Epistemic Islamophobia and Colonial Social Sciences

By Grosfoguel, Ramon | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Epistemic Islamophobia and Colonial Social Sciences


Grosfoguel, Ramon, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


This paper is about the way epistemic racism shapes contemporary discussions on Islamophobia. The first part is a discussion about epistemic racism in the world-system. The second part is on the Western male hegemonic identity politics and the fundamentalist responses to it. The third part is on epistemic Islamophobia and the social sciences.

EPISTEMIC RACISM IN THE WORLD-SYSTEM

Epistemic racism and epistemic sexism are the most hidden forms of racism and sexism in the global system we all inhabit, the "Westernized/Christianized modern/ colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system" (see Grosfoguel 2008a). Social, political, and economic racisms and sexisms are much more visible and recognized today than epistemological racism/sexism. However, epistemic racism is the foundational form and older version of racism in that the inferiority of "non-Western" people as below the human (non-humans or subhumans) is defined on their closeness to animality and the latter is defined on the basis of their inferior intelligence and, thus, lack of rationality. Epistemic racism operates through the privileging of an essentialist ("identity") politics of "Western" male elites, that is, the hegemonic tradition of thought of Western philosophy and social theory that almost never includes "Western" Women and never includes "non-Western" philosophers/philosophies and social scientists. In this tradition, the "West" is considered to be the only legitimate tradition of thought able to produce knowledge and the only one with access to "universality," "rationality" and "truth." Epistemic racism considers "non-Western" knowledge to be inferior to "Western" knowledge. Since epistemic racism is entangled with epistemic sexism, Western-centric social science is a form of epistemic racism/sexism that privilege "Western" male's knowledge as the superior knowledge in the world today.

If we take the canon of thinkers privileged within Western academic disciplines, we can observe that without exception they privilege "Western" male thinkers and theories, above all those of European and Euro-North-American males. This hegemonic essentialist "identity politics" is so powerful and so normalized--through the discourse of "objectivity" and "neutrality" of the Cartesian "ego-politics of knowledge" in the social sciences--that it hides who speaks and from which power location they speak from, such that when we think of "identity politics" we immediately assume, as if by "common sense," that we are talking about racialized minorities. In fact, without denying the existence of essentialist "identity politics" among racialized minorities, the hegemonic "identity politics"--that of Eurocentric male discourse--uses this identitarian, racist, sexist discourse to discard all critical interventions rooted in epistemologies and cosmologies coming from oppressed groups and "non-Western" traditions of thought (Maldonado-Torres 2008). The underlying myth of the Westernized academy is still the scientificist discourse of "objectivity" and "neutrality" which hides the "locus of enunciation" of the speaker, that is, who speaks and from what epistemic body-politics of knowledge and geopolitics of knowledge they speak from in the existing power relations at a world-scale. Through the myth of the "ego-politics of knowledge" (which in reality always speaks through a "Western" male body and a Eurocentric geopolitics of knowledge) critical voices coming from individuals and groups inferiorized and subalternized by this hegemonic epistemic racism and epistemic sexism are denied and discarded as particularistic. If epistemology has color--as African philosopher Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (1997) points out so well--and has gender/color--as African-American Sociologist Patricia Hills Collins (1991) has argued--then the Eurocentric epistemology that dominates the social sciences has both color and gender. The construction of the epistemology of "Western" males as superior and the rest of the world as inferior forms an inherent part of the epistemological racism/sexism which has prevailed in the world-system for more than 500 years. …

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