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Social Struggles as Epistemic Struggles


  • Rosalba Icaza,

  • Rolando Vázquez

  • We started to develop the ideas in this article five years ago. Since then, many colleagues and friends have heard about them and/or read previous versions of this manuscript. They have all, from their own perspective and with their own personal style, encouraged us to write this article. We are grateful to them all: Andre Drainville, Arturo Escobar, Barry Gils, Cristobal Kay, Xochitl Leyva Solano and Marcelo I. Saguier. We would also like to thank those who gave feedback during the workshop organized by the editors of this Debate section, including Amrita Chhachhi, Alan Fowler, Geoffrey Pleyers, Jenny Pearce, Josine Stremmelaar, Kees Biekart, Maha Abdelrahman, Marlies Glasius, Nishant Shah, Remko Berkhout, Wendy Harcourt. Last but not least, we would like to express our gratitude for the comments from the anonymous reviewers. Of course, all remaining shortcomings are our responsibility. Quotations from sources in Spanish are our own translations.


This contribution offers a view on social struggles as epistemic struggles to critically engage with the Activism 2010+ debate. Our core idea is that social struggles that stand up against depoliticization, economic exploitation and cultural alienation cannot be adequately understood through the same rationality that underlies the processes that they are breaking with. We invite a reading of social struggles as open questions to the dominant ways of thinking and ordering of the real. Our way of doing this is by developing a view of the Zapatistas uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and the Battle of Seattle, USA, as political events that have challenged the epistemic hegemony of modernity, its instrumental rationality and its chronological temporality. In so doing, we establish a relation between the political ideas of Hanna Arendt and those of decolonial thought, as a means to connect traditions of critique that belong to different genealogies (Western critical thought and Latin American decolonial thought) and which correspond to different conceptions of modernity and social justice. Bringing together these different traditions of critique is a key analytical step to move beyond one-sided universalisms into forms of argumentation that are built on the possibility of dialogue across a plurality of epistemic locations. This is a modest move in the much-needed search for epistemic justice.