Question: Is the concept of coloniality necessary for the studies of gender theories?
As we learned throughout this term, gender studies are interdisciplinary and political. Feminist scholars ask questions about contradictions, paradoxes and ambivalences and most of the concepts are highly contested, controversial and always in transformation. Therefore, I won´t provide any fixed definitions of concepts throughout the following remarks, but rather discuss and evaluate useful contributions from academics of gender studies, whereas one goal of feminist and gender theory is to complicate the already existing knowledge.
I won´t answer the question above neither with “yes, coloniality is necessary for gender theories”, nor with “no, coloniality is not necessary”. In fact, this is exactly not the kind of approaches we are looking for, as we learned to think about both/and, and not about either/or. Therefore, in order to answer to the question, I will focus on the question of which additional insights are gained through the concept of coloniality and how it can be used productively. I will briefly show in a first step how the concept of coloniality criticizes the concept of intersectionality, as some scholars using intersectionality in their analysis didn´t include coloniality. In a second step I´ll discuss the concept of (de)coloniality and why it can be seen as enormously important for the present and future of gender studies (and other disciplines as well).
COLONIALITY (OF POWER)
As mentioned above, I will now briefly touch upon how the concept of coloniality could be seen as a ´supplementation´ of intersectionality, due to the fact that I identify some similarities of the two concepts. Intersectionality has a long history and many theorists (e.g. Lorde, 1979) already thought about multiple categories of oppressions before the term was finally coined by Kimberly Crenshaw. Crenshaw (1989) argued that black women are often excluded from feminist theory and from antiracist policy and in order to understand black women´s subordination, one has to address the intersections of race, class and gender. She further added that the exclusions of black women are not unidirectional, but multidimensional (1989, pp.139-149). Crenshaw and other early theorists of intersectionality focused on the oppression of women in the context of the U.S. and were interested in oppressions through patriarchy, racism ad capitalism. Today, intersectionality is seen as a concept which travels, as it was mainstreamed and often used by neoliberal feminists, writes Sara Salem (2018). She therefore asks, how intersectionalists deal with imperialism, and I would ask, how (Western, liberal, white) intersectionalists deal with the colonial past and with coloniality. In her critique, Salem (2018) argues that intersectionality was depoliticized, as it was originally a radical political concept, but race was more and more erased. The disavowal of race is an often-observed phenomenon in ´postcolonial´ times (Hall, 2017).
Race, writes Salem, is a power relation which can´t be ignored (2018, p.410), and the same happens to coloniality, which is a present condition which can´t be disavowed. Consequently, Salem concludes that the intersectional analysis´ have to include global imperialist and capitalist power relations (2018, p.414). Amos and Parmar (1984) who wrote an article about the challenging of imperial feminism, state that an intersectional analysis has to include also coloniality, because gender is mediated through coloniality, racism and location.
Coloniality, which is not the same as colonialism, like intersectionality, is a “Third World” concept, conceptualized in the “Global South”, whereas coloniality is predominantly theorized by Latin-American scholars. These academics started to conceptualize their reality and remarked that coloniality is a condition which survived colonialism and exists although ‘formal’ colonial administration is abolished. One of the most important theorists of coloniality, Anibal Quijano, sees coloniality as “still the most general form of domination in the world today, once colonialism as an explicit political order was destroyed” (Quijano, 2007, p.170). Coloniality is a Euro-centered framework, which exists since more than 500 years. Quijano describes the “coloniality of power” (2007, p.171) as being reproduced and maintained by a racist, colonial and capitalist world power. He delineates the connection of coloniality and knowledge production, whereas the European paradigm of rational knowledge dominates the rest of the world (2007, p.174). The knowledge, especially the knowledge about history, is always produced in a linear way, through which Europe divided the world into the European and the non-European (Mignolo, 2011, p.174). The ongoing cultural, academic, epistemological, economic and political coloniality is produced through the assumption that a specific “ethnie should be taken as universal rationality” (Quijano, 2007, p.177), which is the Western European ethnie. Not only does he see Europe as the main beneficiaries of the global world order, but as well North America and former colonies as Japan (ibid. p.168). Coloniality describes the fact that the power structures produced during colonialism are still the framework within the other power relations operate. The exploited and marginalized people today are still the same ones which were members of the colonized populations (Quijano, 2007, p.169). Quijano especially focusses on cultural coloniality which refers to the phenomenon that the European culture became the universal culture everyone should aspire to. Additionally, the coloniality of power is maintained through “colonial unknowing” (Vimalassery et. al, 2016), which describes the phenomenon of ignoring and not wanting to know the colonial past and present (Baldwin cited in Vimalassery et. al, 2016).
THE COLONIALITY OF GENDER
Especially important in relation to gender theories are the contributions of Maria Lugones and her theory of the coloniality of gender, which builds upon the concept of coloniality of power from Quijano. Lugones refers to the introduction of the gender binary system in terms of male/female by the colonizers (2010, p.743). She uses the term coloniality in order to describe the classification of people into exclusive categories of men and women, but also to circumscribe the prior dehumanization of people in order to afterwards classify them (2010, p.745). The coloniality of gender describes the process that gender was first imposed by the colonizers, but the binary gender system is still maintained today. This implementation of the European gender system erases other gender conceptualizations of indigenous people in Latin America and other colonized contexts.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF (DE)COLONIALITY TO GENDER THEORY
The contributions we´ve learned above are incredibly crucial for gender theory, especially due to the fact that gender theory is a biased discipline as well and theorists should absolutely engage with this concept in order not to reproduce colonial unknowing themselves.
The concept of coloniality leads us to think as well about decoloniality, which is a concept also developed by the same scholars. Decoloniality is not only a concept, but also a discourse and a practice. Mignolo (2009) in relation to decoloniality, refers to the ´epistemic disobedience´ which is the practice of delinking knowledge from the Western rationality and the dominant forms of knowledge and worldviews. Decoloniality describes a counter discourse and the creation of another rationality, and for Quijano this entails the “freedom to choose between various cultural orientations, and, above all, the freedom to produce, criticize, change, and exchange culture and society” (2007, p.178).
In terms of the hegemonic understanding of history as linear, Cusicanqui (2019) reminds us of the fact that for example indigenous people of Bolivia conceptualize history as spiral, whereas in their histories the “past-future is contained in the present” (2019, p.96). She emphasizes that in dominant discourses, actors talk about the origins of the indigenous, which takes away their presence and designates them as they would have only lived in the past (2019, p.99). Like that, they are naturally detached from efforts of modernity. Decoloniality, hence, is the counter strategy against coloniality trough the decolonizing of dominant cultural ideals, theories, epistemologies, policies and practices and it is concerned with dialogue, and especially South-South links (Cusicanqui, 2019, p. 102). There is an existing danger that decolonization is misused as a metaphor, especially by settler colonizers who try to reconcile their settler guilt through the discursive usage of decolonization (Tuck and Yang, 2012). To decolonize, in contrast to their practice, means to build meaningful alliances against neocolonialism and coloniality of any form. Nascimento (2007) for this endeavor asks for more inter-communalism between different communities of the world.
Lugones (2010) argues in the same line and says that in order to fight the coloniality of gender, the universal category of women has to be deconstructed and adds that gender can´t be resisted alone. Decolonizing gender is a practical task and a lived resistance.
Decolonizing is furthermore a practical task for schools and universities and requires us to learn something unknown, something that disrupts our previous knowledge, and it entails to unlearn already acquired knowledge. It will involve discomfort and holding ourselves accountable for which knowledge we privilege and which one we ignore (Shroff, 2018, p. 157).
To close up this part of the exam, I argue that coloniality, as shown above, is tremendously important for gender studies due to the fact that coloniality is a global power structure which permeates all the areas of cultural and social life. Through the concept of coloniality, different power relations can be uncovered, which are often not examined in feminist gender studies. Even in intersectional analysis, some authors ignored the colonial, imperial past and the ongoing colonial power relations and knowledge systems. However, as academia, and especially Western academia runs the risk of reproducing colonial unknowing, it is very important to know the concept of coloniality and to engage with decolonizing strategies in intellectual endeavors
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