Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking

Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking

Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking

Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking


Local Histories/Global Designs is an extended argument about the "coloniality" of power by one of the most innovative Latin American and Latino scholars. In a shrinking world where sharp dichotomies, such as East/West and developing/developed, blur and shift, Walter Mignolo points to the inadequacy of current practices in the social sciences and area studies. He explores the crucial notion of "colonial difference" in the study of the modern colonial world and traces the emergence of an epistemic shift, which he calls "border thinking." Further, he expands the horizons of those debates already under way in postcolonial studies of Asia and Africa by dwelling in the genealogy of thoughts of South/Central America, the Caribbean, and Latino/as in the United States. His concept of "border gnosis," or sensing and knowing by dwelling in imperial/colonial borderlands, counters the tendency of occidentalist perspectives to manage, and thus limit, understanding.

In a new preface that discusses Local Histories/Global Designs as a dialogue with Hegel's Philosophy of History, Mignolo connects his argument with the unfolding of history in the first decade of the twenty-first century.



This book was published right at the edge of two centuries, in the year 2000. The main thesis advanced through it has been reinforced, since then, by the unfolding of global histories. For five hundred years, universal history was told from the perspective of one local history, that of Western civilization, an aberration, indeed, that passed for the truth. Ontology served philosophy well as it granted the Western invention of universal history the status of truth without parenthesis.

In fact, Western civilization had constructed its own history, had assumed that the history of the planet was its property too and that it was the point of arrival in an ascending history of the human species. Not only were the histories of other civilizations, coexisting with the Western one, relegated to the past of world history and to their localities, but by being placed in the past and being local they were also deprived of their own claim to universality. Western civilization managed to have the epistemic privilege of narrating its own local history and projecting it onto universal history, which in most modern terms was the global history of preexisting and, since the Renaissance, coexisting civilizations.

These were some of the concerns that motivated and sustained the argument framed in Local Histories/Global Designs. The “/” that divides and unites both terms of the title is the space of border thinking, for, from the perspective of universal history, the slash is invisible and only becomes visible when you dwell in and think from the borders. Thus, one of the strong theses of the book is that there is no modernity without coloniality and that coloniality is constitutive, and not derivative, of modernity. This is the basic condition of border thinking: the moment you realize (and accept) that your life is a life in the border, and you realize that you do not want to “become modern” because modernity hides behind the splendors of happiness, the constant logic of coloniality. For precisely this reason, border thinking that leads to decoloniality is of the essence to unveil that the system of knowledge, beliefs, expectations, dreams, and fantasies upon which the modern/colonial world was built is showing, and will continue to show, its unviability.

For the notions of truth without and truth in parenthesis (originally from Humberto Maturana) see Walter D. Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Future, Decolonial Options (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), chapter 1.

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