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Mabel Moraña, Enrique Dussel and Carlos A. Jáuregui ( eds ), Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate , Durham : Duke University Press , 2008 . ISBN 978-0-8223-4147-5 ( cloth ), ISBN 978-0-8223-4169-7 (paper) . Enrique Dussel , Twenty Theses on Politics , Durham : Duke University Press , 2008 . ISBN 978-0-8223-4345-5 ( cloth ), ISBN 978-0-8223-4328-8 ( paper ).

In recent years, emerging social and political movements in Latin America have challenged the neoliberal model and questioned colonialist assumptions underwriting its knowledge regimes and exploitative practices. This has prompted a rethinking of such concepts as modernity, development, and economic globalization, as well as an intensified consideration of the role of scholarship and knowledge production in maintaining or dismantling power relations that perpetuate colonial epistemologies. Two recent texts, Coloniality at Large and Twenty Theses on Politics, contribute perceptive and critical analyses of contemporary issues in Latin America. Coloniality at Large is a sizeable collection of postcolonial critiques and Twenty Theses on Politics a directed political manifesto.

Despite the books’ strategic differences, both demonstrate to different ends the political, theoretical, and methodological positions of the foremost scholars from Latin America as related to the postcolonial condition. In contrast to much postcolonial theory that addresses the colonial encounter as actualized in direct, formal European rule that reached its peak somewhere in the early twentieth century, this Latin American scholarship also focuses on the fact that most of the Americas has been “independent” for almost 200 years and that power relations have assumed an array of contradictory postures. This history makes it conceptually and theoretically difficult to summarize or pin down how exactly race, knowledge and capital converge to produce formations of social inequality and uneven development across the Americas.

These books call for alternative ways of thinking about and acting upon “coloniality”: the structures of politics, power, control, and racialized hegemony that have emerged since the era of Latin American “independence” in the early nineteenth century (Moraña et al 2008:2). Since these initial moments of colonial difference—the differential space–time in which places/peoples are connected by a hierarchical world system—the concept of modernity has been continuously confined by Eurocentric epistemologies as an internal product of European genius, owing little to other parts of the world.

Coloniality at Large and Twenty Theses on Politics offer multiple critiques and alternatives to such reductionist understandings of colonial modernity and globalization. “Coloniality” is distinct from colonialism, and the authors of these texts consider coloniality and modernity as mutually dependent phenomena, co-produced at a moment of Western history linked to the Atlantic commercial circuit and the transformation of capitalism into a global phenomenon with Europe as center (Moraña et al 2008:228). They establish that the constant centering of Europe or the “North-West” in accounts of global political economy and academic knowledge production is the result of continuous interweaving of racial, temporal, and spatial hierarchies, produced through moments of colonial difference and reified through historical, racial and spatialized divisions of global capitalism. These themes are elaborated on in both texts. Both provide compelling contemporary materials for critical political, economic, and cultural studies.

The edited volume Coloniality at Large includes 23 contributions that challenge the reader to re-imagine Latin America as a dynamic space of political, economic, linguistic, and cultural moments and processes that are unevenly integrated into global systems of power. Linking dependency theory, Marxist thought, and liberation theology to questions of identity, subjectivity and coloniality, contributing authors examine the particularities and consistencies of (post)colonialism and modernity in Latin America. Essays within the volume traverse such diverse themes as literature, art, politics, religion, social sciences, academic fieldwork, and the geopolitics of knowledge production. A key theme throughout the book is that theoretical production is never neutral or removed from real world conflict. Intellectual work, including so-called “critical theory”, contributes in myriad ways to concrete scenarios of real—not purely epistemic—violence. The volume problematizes any simplistic applications of “postcolonial theory” in the Americas and poses an important analytical question: how does one situate the global violence of capitalism without reducing the significance of complex “local” realities to how they relate to the West?

Essential to this volume are the ways in which politics of race and ethnicity and the meaning of crucial terms in the postcolonial lexicon, such as “essence”, “universal” and “subaltern” are used in the context of Latin America. The volume's diverse and sometimes contradictory essays challenge the reader to rethink dominant (and often Eurocentric) political and economic theories that perpetuate racial/temporal categories. In doing so, the essays critically consider what Walter Mignolo labeled the “locus of enunciation”—the places and knowledge traditions from where theories about development, dependency, modernity, and globalization are put forth. The authors clearly draw the lines between academic works produced about Latin America and scholarship produced by and for Latin America. While most “postcolonial theory” arises out of colonial experiences across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, this book highlights the specificities of Latin American histories that are not adequately addressed by the contemporary canon.

Coloniality at Large is of particular interest to scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and anyone desiring an innovative perspective on modernity and coloniality in Latin America. Noticeably, and in some cases problematically, gender studies and feminist theory are entirely absent. In spite of this major critique, the book's contributions engage closely with the violent theoretical framing of much research produced on or about Latin America, by constantly questioning the reductionism inherent in Eurocentric criticisms of colonial modernity and globalization that actually re-inscribe the West as superior. This anthology encourages students and researchers of Latin America to question their own epistemologies, motivations, and methods. It evokes the necessity for a decolonization of academic knowledge regimes, by recognizing that epistemologies, like economies, are not ahistorical, and would not be possible without the connections and hierarchical distinctions created among places via coloniality. The volume transcends theoretical considerations by demonstrating the direct political and material implications for Latin American livelihoods through the ongoing realization of coloniality at large.

Twenty Theses on Politics, by Enrique Dussel, takes on a distinct yet allied project to Coloniality at Large. This book (originally published in Spanish in 2006) outlines the basic tenets of Dussel's extensive work towards the development of a philosophy of liberation, but also intends to outline basic principals of contemporary Latin American politics and to inform political action. Written as an anti- or de-colonial political manifesto, Dussel offers a meticulous interpretation of selected current political trends in Latin America. Following Marx, his book “ascends from the abstract to the concrete” (xvi). His first theses begin by de-centering the concepts of politics and democracy in a postcolonial world, outlining normative principles of political action, and re-positioning the potential for positive political change with the victims of coloniality. From here, he goes on to develop the critical tenets for a politics of liberation.

Dussel's utopian vision of an alternative political system reasserts what for him is the source of power, “the people”, which he defines elsewhere as synonymous to subaltern, or “the others”, “those excluded from modernity” (Dussel 2002). A central part of his framework describes how true power becomes negative—a fetishized conception of institutionalized and self-referential power—as it is hijacked and diluted by political elites. This conception and use of fetished power serves to marginalize, exclude, and enact a profound violence upon the people elected officials ostensibly represent.

For Dussel, a liberating political philosophy cannot simply be understood as a class struggle; it must include all subaltern groups (“the people”) and must involve a positive deployment of political power in the construction of a new hegemony. Dussel is clear that power cannot merely be taken, but must be created. In the second half of the book, he revisits the fundamental tenets of democracy, explores modes of institutional transformation, outlines praxes of political action and change, and introduces themes of ecological justice as imperative in new political theory. Dussel states that he intends this book for young people and political scholars. However, the important category of “the people” is left relatively unexamined in this work, and Dussel acknowledges that this project is primarily the illustration of the philosophical principles that should inform future political action, whatever form it may take. While the specific focus of the book offers more to students of political philosophy, the theses have application in other academic fields and regions beyond Latin America.

Together, Coloniality at Large and Twenty Theses on Politics represent a strong and important contribution to de-colonial and postcolonial philosophy, research, and action. They provoke scholars, researchers, and advocates of change to critically examine contemporary forms of colonial knowledge and actively work against global tendencies that corrupt and perpetuate violence and domination. These highly recommended texts offer new perspectives and insights on political action and coloniality in Latin America. They call for further efforts to reveal and produce de-colonial forms of politics, literature, art, research, and philosophy.

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  • Dussel E (2002) World-system and “trans”-modernity. Nepantla: Views from South 3(2):221244