of landmark experiences of decolonization, from the Tupac Amaru rebellion and the 1804 Haitian revolution to the 1960s anti-colonial movements, as sources of visions for the future, as opposed to the conventional sources such as the French and American revolutions; and, in general, the need to take seriously the epistemic force of local histories and to think theory through from the political praxis of subaltern groups.
The main conclusions are, first, that the proper analytical unit for the analysis of modernity is modernity/coloniality --in sum, there is no modernity without coloniality, with the latter being constitutive of the former (in Asia, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean). Second, the fact that “the colonial difference” is a privileged epistemological and political space. The great majority of European theorists (particularly those “defenders of the European patent on modernity,” as Quijano mockingly calls them (2000: 543)) have been blind to the colonial difference and the subalternization of knowledge and cultures it entailed. A focus on the modern/colonial world system also makes visible, besides the internal conflicts (conflicts within powers with the same world view), those that take place at the exterior borders of the modern/colonial system –i.e., the conflicts with other cultures and world views.5
Key notions and themes of the modernity/coloniliaty research program
Some of the key notions that make up the conceptual corpus of this research program are thus: the modern colonial world system as the ensemble of processes and social formations that encompass modern colonialism and colonial modernities; although it is structurally heterogeneous, it articulates the main forms of power into a system. Coloniality of power (Quijano), a global hegemonic model of power in place since the Conquest that articulates race and labor, space and peoples, according to the needs of capital and to the benefit of white European peoples. Colonial difference and global coloniality (Mignolo) which refer to the knowledge and cultural dimensions of the subalternization processes effected by the coloniality of power; the colonial difference brings to the fore persistent cultural differences within global power structures. Coloniality of being (more recently suggested by Nelson Maldonado-Torres in group discussions) as the ontological dimension of colonialty, on both sides of the encounter; based on Levinas, Dussel and Fanon, it points at the “ontological excess” that occurs when particular beings impose on others and, beyond that, the potential or actual effectivity of the discourses with which the other responds to the suppression as a result of the encounter (Maldonado-Torres 2003). Eurocentrism, as the knowledge model that represents the local European historical experience and which became globally hegemonic since the seventeenth century (Dussel, Quijano); hence the possibility of non-eurocentric thinking and epistemologies. Each of these notions are in themselves rooted in complex conceptualizations that represent decades of research; even thus, they are of course debatable. Here is a further, and enlightening, characterization of coloniality by Walter Mignolo (e-mail correspondence, May 31, 2003):
Since modernity is a project, the triumphal project of the Christian and

secular west, coloniality is--on the one hand--what the project of modernity needs to rule out and roll over, in order to implant itself as modernity and --on the other hand-- the site of enunciation were the blindness of the modern project is revealed, and concomitantly also the site where new projects begin to unfold. In other words, coloniality is the site of enunciation that reveals and denounces the blindness of the narrative of modernity from the perspective of modernity itself, and it is at the same time the platform of pluri-versality, of diverse projects coming from the experience of local histories touched by western expansion (as the Word Social Forum demonstrates); thus coloniality is not a new abstract universal (Marxism is imbedded in modernity, good but shortsighted), but the place where diversality as a universal project can be thought out; where the question of languages and knoweldges become crucial (Arabic, Chinese, Aymara, Bengali, etc) as the site of the pluriversal –that’s is, the "traditional" that the "modern" is rolling over and ruling out.

There are some other notions, more peculiar to specific authors but which are gaining currency within the group, that it is also important to introduce. These include Dussel’s notion of exteriority and transmodernity and Mignolo’s concept of border thinking, pluritopic hermeneutics, and pluriversality. The question of whether there is an “exteriority” to the modern/colonial world system is somewhat peculiar to this group, and easily misunderstood. It was originally proposed and carefully elaborated by Dussel in his classic work on liberation philosophy (1976) and reworked in recent years. In no way should this exteriority be thought about as a pure outside, untouched by the modern. The notion of exteriority does not entail an ontological outside; it refers to an outside that is precisely constituted as difference by a hegemonic discourse. This notion of exteriority arises chiefly by thinking about the Other from the ethical and epistemological perspective of a liberation philosophy framework: the Other as oppressed, as woman, as racially marked, as excluded, as poor, as nature. By appealing from the exteriority in which s/he is located, the Other becomes the original source of an ethical discourse vis à vis a hegemonic totality. This interpellation of the Other comes from outside or beyond the system’s institutional and normative frame, as an ethical challenge. This challenge might only be “quasi-intelligible” at first (Dussel 1996: 25), given the difficulties in establishing meaningful interpellation that exploited peoples have with respect to a hegemonic system (contra Habermas’ notion of a communication free of domination). There are degrees of exteriority; in the last instance, the greater challenge comes from
the interpellation which the majority of the population of the planet, located in the South, raises, demanding their right to live, their right to develop their own culture, economy, politics, etc. ... There is no liberation without rationality; but there is no critical rationality without accepting the interpellation of the excluded, or this would inadvertently be only the rationality of domination. ... From this negated Other departs the praxis of liberation as “affirmation” of the Exteriority and as origin of the movement of negation of the negation” (Dussel 1996: 31, 36, 54).6
This is precisely what most European and Euro-American theorists seem unwilling to consider: that it is impossible to think about transcending or overcoming modernity without approaching it from the perspective of the colonial difference. Both Mignolo and Dussel see here a strict limit to deconstruction and to the various eurocentered critiques of eurocentrism –in short, these continue to be thought about from within eurocentric categories (of, say, liberalism, Marxism, poststructuralism), not from the border thinking enabled by the colonial difference ..... Critiques of modernity, in short, are blind to the (epistemic and cultural) colonial difference that becomes the focus of modernity/coloniality.
Dussel’s notion of transmodernity signals the possibioity of a non-eurocentric and critical dialogue with alterity, one that fully enables “the negation of the negation” to which the subaltern others have been subjected, and one that does not see critical discourse as intrinsically European. Integral to this effort is the rescuing of non-hegemonic and silenced counter-discourses, of the alterity that is constitutive of modernity itself. This is the ethical principle of liberation of the negated Other, for which Dussel coins the term, “trans-modernity,” defined as a project for overcoming modernity not simply by negating it but by thinking about it from its underside, from the perspective of the excluded other. Trans-modernity is a future-oriented project that seeks the liberation of all humanity (1996: 14, Ch. 7), “a worldwide ethical liberation project in which alterity, which was part and parcel of modernity, would be able to fulfill itself” (2000: 473), “in which both modernity and its negated alterity (the victims) co-realize themselves in a process of mutual fertilization” (1993: 76). In short, trans-modernity cannot be brought about from within modernity, but requires of the action –and the incorporative solidarity– of the subalternized groups, the objects of modernity’s constitutive violence embedded in, among other features, the developmentalist fallacy. Rather than the rational project of a discursive ethics, transmodernity becomes the expression of an ethics of liberation.
Mignolo’s notions of border thinking, border epistemology, and pluritopic hermeneutics are important in this regard. They point at the need “for a kind of thinking that moves along the diversity of historical processes” (Mignolo 2001: 9). There are, to be sure, no original thinking traditions to which one can go back. Rather than reproducing Western abstract universals, however, the alternative is a kind of border thinking that “engages the colonialism of Western epistemology (from the left and from the right) from the perspective of epistemic forces that have been turned into subaltern (traditional, folkloric, religious, emotional, etc.) forms of knowledge” (2001: 11). Resituating Anzaldúa’s metaphor of the border into the domain of coloniality, Mignolo adumbrates the possibility of “`thinking otherwise’, from the interior exteriority of the border. That is, to engage in border thinking is to move beyond the categories created an imposed by Western epistemology” (p. 11). This is not just a question of changing the contents but the very terms of the conversation. It is not a question of replacing existing epistemologies either; these will certainly continue to exist and as such will remain viable as spaces of, and for, critique. Instead, what he claims “is the space for an epistemology that comes from the border and aims toward political and ethical transformations” (p. 11). Finally, while Mignolo acknowledges the continued importance of the monotopic critique of modernity by Western critical discourse (critique from a single, unified space), he suggests that this has to be put into dialogue with the critique(s) arising from the colonial difference, which constitutes border thinking. The result is a “pluritopic hermeneutics” (a term he seemingly adapts from Pannikar’s “diatopic hermeneutics”), a possibility of thinking from different spaces which finally breaks away from eurocentrism as sole epistemological perspective. This is the double critique of modernity from the perspective of coloniality, from the exterior of the modern/colonial world system. Let it be clear, however, that border thinking entails both “displacement and departure” (2000: 308), double critique and positive affirmation of an alternative ordering of the real. To sum up,
Border thinking points towards a different kind of hegemony, a multiple one. As a universal project, diversity allows us to imagine alternatives to universalism (we could say that the alternative to universalism in this view is not particularism but multiplicity). “The `West and the rest’ in Huntington’s phrase provides the model to overcome, as the `rest’ becomes the sites where border thinking emerges in its diversity, where `mundialización’ creates new local histories remaking and readapting Western global designs ….and transforming local (European) histories from where such designs emerged…. `Interdependence’ may be the word that summarizes the break away from the idea of totality and brings about the idea of networks whose articulation will require epistemological principles I called in this book `border thinking’ and `border gnosis,’ as a rearticulation of the colonial difference: `diversality as a universal project,’ which means that people and communities have the right to be different precisely because `we’ are all equals” (2000: 310, 311).
“There is no question,” writes Mignolo (2000: 59), “that Quijano, Dussel and I are reacting not only to the force of a historical imaginary but also to the actuality of this imaginary today.” The corollary is the need to build narratives from the perspective of modernity/coloniality “geared towards the search for a different logic” (22). This project has to do with the rearticulation of global designs by and from local histories; with the articulation between subaltern and hegemonic knowledge from the perspective of the subaltern; and with the remapping of colonial difference towards a worldly culture –such as in the Zapatista project, that remaps Marxism, thirdworldism, and indigenism, without being either of them, in an excellent example of border thinking. While “there is nothing outside of totality ... totality is always projected from a given local history,” it becomes possible to think of “other local histories producing either alternative totalities or an alternative to totality” (329). These alternatives would not play on the “globalization/civilization” couplet inherent to modernity/coloniality; they would rather build on a “mundialización/culture” relation centered on the local histories in which colonial global designs are necessarily transformed, thus transforming also the local histories that created them. Unlike globalization, mundialización brings to the fore the manifold local histories that, in questioning global designs (e.g., neo-liberal globalization), aim at forms of globality that arise out of “cultures of transience” that go against the cultural homogeneity fostered by such designs. The diversity of mundialización is contrasted here with the homogeneity of globalization, aiming at multiple and diverse social orders.
In short, the perspective of modernity/coloniality provides an alternative framework for debates on modernity, globalization and development; it is not just a change in the description of events, it is an epistemic change of perspective. By speaking of the colonial difference, this framework brings to the fore the power dimension that is often lost in relativistic discussions of cultural difference. More recent debates on interculturality, for instance in Ecuador’s current political and cultural scene, deepens some of these insights (Walsh 2003). In short, the MC research program is a framework constructed from the Latin American periphery of the modern colonial world system; it helps explain the dynamics of eurocentrism in the making of modernity and attempts to transcend it. If it reveals the dark sides of modernity, it does not do it from an intra-epistemic perspective, as in the critical European discourses, but from the perspective of the receivers of the alleged benefits of the modern world. Modernity/coloniality also shows that the perspective of modernity is limited and exhausted in its pretended universality. By the same token, it shows the shortcomings of the language of alternative modernities in that this latter incorporates the projects of the non-moderns into a single project, losing the subaltern perspectives and subordinating them, for even in their hybridity subaltern perspectives are not about being only modern but are heteroglossic, networked, plural. In highlighting the developmentalist fallacy, lastly, modernity/coloniality not only re-focuses our attention on the overall fact of development, it provides a context for interpreting the various challenges to development and modernity as so many projects that are potentially complementary and mutually reinforcing. Beyond Latin America, one may say, with Mignolo (2000: 309), that this approach “is certainly a theory from/of the Third World, but not only for the Third World ..... Third World theorizing is also for the First World in the sense that critical theory is subsumed and incorporated in a new geocultural and epistemological location.”7
Finally, there are some consequences of this group’s work for Latin American Studies in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. The MC perspective moves away from viewing “Latin America” as an object of study (in relation to which U.S. -based Latin American Studies would be the “knowing subject”), towards an understanding of Latin America as a geo-historical location with and within a distinct critical genealogy of thought. Modernity/ Coloniality suggests that globalization must be understood from a geo-historical and critical Latin American perspective. With this the MC approach proposes an alternative to the genealogy of the modern social sciences that are still the foundation of Latin American Studies in the U.S. In this way, Latin American Studies in, say, North America and Europe, and Critical Social Thought in Latin America (which offers the epistemic grounding for the MC group) emerge as two complementary but distinct paradigms.8 This also means that, as an epistemic perspective, the MC research program is not associated with particular nationalities or geographical locations. To occupy the locus of enunciation crafted by the MC project, in other words, one does not need to be a Latin American nor live in the continent. “Latin America” itself becomes a perspective that can be practiced from many spaces, if it is done from counter-hegemonic perspectives that challenge the very assumption of Latin America as fully constituted object of study, previous to, and outside of, the often imperialistic discourses that construct it.

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