[How Do We Know The World Series] Thinking with and not about the Global South – Challenging Eurocentrism in Social Science Research and Teaching

by Sebastian M. Garbe

As a result of political and intellectual efforts, post- and decolonial critiques have become more and more prominent during the last decades, but to counter Eurocentrism within the Social Sciences is still a big challenge. In this contribution, I would like to share some attempts of how I have been dealing with this challenge in my own research and teaching. Both experiences share the idea to decentralize and decolonize the own local context (the city of Giessen on the one, and the European solidarity movement, on the other hand) by confronting it with the history and present of (post)colonial entanglement as well as “epistemologies of the South” (Sousa Santos 2009).

Decolonizing Giessen through post- and decolonial thinking

Since 2013 I am a Research Assistant at the Institute of Sociology at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen. As a member of the chair in General Sociology of Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, I teach undergraduate courses for BA students in the “Social Sciences”. The general aim of this course is to address and reflect on postcolonial issues and power imbalances on socio-political, cultural and epistemological levels. As part of the introductory module to sociological thinking, critiques of Eurocentrism from outside Europe are counter-posed to the orthodox canon of sociological theory, used to fill its Eurocentric gaps and contribute to decolonizing their underlying colonial epistemes.

With these courses I aim to critically engage with parts of the German cultural memory that ignore the specific German history of racism and coloniality.  This (post-)colonial amnesia is not only reproduced in German school education but also within German academic contexts and institutions. Through this amnesia, colonial history and the postcolonial present are perceived as something geographically and timely distant, which is not deemed to affect the socio-cultural positionality of white Germans. (Conrad and Randeria 2013; Zimmerer 2013) Another challenge in introducing post- and decolonial perspectives, is their level of academic abstraction combined with a problematic distance from historical and contemporary socio-cultural and political struggles (Gutiérrez Rodríguez 2016; Rivera Cuscanqui 2010). Post- and decolonial theories are thus sometimes perceived as expert knowledge and merely abstract innovations without being rooted in the everyday experiences of the students.

These two phenomena pose specific challenges for teaching post- and decolonial perspectives in German academia. Inspired by my engagement within frankfurt postkolonial[1], I chose a different approach for my seminar “Decolonizing the Social Sciences” in the winter term of 2016/2017: the historical and theoretical engagement with post- and decolonial inquiries was combined with the implementation of a postcolonial city tour by posing post- and decolonial questions to the student’s own context within Hess, Giessen and the Justus-Liebig University. Hereby the students managed to reinscribe their surroundings’ history and present within a postcolonial context. At the end of the term, the students presented their research on two occasions as part of a public and interactive city tour through Giessen as well as through a project blog. They hereby engaged not only with the local civil society, but also with local activist initiatives, such as the Initiative of Black People in Germany.

The project giessen postkolonial thus aims at localizing coloniality and racism within one’s own socio-political context, dehistoricizes the colonial as something from the past, and finally contextualizes and situates the “self” within the (post-)colonial matrix by unveiling and challenging its privileged gaze (Matz, Knake, and Garbe 2017).

Decolonizing solidarity through critical Mapuche thinking

As part of my PhD thesis I am currently investigating contemporary expressions of solidarity in Europe with the struggle of the indigenous Mapuche in Wallmapu, today’s Chile.

Solidarity movements in the Global North with socio-political struggles in the Global South have been mostly interpreted as part of transnational social movements, where certain agendas become internationalized (Keck and Sikkink 1998) or internationalist and political commitments between heterogenous groups are forged (Featherstone 2012). But theoretical tools from social movements sometimes also reproduce Eurocentric assumptions of modern social sciences (Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Boatcă, and Costa 2016; Lander 2005) about cultural difference (Bhabha 2010) or historical progression (Chakrabarty 2000). While dealing with othered social groups, like indigenous peoples, social movement theories privilege models that diffuse from the Global North to the Global South, situate agency within the West and among Westernized populations, homogenize a movement’s social composition and political ideology and miss out on the agency and influence of “Third World” actors or People of Color in general (Land 2015; Mahrouse 2014; Slobodian 2012).

These decolonial critiques of social and solidarity movements challenge to look for different ways to grasp the expressions and relations of solidarity formed in my case study. Inspired by the idea of an “ecology of knowledges” (Sousa Santos 2009:160–209), I propose to work with Mapuche social and political thinking to understand the transnational solidarity efforts with their struggle. I hereby relate to ideas of autonomy that reverberate in Mapuche history and contemporary struggles in order to understand the transnational solidarity with the Mapuche today. Ideas of autonomy not only appear constantly in the historical experience of the struggle of the Mapuche against the Spanish Crown and the Chilean state but are also discussed in contemporary critical Mapuche thinking (Antileo Baeza et al. 2015; Marimán 2012; Marimán et al. 2006; Nahuelpan Moreno et al. 2013).

In this way, I aim to understand the transnational solidarity efforts by Mapuche and non-Mapuche by departing from a specific notion of autonomy, that originates from the historical experience and contemporary critical thinking of the Mapuche by engaging with its critical, decolonial, epistemic potential.

Sebastian Garbe is a research assistant and PhD student at the faculty of social and cultural sciences at the Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen. His research interests are the relationships and connectedness of Latin America/the Caribbean and Europe, post- and decolonial theory, global history, critical epistemology with a focus on sociology and anthropology as well as social and protest movements, especially indigenous movements, internationalism and global solidarities. He is also active in the political-pedagogical project frankfurt postkolonial. Sebastian is happy to be contacted at sgar[at]sowi[dot]jlug[dot]de


Antileo Baeza, Enrique, Luis Cárcamo-Huechante, Margarita Calfío-Montalva, and Herson Huinca-Piutrin. 2015. Awükan Ka Kuxankan Zugu Wajmapu Mew – Violencias Coloniales En Wajmapu. edited by Comunidad de Historia Mapuche. Temuco: Comunidad de Historia Mapuche Ediciones.

Bhabha, Homi K. 2010. The Location of Culture. 2. London and New York: Routledge.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press.

Conrad, Sebastian, and Shalini Randeria, eds. 2013. Jenseits Des Eurozentrismus : Postkoloniale Perspektiven in Den Geschichts- Und Kulturwissenschaften. 2.,  A. Frankfurt [u.a.]: Campus-Verl.

Featherstone, D. 2012. Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism. London: Zed Books.

Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Encarnación. 2016. “Decolonizing Postcolonial Rhetoric.” Pp. 49–70 in Decolonizing European Sociology. Transdisciplinary Approaches, edited by Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Manuela Boatcă, and Sérgio Costa. London and New York: Routledge.

Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Encarnación, Manuela Boatcă, and Sérgio Costa. 2016. Decolonizing European Sociology. Transdisciplinary Approaches. 2nd ed. edited by Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Manuela Boatcă, and Sérgio Costa. London and New York: Routledge.

Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink. 1998. Activist Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Land, Clare. 2015. Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles. London: Zed Books.

Lander, Edgardo, ed. 2005. La Colonialidad Del Saber: Eurocentrismo y Ciencias Sociales. Buenos Aires: CLACSO.

Mahrouse, Gada. 2014. Conflicted Commitments – Race, Privilege, and Power in Transnational Solidarity Activism. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Marimán, José A. 2012. Autodeterminación: Ideas Políticas Mapuche En El Albor Del Siglo XIX. Santiago de Chile: LOM.

Marimán, Pablo, Sergio Caniuqueo, José Millalén, and Rodrigo Levil. 2006. ¡…Escucha, Winka…!! Cuatro Ensayos de Historia Nacional Mapuche y Un Epílogo Sobre El Futuro. Santiago de Chile: LOM.

Matz, Eugenia, Sebastian Knake, and Sebastian Garbe. 2017. “»Gibt’s Das Auch in Postkolonial?« Globales Lernen Vor Dem Hintergrund Postkolonialer Kritik”.” Pp. 91–109 in Mit Bildung die Welt verändern? Globales Lernen für eine nachhaltige Entwicklung, edited by Oliver Emde, Uwe Jakubczyk, Bernd Kappes, and Bernd Overwien. Leverkusen: Verlag Barbara Budrich.

Nahuelpan Moreno, Héctor et al. 2013. Ta Iñ Fijke Xipa Rakizuameluwün – Historia, Colonialismo y Resistencia Desde El País Mapuche. 2nd ed. edited by Comunidad de Historia Mapuche. Temuco: Comunidad de Historia Mapuche Ediciones.

Rivera Cuscanqui, Silvia. 2010. Ch’ixinakax Utxiwa: Una Re Exión Sobre Prácticas y Discursos Descolonizadores. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón.

Slobodian, Quinn. 2012. Foreign Front : Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany. Durham [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press.

Sousa Santos, Boaventura de. 2009. Una Epistemología Del Sur. Mexico City: CLACSO/Siglo XXI.

Zimmerer, Jürgen. 2013. Kein Platz an Der Sonne: Erinnerungsorte Der Deutschen Kolonialgeschichte. edited by Jürgen Zimmerer. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verl.

[1] Since 2015, within this political-pedagogical project we offer postcolonial city tours through Frankfurt and engage with other actors and collectives in debates about postcolonial continuities and memory politics in the city.

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