Polemical in some parts, exegetically and ethnographically detailed in others, ‘After the Decolonial’ retraces the ancestry of contemporary Latin American decolonial theories, discussing Mexican anthropologists old and new, the cultural theories of Edward Said, the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the worldview of Frantz Fanon, and those I call the ‘gurus’ of the decolonial – Quijano, Mignolo and dos Santos. It differentiates their ideas from decolonial feminism, notably that of Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, whose explosive interventions on ethnicity and gender defy simplistic categorization.
My critique of the racial binarisms (black-white, indigenous-white) which have taken hold of current approaches to the interpretation of Latin American societies, argues that indigenous and European heritage intertwine in the shaping of popular religion, and that the fields of art and music, being permeated by replications and variations of different strands, cannot be reduced to singular ethno-cultural categories.
Today these elaborate and sophisticated scenarios of mimesis and of projected and intermingling identities are confronted by a cultural construct that might have been designed as their exact opposite: monocultural, indifferent to heritage, brash, bourgeois and materialist. This is the evangelical upsurge that counts tens of millions of disciplined and predominantly poor followers who attend church in the expectation that divine intervention will bring relief to their sufferings in this world and salvation in the next. This wave of charismatic fervour should have given decolonial theorists cause for concern, for it is borne along by the excluded masses whose social movements are their hope and whose sufferings are their theme. Yet they have shown no interest. In a chapter devoted to this subject, I discuss what it tells us about the decolonial mindset.
I have given detailed treatment to Bolivia because of the protagonism of women in its indomitable social movements and because its racial and cultural configuration pervaded by mixture – chixi in Silvia Rivera’s language – reinforce my case against binary categorization. Furthermore, although the rise and eventual tragic fall of Evo Morales demonstrated the vigour of the decolonial approach it also illustrated its weakness: Morales’ mercurial political skills brought the country back to political viability when, lurching from one insurgency to the next, it came near to state failure in the early 2000s. He then refashioned the decolonial project to forge a nationalist indigenism that underplayed the distinctive characteristics of Bolivia’s many ethnic and language groups but constructed a movement that transcended the boundaries of race, class and gender. Yet after three terms in office his government’s successes in various fields were overshadowed by his manipulation of the judiciary and defiance of the constitution he himself had fathered, in order to stand for a fourth term of office, followed by controversy and chaos and his fall from power.
The conclusion of my book is captured in the two last words of its title: social justice. Latin America has for long exhibited the most severe inequalities of any region in the world and many of those inequalities, including their ethnic-racial dimension, can be traced to the colonial conquests and their legacy. But although the wounds it inflicts are uniquely painful for individuals, that dimension should not serve as the sole yardstick of inequality, and the politics of recognition, with their corporatist biases, offer an inadequate basis for strategies to overcome inequality. Those strategies need to target the social class structures that are the product of the region’s peculiar brand of capitalism and underlie its extreme socio-economic inequality.