The cultural hegemony of colonialism

In a field where critics are quick to disqualify a field of study because of its supposed lack of rationality or to call authors who claim it as impostors, few are those who bother to read the texts . The first virtue of Stéphane Dufoix’s book is its exceptional knowledge of the corpus it studies. This knowledge allows him to bring out the extreme diversity (even if most of the authors are from Latin America), firstly disciplinary (philosophy, sociology, history, semiotics, anthropology, pedagogy and even theology), but also of inspiration (philosophy of liberation, dependency theory, postcolonialism). And thus to manage, in a few pages, to bring out the logic of it, whereas, more often than not, we are content to denounce its excesses.

First of all, a terminological clarification should be made. To name the current in question, some speak (we have done so) of decolonialism, whereas S. Dufoix, as the title of the book shows, prefers decolonial. Indeed, the first is a polemical construction [1], intended to disqualify those who worry about the persistence of systemic discrimination, and, above all, it supposes an untraceable homogeneity, whereas the second does not imply the affirmation of this homogeneity. Moreover, the position of S. Dufoix has the merit of being consistent with the way decolonial authors themselves designate themselves. We therefore agree with his choice: indeed, “ decolonial invites us to enter further into its history (p. 23).

And this is what the author does by clarifying the nature and the critical power of the questioning that authors claiming to be from the decolonial movement address to the West.

Defense and illustration of the decolonial paradigm

The principle affirmation is the inseparability of coloniality [2] and modernity, which explains why 1492 be systematically favored as the inaugural date, that of the establishment of a colonial order based on the emergence of triangular transatlantic trade. This thesis is anchored on a factual reality: it was during this period that a European identity was forged, that of the “ us against the rest of the world », which justifies the enslavement of certain populations in the name of their supposed inferiority. The coloniality is therefore not a consequence of modernity, it is constitutive of it.

It is not a residue or a sequel of an original violence, colonialism. Decoloniality is therefore not synonymous with decolonization: coloniality surviving colonialism, decoloniality must complete the legal and political decolonization that was carried out in the XIXe and XXe centuries by focusing on the epistemic dimension (coloniality of knowledge for Edgardo Lander [3]), or to ontological negation (coloniality of being, according to Walter Mignolo and Nelson Maldonado-Torres [4]). As Enrique Dussel sums it up, the Indians see their own rights denied, as well as their civilization, their culture, their world, their gods in the name of a foreign god and a modern reason » [5].

This perspective profoundly modifies the analysis of modernity: the latter is no longer the product of processes internal to the development of Europe, it appears during its encounter with America, when the notion is created. from the periphery, when Europe could define itself as an “ego” discoverer, conqueror, colonizer of the Otherness constitutive of its own Modernity » [6]. We understand that we cannot content ourselves with insisting on the dispossession of land: there is also dispossession of cultural identities. Of these mechanisms, S. Dufoix reports with clarity and erudition.

He also opportunely insists on the existence of real injustices “ epistemic which are characterized by inequalities of access, according to race (or gender), to academic positions of authority (p. 61-70). It can betestimonial injustice to evoke the mechanisms which invalidate any speech due to a doubt about the credibility of the person who speaks or even ofhermeneutical injustice when we lack the interpretive resources to communicate our experience. We thus insist on the dichotomy between, on the one hand, knowledge and theories produced by the West and, on the other hand, what others would propose either religions, folklores and myths. The decolonization of knowledge must go through “ a good knowledge of the mechanisms by which cultural hegemony was established and was able to be perpetuated (p. 68), or, in the words of S. Dufoix, by a epistemepolitics (p. 70) including, among others, the sociology of absences by Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos [7] indicates orientation (pp. 75-81).

The critique of Eurocentrism, i.e. the taking into account of local epistemes, makes it possible to establish an epistemic place that is not that produced by modernity. [8]. It is therefore not a question of a universalization of the European episteme, but of a process of pluriversalization of the world. the pluriversalism for twenty years has become a key notion in the decolonial lexicon (p. 45), is therefore opposed to Eurocentrism or, if you prefer, to monological universalism, and represents, in the minds of its promoters, true universalism. He therefore opposes his adulterated version which, according to S. Dufoix, “ turns out to be the product not of any social contract or the truth of rational principles, but of a history of the domination of some groups over others (p. 60).

Is epistemology necessarily situated ?

It is however necessary to know if we do not pass in this way from the need to get rid of the imperial character of the universal, in other words to decolonize it, until the sacrifice of this one. S. Dufoix is ​​aware of this risk, but perhaps he puts up with it, despite the arguments he mobilizes to persuade us to the contrary.

If decolonial criticism invites us to consider the emancipatory potential of traditions of thought considered peripheral and, therefore, to accept a critical point of view on the way in which we describe and analyze the world, which is obviously to be included in her credit, does she manage to avoid the trap of relativism ? For S. Dufoix, this question is unfounded. It would be because most decolonial authors do not explicitly claim relativism (p. 81). The argument is hardly convincing. Many authors, especially in the philosophy of science, are considered relativists although they deny it (Kuhn, to take just this example, did not assume a relativist position). However, it would seem that we are here in the same situation: is it relativistic to question, as S. Dufoix does, the ideal of objectivity of the investigation or to express doubts on the plausibility scientific universalism (p. 81) ? His answer is, of course, negative. But then how to name the skepticism on the possibility of a “ point of view from nowhere (to use Thomas Nagel’s expression) and how to interpret the following statement: Backed by the universalism of reason and rights, the universalism of science thus presumes the equal applicability of concepts to all situations and all regions of the world. (p. 73) ? And, he adds, the weight of the non-situated, detached and objective “truth” ignores or overwrites the differences that do not enter the norm (p. 74).

This insistence on the situated character of any enunciation renders, in our view, the desire to escape relativism perfectly futile and the hypothesis of the necessary construction of scientific universalism based on the plurality of situations and ways of knowing (p. 82) is an oxymoron. An epistemology that would, according to Santiago Castro-Gomez, a color and a sexuality » [9]is it really an epistemology ? What value then should be given to knowledge? ? By nature, epistemic principles are intended to apply independently of any cultural context. In the contrary hypothesis, the question of the truth value of propositions loses all legitimacy. If any descriptive proposition is considered a performative utterance, the objective guarantee of assertability is denied. However, the hypothesis according to which language would not have to cling to an extrinsic world is profoundly relativistic. It would compel us, like Rorty, to define truth as that which conforms to our “ cultural patterns » [10]. It could not, therefore, avoid disqualifying the notions of “ to know “, of “ do ” and of “ raison », reduced to mere cultural products.

These consequences are not assumed by S. Dufoix. And if we believe his position unstable, it is because it seems to us that there is a strong tension between, on the one hand, his defense of a “ lateral universalism (according to the expression of Merleau-Ponty, taken up by Souleymane Bachir Diagne), which opportunely indicates that universalism is always to be reconstructed, and, on the other hand, his choice in favor of “ universality “, conceived as an intermediate way between “ the universalism of nowhere and the autochthony of an endemic thought (p. 83) against universalism, understood as inherently hegemonic.

Isn’t that a way to dismiss the latter, to send him back to his origins, in other words to invalidate his project ?

Yet, as Francis Wolff pointed out in his beautiful Plea for the universal, universalism does not belong to Europe, but to humanity, and first of all to the oppressed, deprived of rights and freedom to act and think, the vast majority of whom live outside Europe. During his inaugural lesson at the Collège de France, Antoine Lilti, in the same perspective, underlines that the Enlightenment was never an exclusively European heritage: “ The South American revolutionaries, at the turn of the XVIIIe and XIXe centuries, translated and read the Social contract which was one of the main sources of republicanism, from the Río de la Plata to Venezuela » [11]. The attempt to liquidate emancipatory narratives: the republican narrative and the narrative of the class struggle, both stemming from the Enlightenment, appears as the consequence of the reduction of modernity to coloniality. It does not seem to us that the will of the author, which we share, to go “ towards decolony » [12] (p. 84), requires such a reduction.

The fact remains that, such as it is, the work of S. Dufoix fulfills the objective he had set himself: to make known an important current of thought and to release all its critical power. That we do not share all of his analyzes is, in this light, perfectly anecdotal.

Stephane Dufoix, DecolonialParis, Anamosa, 2023, 102 pages, 9 euros.

The cultural hegemony of colonialism