Border Thinking – Decolonizing the Humanities and Social Sciences – Part I 

Foto von Daniels Joffe auf Unsplash

Anna Pfaffenstaller and Jacques Zannou[1]

Our articles focus in two parts on border thinking to decolonize the humanities and social sciences. As border thinking is complex, the two articles are intended to give fundamental and reflective approaches to encourage further exploration of border thinking.

To think and practice decoloniality, which is both critique and activism, Walter D. Mignolo develops a decolonial ‘method’, the border thinking. It has become a core concept of decolonial perspectives and is based on the concept of ‘borderlands’ by Gloria Anzaldúa (1987). To begin with, we belong to different geopolitical worlds that are subject to continuous capitalist and post-colonial interdependencies (Grosfoguel, 2002): the one from the global North, the world of the privileged and imperialist oppressors; and the other from the global South, the world of the underprivileged and oppressed by imperialism. We cross paths in the humanities and social sciences in the global North and collaborate on decolonial work, that is, working on the unfolding of culture and knowledge oppressed by colonial continuity. It is important to emphasize our different social and cultural locations but also our loci of enunciation, as in decolonial thinking: “the first step is to assume the legitimacy of ‘I am where I think’ and not be afraid of inquisitorial corporate and/or postmodern thinkers.” (Mignolo, 2011, p. 91).

 “I am where I think” (Mignolo, 2011, p. 81) brings into focus that “we all are where we think” (Mignolo, 2011, p. 81). In this way, we question on the one hand Descartes’ ”I think, therefore I am”, with which European epistemology (natural science, humanities and social sciences), has been hegemonic established as universal by depredating and eliminating the non-European ones, which are also local (Mignolo, 2011, p. 81). On the other hand, the epistemic principle ‘I am where I think’ appeals to us to democratize the naturally diverse epistemologies, by legitimizing the perspectives of the subalterns and delegitimizing the universal Western epistemology. (Mignolo, 2011, p. 81). We must therefore be constantly aware of this epistemic principle so that we do not fall into the fatal fallacy that Mignolo warns against: 

if you ‘study’ colonialism or the subaltern but you maintain the rules of the social sciences and humanities game [the Eurocentric one], you maintain the coloniality of power that reproduces the epistemic colonial difference. Epistemic loci of enunciation are stubborn and […] you can describe and ‘study’ the hybridy of society and culture in a specific place like Tijuana, while maintaining a pure, non-contaminated, non-hybrid loci of enunciation.

Mignolo, 1999, p. 241

Decolonial Thinking, i.e. decoloniality (Mignolo, 2000), is more necessary than ever, because the world system of our time is postcolonial – also known as colonial continuity, coloniality of power, colonial matrix of power or modernity/coloniality (Mignolo, 2000, 2007; Quijano, 2000), as all experiences, histories, resources, and cultural products ended up in one global cultural order that revolves around European or Western hegemony. The main focus was on the comprehensive control of subjectivity, culture, knowledge and the production of it (Quijano, 2000, p. 540). So if non-Western people are under such a grip of Western epistemic hegemony, “one of the task ahead is to de-colonize knowledge.” (Mignolo, 2007, p. 451).

The focus for Mignolo (2000, pp. 7, 12) is on the terms border and colonial and imperial differences. He distinguishes between internal and external borders of coloniality/modernity. The internal borders are the perspectives of coloniality/modernity, i.e. the Eurocentric perspectives. External borders are the borders outside of coloniality/modernity. In these, the perspectives of the subalterns are taken into account and placed in the center. In this article the subalterns are “people whom Frantz Fanon called ‘les damnés de la terre’ [.]: all those humiliated, devalued, disregarded, disavowed, and confronting the trauma of the ‘colonial wound,’ a trauma that no modern psychoanalyst can cure” (Tlostanova & Mignolo, 2012, p. 19). Subalterns live in both the Global South and the Global North. Therefore, imperial and colonial differences are the loci for border thinking, where the restitution of the subaltern and local knowledge takes place (Mignolo, 2000, p. ix).

Jacques Zannou is a research associate and PhD candidate at the UNESCO Chair in Digital, Culture, and Art in Education at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. His research focuses on decolonial options for overcoming and subverting postcolonial structures through education and social work.

Anna Pfaffenstaller is a PhD candidate at the University of Bamberg and KSH München University of Applied Sciences.  She is a lecturer and social worker with focus on systemic counseling and supervision. Her research interests include social work and politics and counseling in social work.

Outlook for part II: After the very brief introduction to decolonial thinking and border thinking, the following article focuses on how border thinking can be practiced.

Note: This article is based in parts on a summary and revision of a previously published article:  Zannou, J., & Pfaffenstaller, A. (2020). Border thinking and social work – is it possible?: A decolonial perspective of a case example. In T. Kleibl, R. Lutz, N. Noyoo, B. Bunk, A. Dittmann, & B. Seepamore (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of postcolonial social work. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.


Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute.

Grosfoguel, R. (2002). Colonial Difference, Geopolitics of Knowledge, and Global Coloniality in the Modern/Colonial Capitalist World-System. Review (Fernand Braudel Center)25(3), 203–224.

Mignolo, W. D. (1999). I am where i think: Epistemology and the colonial difference. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies8(2), 235–245.

Mignolo, W. D. (2000). Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton University Press.

Mignolo, W. D. (2007). Delinking: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality. Cultural Studies21(2–3), 449–514.

Mignolo, W. D. (2011). The darker side of western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Duke University Press.

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of Power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology15(2), 215–232.

Tlostanova, M. V., & Mignolo, W. D. (2012). Learning to unlearn: Decolonial reflections from Eurasia and the Americas. Ohio State University Press.

[1] As a decolonial option, we do not weigh authorship, as is common in neocolonial academic culture. The names are rather alphabetical and imply the ‘we’ that best unfolds an ‘I’ (Ubuntu).

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Gastbeitrag (2024, 12. März). Border Thinking – Decolonizing the Humanities and Social Sciences – Part I . Kontrapunkte. Abgerufen am 20. April 2024, von

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