Toward a Non-Eurocentric Academia

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In her text “Who Can Speak? Decolonizing Knowledge”, Grada Kilomba poses a series of questions in relation to the existing academic institutions: “What knowledge is acknowledged as such? And what knowledge is not? What knowledge has been made part of academic agendas? And what knowledge has not? Whose knowledge is this? Who is acknowledged to have the knowledge? And who is not? Who can teach knowledge? And who cannot? Who inhabits academia? And who remains outside at the margins? And finally, who can speak?”[1]

In relation to my experience as a migrant, trans* from former Eastern Europe (from former Yugoslavia, Slovenia), who still inhabits this symbolic East because of continuous reproduction of differences between the East and the West of Europe; working since 2009 as a precarious associate professor at the University of Barcelona, with a so called “trash contract”, Kilomba’s questions make me think that to envision the project under the heading of non-Eurocentric academia, we need to start by connecting capitalism with colonialism through what Aníbal Quijano in the 90’s defined as the colonial matrix of power. Why? If power, as according to Quijano, operates through four interrelated domains, that is, the control of economy, the control of authority, the control of gender and sexuality, and the control of subjectivity and knowledge, we can say that all of them are constitutive of and active within the academia (academic institutions) historically and today. Entangled in Western modern/colonial system, Eurocentrism was produced in the last five centuries, from 15th century Spanish conquest and colonization of Americas, through a set of colonial capitalist values and a system of knowledge that was universalized by erasing, silencing and disqualifying all the rest and all of us. This means that academia, as Kilomba argues, is not a neutral space where we learn and acquire knowledge. It is rather a white space, a Eurocentric fabric of subjectification, a disciplinary institution and an institution of control, whose aim is to reproduce and maintain the existing colonial capitalist system through the continuous exclusions in terms of class, race, gender, sexuality, ability, language, spirituality, etc.

In the context of post-Cold War political reconfigurations, when it is said that Eastern Europe no longer exists, while Western Europe is also named “former”, the process of disappearance of certain borders does not mean that they are actually disappearing, but rather on the contrary: they fragment, unfold, and multiply simultaneously, becoming zones, border regions or territories. We can say that former Eastern Europe was transformed into a zone that functions in this way as a (new) border through the relation of repetition. Following Marina Gržinić’ arguments, it is a repetition of Western Europe’s political and economic model, of its structures of government and governmentality, its modes of life and modes of death, the institutional and migration control, its system of knowledge (theory) and aesthetic regimes (art), activism, etc.[2] This specific process of coloniality through repetition is as well functioning through a suppression of “local” histories, knowledge and practices of resistance. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the mobility of borders that corresponds with the process of European Union enlargement and expansion of global capitalism/coloniality means fabrication of a new migratory and racializing control regime based on bio-necropolitical technology.

If today migration/labour, capital, gender, sexual reproduction and race are nowhere more disputed and uneasy than in the border, as Gloria Anzaldúa writes, “To survive the Borderlands/ You must live sin fronteras/ Be a crossroads.”[3] La herida abierta, an open wound as a way to describe her painful position (marked by modernity/coloniality) is that of a border thinker. What this means Madina Tlostanova in our interview explains it in the following way: “When you are the border, when the border cuts through you, when you do not cross borders in order to find yourself on either side, you do not discuss borders from some zero point positionality, but instead you dwell in the border, you do not really have much choice but to be a border thinker.”[4] This statement highlights that we cannot talk about the choice, but it is rather the lack of it what make us engage in the analysis from the border thinking position. I understand it as a constant state of transition from which to envision the potentials to de-link from the colonial capitalist system of power. Crossing, passing or going through the confines of the “normal”, located in a liminal space, border thinking necessarily brings together race, gender, class, sexuality, colonialism and capitalism, inseparably, in a shared, intersectional and transversal analytics. It is an on going attempt to push for a conceptual denaturalization, aiming to undermine the fundamental logics of modernity and its disciplines, in need for assertion of rights (also epistemic) of the wretched.[5] Following Tlostanova, with our activist work “we have to question the Western monopoly of knowledge, the very methodology of applying a ready-made travelling theories created in the West, even if by the ex colonial others and those who chose to wear this mask, to the rest of the world with its multiplicity of local histories and trajectories of relations.”[6]

Reaching the limit that was once thought of as a potential to overcome capitalism, today pushed the concept of crisis itself into crisis. In the global context, what has changed is the normalization of crisis in the Global North, while living under exceptional conditions is certainly nothing new in the Global South and East. The crisis, which ceased to be a periodic exception and has rather become the norm, the fabric of social life, of our existence, is not only economic, but at the same time political, existential, spiritual, environmental, and also academic, – marked by the increasing corporatization, privatization and global neoliberal restructuring of the universities. If Eurocentric academia is a fabric of colonial capitalist knowledge production and its commodification, the site of production and exploitation of subjectivity, thus, in relation to its established models, modes of thinking, perceiving, and acting that are today globally reproduced, we need to grasp all these dimensions in order to introduce a critical condition, point to new forms of conflict and push for a radical change. This implies thinking non-Eurocentric academia as a part of decolonization processes, which takes us beyond the existing systems and its models grounded in Western modernity.

Although there were and are several indigenous, Black, decolonial feminist, queer, sex workers, migrant activist projects, initiatives, night school projects and student movements we should discuss as a part of already existing walk toward a non-Eurocentric academia, I will mention in this relation the following two: The Silent University and The University of Ignoramuses.

The Silent University[7] started initially in London in 2012 as an autonomous knowledge exchange platform by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, led by a group of lecturers, researchers and consultants. Its aim is to challenge the idea of silence as a passive state, and explore its powerful potential through performance, writing, and group reflection. The Silent University attempts to address and reactivate the knowledge of the participants and make the exchange process mutually beneficial by inventing alternative currencies, in place of money or free voluntary service. These explorations try to make apparent the systemic failure and the loss of skills and knowledge experienced through the silencing process of people seeking asylum.

The University of Ignoramuses[8] was conceptualized by maiz, an independent organization by and for migrant women, in 2014, as a space for producing counter-hegemonic knowledge as well as for discussing the notion of ignorance, in the sense of socially ignored knowledge. The emphasis is put on re-thinking the strategies of political and educational processes, issues of learning and unlearning, of speech, of hearing and being-heard, as well as the role of artistic and activist practices for pedagogical spaces of agency. With their work, The University of Ignoramuses inscribes their doing in the history of decolonial struggles, attempting to reconnect intellectual work and political activism, theory and praxis, and in reference to Zapatistas, looking for answers while walking.

Both initiatives show that non-Eurocentric academia already exist and extend through translocal action networks, challenging and changing the existing academic system of production of political fictions, repetitive narratives and abstract universality, entangled in the history of modernity/coloniality and still present today. Grasping the global dimension of the academic crisis from the perspective of the epistemologies of the Global South and East, these projects insinuate as critical nodes in the very cracks of the heterogeneous totality and attend to its complexity, refining the tactics of resistance by multiplying the sites of intervention. Insisting on the recognition of knowledge produced by racialized “other(s)” and decolonial movements as knowledge, these projects are important because they point out that the socially ignored and silenced knowledge is related to the ways of understanding how class divisions, racialization, ableism, sex-gender binary and heteronormativity are constructed historically and operate through the existing colonial capitalist academic institutions today. At the same they configure a space for production of practices, memories and relations that make possible not only a negative resistance but also a re-existence.

Here is where I situate decoloniality as a political intervention, thinking of the performative potential of this concept, – meaning doing or taking action. As the artistic-activist group Diásporas críticas write, I want to grasp it as “a hybrid tactics that traverse materiality and writing, memory and archive, affect and body.”[9] Against the current of political correctness or new academic specializations for personal benefit and prestige of researchers, I understand decolonial way of doing and acting as a radical attempt to dismantle capitalist/colonial, political, institutional and border structures operating globally today. This means, as Yuderkys Espinosa, Diana Gómez, Karina Ochoa write, to insist on the history, memory and contribution of those voices and experiences, which made a political shift, a change in perspective, and fractures in the existing system, because our current fight within the academia and beyond is based and takes from previous flows of resistance to Western hegemony of knowledge production. By stressing as Espinosa, Gómez and Ochoa do, that many of us passed from being an object of study to becoming a subject of production of knowledge from colonial/imperial difference which is multiple, warns us against silencing different positionalities within our political work.[10]

All this tells us that conceptualizing a non-Eurocentric academia is about pushing for a radical change in academic system of interpretation and production of reality, revealing the constitutive underside of (post)modern reason. The transformation strives to be effected by breaking down the academic walls, by challenging the existing political economy of global Eurocentric academia, the established academic disciplines, methodologies, sets of theoretical references, conceptual vocabularies and colonial visual orders in order to shift the geography of reason through dissident interventions by un/learning, producing counter-genealogies of thought and decolonial transfeminist sense/ibility. What is crucial here is to continue opening, accessing, thinking and acting from multiple locations, alternative arrangements of the social, and different political and epistemic possibilities coming from the Global South and East, interrelated with the work of its critical diasporas.

Tjaša Kancler

This text was written for and presented during the Summer Institute “Toward a non-Eurocentric Academia: Border Thinking and Decoloniality from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas” organized by UNC, Chapel Hill and Duke University, USA, May 14-22, 2016.

[1] Grada Kilomba, Who Can Speak? Decolonizing Knowledge, in Utopia of Alliances, Conditions of Impossibilities and the Vocabulary of Decoloniality, (Vienna: Löcker, 2013): 27

[2] See Marina Gržinić, “Capital Repetition,”, Journal Reartikulacija, no. 8 (2009),

[3] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlans/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987): 217

[4] Madina Tlostanova, “Post-Soviet Imaginary and Global Coloniality: a Gendered Perspective,” interview with MadinaTlostanova by, (2013), and-globalcoloniality-a-gendered-perspective-madina-tlostanova/

[5] See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York: Grove Press, 1963).

[6] Madina Tlostanova, “Post-Soviet Imaginary and Global Coloniality: a Gendered Perspective,” interview with MadinaTlostanova by, (2013), and-globalcoloniality-a-gendered-perspective-madina-tlostanova/

[7] The Silent University,

[8] The University of Ignoramuses,

[9] Cisneros Anyely, Rebecca Close (Diásporas críticas), “Decolonize”, glossary of common knowledge, MG+MSUM

Ljubljana (2014),

[10] See Tejiendo de otro modo: Feminismo, epistemología y apuestas descoloniales en Abya Yala [Weaving from “Another World: “Feminism, Epistemology and De-colonial Stakes in Abya Yala], ed. Yuderkys Espinosa Miñoso, Diana Gómez Correal and Karina Ochoa Muñoz (Popayán: Universidad del Cauca, 2014).