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

Foto von Daniels Joffe auf Unsplash

Anna Pfaffenstaller and Jacques Zannou[1]

Border thinking is an important resource to overcome colonialism and hegemony. The first article introduced border thinking as a `method´ of decolonial thinking. The second part concentrates on practicing border thinking, focusing on the reflection of geo- and body-politics and subversive listening.

How does border thinking work? Mignolo formulates the core of the procedure in form of questions that must be discussed when we deal with the colonial/imperial differences, what is permanent as long as the colonial matrix of power exists:

  1. Who is the knowing subject, and what is his/ her material apparatus of enunciation?
  2. What kind of knowledge/ understanding is he/ she engaged in generating, and why?
  3. Who is benefiting or taking advantage of such- and- such knowledge or understanding?
  4. What institutions (universities, media, foundations, corporations) are supporting and encouraging such- and- such knowledge and understanding?
    (Mignolo, 2011, p. 189)

Answering these questions using border thinking must be focused analytically and performatively with the following content: 

  • first, the colonial or imperial difference where the coloniality is at work (Mignolo, 2000, p. ix); 
  • second, the perspectives of the subalterns and not those of the privileged especially not those of the Western (Mignolo, 2000, p. 6); 
  • third, the knower and not the known (Mignolo, 2009, p. 162); 
  • fourth, the locus of enunciation in term of “geo- and bodypolitics” (Mignolo, 2009, 162) based on the principle “I am where I think” (Mignolo, 2011, p. 80-81), as the locus from which people interact with each other massively influences the way knowledge is generated and reproduced; 
  • fifth, the terms of the conversation must be changed and not just the content (beyond disciplines and inter/disciplinary conflicting interpretations) (Mignolo, 2009, pp. 160-161) and
  • sixth, the decolonial options like delinking, learning to unlearn, epistemic disobedience by subverting the principles of Western epistemic reasoning and interpretation, and pluriversality as final decolonial objective (Mignolo, 2011, p. 189; Tlostanova & Mignolo, 2012, p. 224).

Critical reflection always starts with ourselves: the authors of this article have been brought up and educated in the canons of the dominant societies.

To uncover disregarded perspectives, privileged people must listen seriously, unlearn the privileges of speaking and being heard and not classify from the dominant perspectives of the Eurocentric system (internal borders). This means a practice of subversion of listening, which requires a confident subject, who is able to be silent and listen when other perspectives emerge, especially in moments of risk of losing privileges (Castro Varela & Dhawan, 2003, pp. 279–280).

Ultimately, in solidarity with all decolonial thinkers and doers, with all victims and oppressed peoples of the colonial matrix of power “we are not claiming recognition, inclusion, or the right to exist—we know that we belong to global trajectories that do not pretend to compete with modern Western epistemology—rather we intend to move in a different direction, to delink, to shift the geography of reasoning.” (Tlostanova & Mignolo, 2012, p.12). So, our plea is: be part of this decolonial option we have freely and decisively made, and henceforth use border thinking to “open up the doors to an other tongue, an other thinking, an other logic superseding the long history of the modern colonial world, the coloniality of power, the subalternization of knowledges and the colonial difference.” (Mignolo, 2000, p. 338).

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.

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.


Castro Varela, M. D. M., & Dhawan, N. (2003). Postkolonialer Feminismus und die Kunst der Selbstkritik. In H. Steyerl & E. G. Rodríguez (Eds.), Spricht die Subalterne deutsch?: Migration und postkoloniale Kritik (pp. 270–290). Unrast Münster.

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

Mignolo, W. D. (2009). Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom. Theory, Culture & Society26(7–8), 159–181.

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

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).

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Gastbeitrag (2024, 19. März). Border Thinking – Decolonizing the Humanities and Social Sciences – Part II. Kontrapunkte. Abgerufen am 30. Mai 2024, von

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