Walter Mignolo—Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking


 In Local Histories/Global Designs:  Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking, Mignolo describes the role that colonial difference plays in contemporary conceptions of modernity and the enactment of subaltern knowledges operating on the borders of the current world system.   Mignolo calls this current world system a modern/colonial world system to signify the interdependence of modernity and coloniality, which have always been simultaneously at play.  Coloniality (of power), as Mignolo explains, occurs in and from the borders and from particular, local histories of modernity/coloniality.  It is created by what he calls gnosis knowledge, which is “knowledge from a subaltern perspective…conceived from the exterior borders of the modern/colonial world system”… that strives to a.) “foreground the force and creativity of knowledges subalternized during a long process of colonization”…and b.) counter the hegemonic knowledges that govern Western dominant thought and have been perpetuated through Occidentalism (11-14).   According to Mignolo, border thinking creates macronnarratives, which attempt to offer a new logic, for he feels that critique of western knowledge cannot effectively come from Western thinking.  Although he acknowledges the utility of postmodern theories and deconstrtuuction, he claims these ignore the colonial difference and constitute nothing more than a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentricism. (37-39).   Border thinking, on the other hand, which originates from coloniality not from ancient Greek thought, has epistemic potential to decolonize dominant intellectual thought/knowledge—logo and Eurocentric knowledges.   Border thinking is a complement to deconstruction and postmodern theories.



Border thinking entails a double critique that recovers and materialized subaltern knowledges, which make possible an “other way of thinking” (67). Border thinking not only changes content of conversation but the perspectives and terms through which conversations are had (70).  It disrupts dichotomous concepts which currently orders the world by thinking from dichotomous concepts (85).  It disrupts the epistemic hegemony deriving from post-Enlightenment reasoning that currently drives colonialism (88). 


 Interestingly, Mignolo complains that Occidentalism is of main concern to Latin American subaltern knowledges.  He acknowledges that usefulness of post colonial theory but points out the exclusion of Latin America from that theoretical lens.  Post-occidentalism, then, might better describe border thinking deriving from Latin America.  He wants us to understand “subaltern reason…as a diverse set of theoretical practices emerging from and responding to colonial legacies at the intersection of Euro/American modern history” (95).   He differentiates between postcolonial theories (academic commodities) and postcolonial theorizing (“thinking process in which people living under colonial domination had to enact in order to negotiate their life and subaltern condition”) (100).   “Post colonial theorizing as a particular enactment of the subaltern reason coexists with colonialism itself as a constant move and force toward autonomy and liberation in every order of life, from economics to religion, from language to education, from memories to spatial order, and it is not limited to the academy, even less to the U.S. academy” (100). 








Key concepts and points:


Colonial difference:  space where coloniality of power is enacted; space where subaltern knowledge and where border thinking takes place; space where global designs (globalization) meet local histories and are adapted, adopted, rejected, integrated, or ignored; physical and imaginary location where coloniality of power confronts dichotomous local cosmologies


Homogenous entities such as Latin America, the U.S. France, etc. are part of the “imaginary of the modern/colonial world system. They reveal and they occlude.  They are also the grounding of a system of geopolitical values, of racial configurations, and of hierarchical structures of meaning and knowledge” (170).  Local histories constituted of changing global designs question” all national/colonial forms of indenfication in modern/colonial world system…[ which] contribute to the imaginary and coloniality of power and knowledge implicit in the geopolitical configurations of the world” (171).


Theories travel, are transcultured, and become objects 174.  We need to “think more about when and why a theory that was produced to account for a type of question, problem, and historical situation in a geopolitical and geohistorical location within a local history becomes a global design, is desired and invited to a new locale (183).  Theories are marked with coloniality of power. 


National and cultural identities are just one kind of historical sensibility (192).


Provincializing Europe—Europe’s acquistion of adjective modern for itself….


Creoleness—mode of being, thinking and writing in subaltern language, from subaltern perspective and using and appropriating hegemonic language


Border thinking entails inhabiting language in tension with colonial language (245).  We are the words begiing writing (qtd. on 245).


Border thinking is plurilogical and plurilingual; throught billanguaging, we find and create new forms of logic.


Bilanguaging is a way of life – 264.  It engages needs and desires to eact the politics and ethics of liberation; it is way of life between languages:  a dialogical , ethic, aesthetic, and political process of social transformation rather than energeia emanating froma an isolated speaker (265).


Bilanguaging as a way of iving in languages in a transnational world, as an educational and epistemological project, rests on the critique of reason, of disciplinary structures, and cultures of scholarship complicitous with national and imperial languages ( 273).


Global designs:  transform the structure of the coloniality of power within the imperial conflict and the logic of the modern world system. 



Transdisciplinarity is effective means to decolonize knowledge….



Mignolo—The Idea of Latin America


As Mignolo so clearly explains, this book is an “excavation of the imperial/colonial foundation of the ‘idea’ of Latin America that will help us unravel the geo-politics of knowledge from the perspective of coloniality, the untold and unrecognized historical counterpart of modernity” (xi).   Important to recognize in terms of methodology is the framework in which his scholarship is situated—one Arturo Escobar has called the modernity/coloniality reseach project (xiii).  The following presumptions underlie this framework:

  • There is no modernity without coloniality; coloniality constituted of modernity
  • Modern/colonial world originated in 16th centrury; invention of America is colonial component of modernity
  • Enlightenment and industrial revolution—colonial matrix of power
  • Modernity—name for historical processs in which Europe bean its progress toward global hegemony, which carries dark side of coloniality
  • Capitalism is essence of modernity and darker side of coloniality
  • Capitalism and modernity took on new momentum at end of WWII with rise of US imperial power-xiii


The perspective of coloniality, which is very much influenced by Fanon, is situated within an-other intellectual paradigm based on both geo-political and bio-graphical location.  This intellectual paradigm, a decolonial paradigm, does not negate other knowledges; instead it strives for co-existence among other knowledges without negation—xvii.  It uses dialogue for utopistic aims—critique on past to imagine and construct future possible worlds-xix.  The theory that drives this intellectual paradigm is what Mignolo calls decolonial theory, which can be thought of as a “theory arising from the projects for decolonization of knowledge and being that will lead to the imagining of economy and politics otherwise” (xx).  Mignolo’s book employs and embodies decolonial theory as it attempts to contribute to the “decolonization of knowledge and being; an attempt to rewrite history following an-other logic, and an-other language, an-other thinking” (xx). 


Mignolo explains that the methodology of decolonization entails changing terms of conversation not content, as occurs with border thinking.  Mignolo claims that border thinking is exploding on the scene is south America right now under the title of inter-culturalad, which acknowledges that two cosmologies (indigenous and Western) can operate at once –can co-exist-9.  Again, negation is not goal; coexistence is.  Los Coracoles (Mexican economic and political orgnaziations) and Amawtay Wasi (Ecuadorian university) make use of co-existence and interaction of knowledges to create future possibilities beyond imperial paradigms.  An indigenous ethos is at work in these institutions that draw on multiple languages, memories, knowledges, ways of life, and dignities to create new paradigms of thought!  – 128 


In describing these projects, Mignolo identifies a new logic at work on both state and grassroot level in South America that draws on decolonial theory and are waging an epistemic battle with Western knowledge – 100.  New leaders are arising that draw on an-other logic in their struggle for changing the geography of knowledge and liberation – 100.  As Mignolo explains, this other knowledge requires understanding how knowledge and subjectivity are intertwined with modernity/coloniality – 106.  It also demands changing the terms as Afro-Andeans are doing when they create new theoretical concepts that allow them to conceptualize themselves differently – 112.   Lo propio for instance is a “frame for ‘appropriating’ concepts or ideas and redefining them through the colonial wound” 113. 


Such framing is key to developing new ways of thinking beyond modernity; for as Mignolo says, you “cannot envision alternative to modernity if the principles of knowledge you hold, and the structure of reasoning you follow, are molded by the hegemonic rhetoric of modernity and the hidden logic of coloniality working through it (114).  “An-other thinking requires a change in the terms, content and questions” (114). 


Mignolo demonstrates how the Zapatistas draw on decolonial critical theory and make radicals shifts in the geopolitics and body politics of knowledge (115).  One useful strategy they uses is delinking, which believes other ways of knowing are possible and necessary and the best solutions for decolonization 117.  Mignolo also makes clear that bilinigual education is so important because we think from language; therefore, new language affords us access to new logics -118  Mignolo credits Anzaldua for modeling this possibility so perfectly; he claims that while Descarte shifted intellectual paradigm from theological to egological form of knowledge (I think therefore I am), Anzaluda shifted intellectual paradigm from egological to geo-graphical and bio-graphical centered way of thinking-135


Mignolo ends by claiming that border thinking is the catalyst for an “after-America” movement that is eroding ethnic and geographic frontiers. Changing the content won’t do it.  we must form new logics 161






Key Terms:


Colonialism—refers to historical and geographical locations while coloniality refers to underlying matrix of colonial power 69


Coloniality:  attempts to unveil embedded logic that enforces control, domination, and exploitation disguised in the language of salvation, progress, modernization, and being good for everyone- 6.  Logical structure of colonial domination, which helps control and manage entire planet -7  logic of domination in modern/colonial world – 7;


Locus of enunciation—geo-politics of language; place from which knowledge is created and articulated – 8 local historical grounding of knowledge-10 


Occidentalism—from where rest of world is descriped, conceptualized, and ranked – 35  locus of enunciation, not just field of study as Said says, from which orientalism was created -42 


Colonial matrix—1.)economic: of land and control of finance; 2.) political: control of authority; 3. ) civic:  control of gender and sexuality; 4.) epistemic and subjective/personal:  control of knowledge and subjectivity


Geopolitics of epistemology:  uneven distribution of knowledge -44


Americanity—grounded in idea that there isn’t just one history of world; attempt to recover official histories


Historico-structural heterogeneity—historical processes interacting, coexisting – 48 provides theoretical anchor in the perspective of local histories and languages instead of grand narratives;  space made available for multiple and contesting perspectives and historical processes – 49









 “culture” served colonial purpose in classifying alien and inferior cultures- xvii


western hemispher produced wisdom, western Europe produced knowledge  1


border thinking consequence of colonial difference 10


the vital breath of western thought is reason; reason of ‘rectilinear time’ – 51


idea of latin America—it is land rich in raw resources and cheap labor—12


perspective vs. interpretation:  perspective based on locally situated rules and principles of knowledge while interpretation based on common and shared principle of knowledges and rules – 13


decolonial epistemic shifts understanding modernity form perspective of coloniality while postmodernity means understanding   modernity from within modernity itself-34








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3 responses to “Walter Mignolo—Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking

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