Decolonial Reading Circle on Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui

The session started with a brief introduction to the work of Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui by José Francisco Bustillo. He explained that:

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s work is ever-relevant to understanding indigenous struggles in Latin-America, particularly in Bolivia. She studied Sociology in La Paz, Bolivia and then completed anthropological graduate studies. She has been linked to the Katarista Movement in Bolivia and has been influenced by other bolivian authors such as Fausto Reinaga and Rene Zavaleta Mercado. One of her first major research-work is called “Oppressed, but not defeated: Peasant Struggles among the Aymara and Qhechwa in Bolivia, 1900-1980”; in which she introduces the notion of Ayllu as a basic organizational and socioeconomic unit of Andean Culture. Cusicanqui identifies herself as a mestiza Aymara woman who fervently vindicates her Indigenous Aymara side, and throughout that vindication she exerts the importance of recovering and preserving one’s identity. Among some of her other anti-colonial conceptions and categories are: Utopian thinking, Anticipatory Consciousness (in a dialogue with Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin) -particularly with Bloch’s work known as the Principle of Hope-; Sociology of the image (influenced by the Guaman Poma’s work) and Oral Tradition in indigenous societies. Finally, she has elaborated upon the notion of a Chi’xi Utopia which vindicates the mestizo as something contraposed, two elements that from afar seem one single thing, but when approached closely, they are conceived as two separate elements, furthermore, she explains that this contraposition is a dialectical energy that can be used to conceive new ways of thinking ourselves, our societies, and our paradigms.

After concluding the introduction, one of the participants presented a very complex question in the light of the Chi’xi category “What exactly am I?”, referring to whether she is a mestiza, or something else; or even, based on these ideas, is she Chi’xi? These questions -she argued- reflect how the Eurocentric categories that try to make us fit into binary compositions, easily collapse when trying to describe a person, or group of persons that are not conceived within their perceptions and knowledges. She further argued, that other elements that go beyond the scope of Eurocentric categories are the concepts of time, since in the indigenous cosmovision, time is thought of in terms of a circular inversion: past and future in the present. This is not something easily comprehended, since we have interiorized that internal colonialism that does not enable us to conceive time from other perspectives. Finally, she argued that geographical borders have become an imposition, given that before the European colonial expansion, borders in many places of the world did not exist, and thus, were imposed as a fragmentizing logic. Another participant expressed that within the “sociology of their own ignorance”, she managed to see throughout Silvia’s work how in this conception of indigenous epistemologies the old oppressed become the new oppressors, and the category of  Chi’xi Utopia enable us to see this, furthermore, to overcome this tension by understanding that we are composed beings that have different elements within ourselves. She argued that many times decoloniality is perceived (by different authors and thinkers) as a vertical deconstruction of power relations and epistemologies, and the horizontal day-to-day element is undermined. Moreover, she argued that Silvia’s dialogue with Marxists such as Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin is very important to understand her vision and thought, furthermore, Marxism at the margins is pivotal to understand decoloniality. She concluded saying that post-colonial and decolonial approaches are a new methodological framework and should be further studied and taken seriously to understand our realities (and change them). Following these comments, Dr. Sayan Dey explained how he could see reflected many of the ideas of Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui in his own reality in the context of India. First, he argued that visual portrayal of sociology is important to decolonize the day-to-day, and that you could tell much more through illustrations and images about the struggles and problems of different groups and individuals, than just by writing about them (that has been the case in India, where he pointed out different examples). Moreover, the visual impact of art makes engaging in decoloniality more effective because you start to perceive your reality and identity in a different fashion. Finally, he argued how (in India) conflicts that have arisen due to geographical borders are a consequence of the colonial heritage/imposition. Many times, and in different struggles throughout India old and new borders that have been imposed throughout the colonial domination, and after the colonial domination (specially within struggles for independence) have caused traumas and severe damage to entire populations, and families (such as in the case of his own family). This can showcase the devastating effects of coloniality. Finally, he concluded that decoloniality is all about not negating/being optional, and that you can find this element within Silvia’s work. Then, Simon Eten examined some complex and interesting issues, such as how internal colonialism is a form of intellectual domination from the North over the South (understood in terms of a subjective position). He argued that in Ghana internal colonialism somehow finds expression in the ethnic relations between majority ethnic groups on the one hand and the minority ones on the other and plays out in the country’s education system where the cultural expressions of the dominant groups are more visible than those of the minority ethnic groups in school curricula and ethos. Finally, another participant, exerted important questions regarding decoloniality and decolonization. “What is the difference between the two of them?”, should decolonization be understood in terms of political independence, and decoloniality in terms of a struggle to interrupt dominating structures that were left intact after the end of colonial administrations.

The session concluded by highlighting the importance and contribution of Silvia’s work to decolonial and anti-colonial struggles, and how it provides a different approach on decolonial studies (to understand decoloniality in terms of a day-to-day struggles).