Modernity + Coloniality

This was a free summer course I offered online over the summer in 2020, out of the will to do something to help educate during the important events of the Black Lives Matter protests, and out of the hope that company would make me feel less lonely in that time of early isolation during the COVID pandemic. To be honest, when I first offered the course, I did not expect so many people to attend the lectures and discussions (which were very stimulating), or for so many to peruse the materials or recordings after. Perhaps because this was a time when discourses of decoloniality and decolonisation were just beginning to percolate from the peripheries of design scholarship to become central concerns in the field – no doubt there have been many public courses since, with even more depth, rigor, and vision. Since the website I had up originally for the course will soon retire, I have put up the syllabus and audio recordings from the course here for posterity, with some additional notes on my rationale in designing the course.

What’s this course about?

“Many words are walked in the world. Many worlds are made. Many worlds make us. There are words and worlds that are lies and injustices. There are words and worlds that are truthful and true. In the world of the powerful there is room only for the big and their helpers. In the world we want, everybody fits. The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit.”
– Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, “The Fourth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle”

This course will be run as a reading seminar and survey course looking into the constitution, scale, and many dimensions of the modern\colonial world-system. The texts here are merely a tiny fraction of the work done by non-Anglo-European, non-white scholars and activists in articulating the origins, development, and hegemony of the modern world-system, and yet my hope is that these will act as sparks for curious minds and a place within which to situate oneself and start from. This course was created keeping design students in mind, so, yes, we will have a few choice readings connecting coloniality to technology, but really, anyone can and should take this!


June 13. Before European Hegemony

June 20. On Violence

June 27. Inventing The Other

July 04. Coloniality of Power

July 11. Borderlands & Delinking

July 18. Settler Colonialism

July 25. Allyship

August 01. Pluriversality & Other-Thought

August 08. Decolonising Research

August 15. Decolonising Gender

August 22. Cosmotechnics & Other Technologies

Addenda to lectures

June 13. The first lecture is meant to introduce attendees to the fundamentals of world-systems theory (Wallerstein), and to the work done in particular on tracing the origins of European modernity in the global order prior to European colonialism (Abu-Lugodh). Lugodh’s narrative of the longue duree challenges some of the historical assumptions about the changing importance of technology in Clive Dilnot’s essay.

June 20. I decided to make a deliberate choice in contrasting two very different appraisals of, and responses to, colonial (racial) violence in the works of Fanon and Friere. Morgan’s essay is meant to give the reader a more in-depth look at the forms of violence enacted during the emergent trans-atlantic slave trade, and Nandy’s on the more contemporary violence of 20-21 century globalization and development.

June 27. Our discussion of how the Europeans invented a distant, unrecognisable ‘Other’ needs, of course, take account of Said’s work on orientalism. Chakraborty draws out some of the implications of orientalism for scholarship well, while Guha gives us a sense of some of the commensuralities between Western and Eastern thought on reading everyday life while maintaining very different approaches.

July 04. With an understanding of the larger context and informing genealogy, we can now get into a discussion of the particular way that Latin American decolonial theory frames modernity, focusing on the core concept of the coloniality of power as articulated by Quijano, and its concrete manifestations as enumerated by Grosfoguel. Maldanado-Torres provides a nice overview of some of the history that informed Quijano, although some of the analogies he uses are questionable.

July 11. We move now to a different set of theorizations, trying to draw connections between Mignolo’s conception of border-thinking and delinking and work coming from other Global South writers that has attempted to think ‘from the borders’ beyond Western thought. In particular, Anzaldua’s embrace of a fluid and hybrid identity and Khatibi’s similar treatment with Arab epistemology challenge and provoke Mignolo in interesting ways.

July 18. I felt that introducing some of the literature around settler-colonial theory was necessary to read against the claims being made in LatAm decolonial theory around racialization and internal colonialism. Wolfe, Tuck and Yang, and Veracini show, in different ways, how logics of racialization work in different ways as well as giving us some very strong views on what indigenous commitments to decolonisation look like. Kopenawa gives us a firsthand account as an indigenous writer.

July 25. With the class on allyship, we now move from the ways different communities are racialized and oppressed towards reading and thinking about how they might forge common cause. The two co-authored papers by Atshan and Moore and Navarro and Robertson give us examples of how scholars write in solidarity, about solidarity moving together through historical frictions, while Prashad gives us a history of South Asian diasporic allyship with Black civil rights in the US.

August 01. This class reflects my own interpretation and interests in pluriversality. La Cadena and Escobar serve as a good introduction to the scholarly treatment of the concept, but my own veers closer to the ways in which artists, writers and scholars have creatively imagined alternative futures. There is a strong relation between my interests in what I term ‘cosmofuturisms’ as a catch-all term and ‘cosmotechnics’, which we deal with later.

August 08. The last three classes focused on scholarship that focuses on thinking three specific themes in relation to decolonial theory: academic research, gender and sexuality, and technology. The readings on research focus largely on the limits and boundaries of traditional research, and moreso, the politics of doing it, and on ways that the scholars included have found useful in working with, and representing more faithfully, the communities they write about.

August 15. Lugones sets the stage here by demonstrating the coloniality of gender as a fundamental category for the dehumanization-through-making sense of the non-Western Other, while Mohanty shows us the various ways in which the category of ‘third world woman’ has been constructed through the Western gaze. Oyuwemi and Mahmood give us both a critique of Anglocentric gender, and a window into rethinking gender, sex and sexuality through Nigerian and Egyptian lens.

August 22. The final lecture dealt with introducing the idea of cosmotechnicity through the work of Yuk Hui, who coined the term, and relating it to projects of epistemic delinking (which is what my PhD work argued). Mustafa Ali makes a compeling argument for decolonial computing, while contemporary works by Chirikure and Farqahar articulating sociotechnical structures and practices in non-AE contexts complement.