Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/sexism and the Four Genocides/epistemicides of the Long 16th Century

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/sexism and the Four Genocides/epistemicides of the Long 16th Century

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The work of Enrique Dussel, liberation theologian and liberation philosopher, is fundamental for anybody interested in the decolonization of knowledge and power. He has published more than 65 books. His titanic effort has been dedicated to demolish the philosophical foundations and world-historical narratives of Eurocentrism. He has not only deconstructed dominant knowledge structures but also constructed a body of work in Ethics, Political Philosophy and Political Economy that has been internationally very influential. His work embraces many fields of scholarship such as Political-Economy, World-History, and Philosophy, among others.

This article has been inspired by Dussel's critique of Cartesian philosophy and by his world-historical work on the conquest of the Americas in the long 16th century. (1) Inspired by Dussel's insights, the article adds another dimension to his many contributions by looking at the conquest of the Americas in relation to three other world-historical processes such as the Conquest of Al-Andalus, the enslavement of Africans in the Americas and the killing of millions of women burned alive in Europe accused of being witches in relation to knowledge structures. (2) As Dussel focused on the genocidal logic of the conquest, this article draws the implications of the four genocides of the 16th century to what Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2010) calls "epistemicide," that is, the extermination of knowledge and ways of knowing. The focus of this article is fundamentally on the emergence of modern/ colonial structures of knowledge as the foundational epistemology of Westernized universities and its implications for the decolonization of knowledge.

The main questions addressed are the following: How is it possible that the canon of thought in all the disciplines of the Social Sciences and Humanities in the Westernized university (Grosfoguel 2012) is based on the knowledge produced by a few men from five countries in Western Europe (Italy, France, England, Germany and the USA)? How is it possible that men from these five countries achieved such an epistemic privilege to the point that their knowledge today is considered superior over the knowledge of the rest of the world? How did they come to monopolize the authority of knowledge in the world? Why is it that what we know today as social, historical, philosophical, or Critical Theory is based on the socio-historical experience and world views of men from these five countries? When one enters any department in the Social Sciences or the Humanities, the canon of thought to be learned is fundamentally founded on theory produced by men of the five Western European countries outlined before (de Sousa Santos 2010).

However, if theory emerges from the conceptualization based on the social/historical experiences and sensibilities as well as world views of particular spaces and bodies, then social scientific theories or any theory limited to the experience and world view of only five countries in the world are, to say the least, provincial. But this provincialism is disguised under a discourse about "universality." The pretension is that the knowledge produced by men of these five countries has the magical effect of universal capacity, that is, their theories are supposed to be sufficient to explain the social/historical realities of the rest of the world. As a result, our job in the Westernized university is basically reduced to that of learning these theories born from the experience and problems of a particular region of the world (five countries in Western Europe) with its own particular time/space dimensions and "applying" them to other geographical locations even if the experience and time/space of the former are quite different from the latter. These social theories based on the social-historical experience of men of five countries constitute the foundation of the Social Sciences and the Humanities in the Westernized universities today. …

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