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Discourses Analysis by a Decolonial Perspective

In the last years in Latin America, the decolonial perspective has been growing up to analyze discourses in qualitative research. This theoretical, methodological, and epistemological way to deconstruction has done an interesting way to analyze social topics. Some authors like Dussel, Quijano, etc. have done the bases about this decolonial regard, which provides Latin American researchers a way to analyze social problems taking the North Global theories but also increasing them with our decolonial perspective. We call it the South Global regard. It is not only to know that the classifications and qualifications of the north global reproduce the inequalities in the material life, but also the theoretical and epistemological way to analyze it. The decolonial theory, used also to analyze discourses, gives the possibility to understand people’s feelings, emotions, and sensations; meanwhile, words are given in the speeches, interviews, participating observation, focus group, etc.

Keywords: qualitative research, discourses, decoloniality

1. Introduction

This chapter gives an account of one of the perspectives framed in the Latin American critical theory around the processes of research: decolonial perspective. This theory, emerged at the end of the last century, has been generating more and more theoretical-methodological, ethical-political, and epistemological inputs, which have allowed to address reality in a social-historical framework from the Global South. The concepts of Global North and the Global South refer, more than to territorial delimitations around the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere of the globe, to epistemic demarcations in the production of knowledge of societies that have been colonizing or colonized and the power that this provides in the apprehension of knowledge and deconstruction of reality particularized and mediated by it. This epistemic break enhances the recognition of reality from a perspective that deconstructs the coloniality/modernity of the Global North, which has been internalized as absolute truth.

The logic of the exposition goes to the presentation of decoloniality as a theoretical-methodological approach to carry out the analysis of discourses and, substantially, to analyze them reflexively from a perspective that breaks the instituted and normative of the heterogeneity of the “should be.” In this way, this decolonial turn is presented in his short history, to later reflect on the power that it has in the analysis of discourses.

2. Becoming of the modernity/coloniality group

In the mid-90s of the last century, various Latin American authors of social and human sciences began to meet in university spaces, such as Enrique Dussel, Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Ramón Grosfoguel, Nelson Maldonado, and several others. These spaces would come to be the so-called Modernity/Coloniality Group. This generated the power of a collective feed through the analysis of reality from the particularities of a Global South colonized on the plane of being and thinking by a Global North in constant expansion.

For the presentation of this shallow development, the publication of Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel [1] is taken as the main source.

In 1996, the Peruvian sociologist, Aníbal Quijano, worked at the State University of New York (SUNY), in Binghamton, with Immanuel Wallerstein, who at the time was the director of the Ferdinand Braudel Center in Paris. Both authors were recognized in the international sphere since the 70s for their productions around the Theory of Dependence and System-World Analysis. By this time, Quijano participated in the seminars organized by the “Coloniality Working Group”, directed by Kelvin Santiago, in which the Puerto Rican Grosfoguel also participated. Afro-Caribbean thinker Sylvia Wynters was also a part of that group, well-known in the United States for her work on colonial heritages.

In 1998, Edgardo Lander, a sociologist based in Venezuela, organized an event in Caracas, where Mignolo, Escobar, Quijano, Dussel, and Coronil were invited. From that event came one of the most important books produced by the group: “The coloniality of knowledge: Eurocentrism and social sciences”, published in Buenos Aires in 2000. Also in that year, Grosfoguel and Quijano organized in Binghamton the international congress “Transmodernity, historical capitalism, and coloniality: a post-disciplinary dialogue”, where Quijano, Wallerstein, and the Argentinians philosopher Enrique Dussel and semiologist Walter Mignolo participated. It was at this congress that Dussel, Quijano, and Mignolo met for the first time to discuss their approach to colonial legacies in Latin America, in dialog with Wallerstein’s world-system analysis. Dussel was known in Latin America for being one of the founders of the Philosophy of Liberation in the 70s, while Mignolo was beginning to be recognized in the growing circle of postcolonial studies as a result of his book “The Darker Side of the Renaissance.”

In 1999, the Binghamton group organized the event “History Sites of Colonial Disciplinary Practices: The Nation-State, the Bourgeois Family and the Enterprise”, where the dialog with the postcolonial theories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America was opened. In this event, Vandana Swami, Chandra Mohanty, Zine Magubane, Sylvia Winters, Walter Mignolo, Anibal Quijano, and the Venezuelan anthropologist Fernando Coronil participated. On the other hand, Oscar Guardiola and Santiago Castro-Gómez organized, with the support of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, the International Symposium “The restructuring of the social sciences in the Andean countries.” Argentinean semiologist, Zulma Palermo, and German Romanist, Freya Schiwy, also joined. This event served as a catalyst for everything that had been happening in the other nodes of the network. From this activity, an academic cooperation agreement was signed between the Javeriana University of Bogotá, the Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and the Andean Simón Bolívar University of Quito to organize activities and publications on the subject of the geopolitics of knowledge and coloniality of power. From these spaces arise two books that will be the first publications of the group: “Think (in) the interstices, Theory and practice of postcolonial criticism” (1999) and “The restructuring of social sciences in Latin America” (2000).

For the beginning of the present millennium, the confluence of the System-World Analysis and the Latin American Theories on Coloniality were directed toward the production of knowledge of a new way of being and thinking. In the year 2000, Grosfoguel organized in Boston the conference corresponding to the 24th edition of the PEWS “Political Economy of the World-System,” inviting the Colombian philosophers Santiago Castro-Gómez and Oscar Guardiola Rivera, of the Thinking Institute of the Javeriana University. At that time, a new node of the network in Colombia was also being formed, based on the activity generated by Santiago Castro-Gómez at the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies Pensar.

In 2001, a first group meeting was organized, where the progress made from the different spaces that were working on the theme was discussed. The event meeting was organized by Walter Mignolo at Duke University under the name “Knowledge and the Known”, which was also joined by the Bolivian cultural theorist Javier Sanjinés and the American linguist Catherine Walsh, professor at the Andean University Simón Bolívar.

In 2002, the second meeting of this group was held in Quito, by Catherine Walsh. Here, a dialog was established with indigenous and Afro-American intellectuals from Ecuador. This meeting produced the book “Indisciplinary Social Sciences. Geopolitics of knowledge and coloniality of power,” edited by Catherine Walsh, Freya Schiwy, and Santiago Castro-Gómez.

In 2003, the third meeting of the group was held at the University of California (Berkeley), this time organized by Grosfoguel and Saldívar. In that moment, the Puerto Rican philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres joined the group. The result of this meeting was the book “Unsettling Postcoloniality: Coloniality, Transmodernity and Border Thinking,” published in 2007.

In 2004, the fourth meeting of the group “Modernity/Coloniality” was organized by Grosfoquel, Maldonado-Torres, and Saldívar in the University of California. The main topic was the decolonization of the American empire in the twenty-first century. In this instance, the group begins a dialog with the Afro-Caribbean philosopher, Lewis Gordon, (president of the Caribbean Philosophy Association) and the Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos [6], one of the most important organizers and theoreticians of the World Social Forum. The book “Latins in the World System: Decolonization Struggles in the 21st Century US Empire” (published in 2005), and the volume edited by Ramón Grosfoguel in an academic journal directed by Immanuel Wallerstein, entitled “From Postcolonial Studies to Decolonial Studies”. In the same year, a few months later, the fifth meeting of the group was held by Escobar and Mignolo under the name “Critical theory and decoloniality.” The publication “Globalization and Decolonial Thinking” arises.

In 2005, the sixth meeting of the group was held in Berkeley, called “Mapping the Decolonial Turn”, by Maldonado-Torres, and coordinated together with Grosfoguel and Saldívar. It counted with the participation of members of the Caribbean Philosophical Association and a group of Latin American, African-American, and Chicano intellectuals.

In 2006, the seventh meeting was held in Quito, organized by Catherine Walsh.

In the following decade, the Modernity/Coloniality Group continued to produce knowledge about the epistemic turn of the Global South, generating the most diverse accessions and critical reproductions of this analytical-reflective proposal of social reality.

3. The conceptual/theoretical framework: the decolonial turn and the discourses analysis

3.1. The decolonial turn

This new matrix of analysis distanced itself from postcolonial studies of the time, which had emerged from French poststructuralism instead of “the dense history of decolonial planetary thought”1 (Mignolo in [1], p. 27). In these postcolonial studies, the concept of “truth” (aletheia), widely discussed, analyzed, formulated, and reformulated by the theorists of the Global North, continued to appear from a colonial totality, there being no space for “the traces of the colonial wound from which it weaves decolonial thinking. Gates that lead to another type of truth whose foundation is not the Being, but the coloniality of the Being, the colonial wound” (p. 29). The postcolonial postures ended up reproducing with their positions the same logics of location of an “outside” (barbarian) and an “inside” (civilized) own of the Global North. This continued to classify and qualify subjects according to their social and global space of origin, so it was more of a “chronicle of an announced death” than of the possibilities of projecting themselves singularly and collectively of those who were born and lived in the Global South.

In contrast, the called “decolonial turn” proposed since the beginning “the openness and freedom of thought and ways of life-other (economies-other, political-other-theories); the cleanliness of the coloniality of being and knowledge; the detachment of the rhetoric of modernity and its imperial imaginary “ (Mignolo in [1], p. 30). Its reason for being was the colonial matrix of power, and in its deconstruction, the decoloniality of power. This begins to recognize that coloniality was (and it is) one of the substantial forms for the global logics of distribution of power in the capitalism of modernity, where “all social-historical phenomenon consists of and/or expresses a relationship social network or a mesh of social relationships” in a field of relationships that transcends it (Quijano in [1], p. 103). Here is the concept of social-historical totality. From this perspective, modernity is understood in decolonial terms:

…with America (Latin) capitalism becomes global, Eurocentric and coloniality, and modernity are installed, until today, as the constitutive axes of this specific pattern of power. In the course of the deployment of these characteristics of current power, the new social identities of coloniality (Indians, blacks, olives, yellows, whites, mestizos) and the geoculturals of colonialism (America, Africa, the Far East, the Near East, The West and Europe) were configuring. The corresponding intersubjective relationships, in which the experiences of colonialism and coloniality were merged with the needs of capitalism, were configured as a new universe of intersubjective relations of domination under the eurocentric hegemony. That specific universe is what will later be called modernity. (…). This way of knowledge was, by its nature and by its Eurocentric origin, called rational; it was imposed and admitted into the whole capitalist world as the only valid rationality and as an emblem of modernity.”
(Quijano in [1], p. 94)

In this sense, Mignolo ([1]) suggests that conceptualizing coloniality as constitutive of modernity implies positioning itself from a decolonial perspective. Modernity, in its phenomenal2 discursive anchoring of the rhetoric of salvation and progress, does not offer greater margins of objectification before the ideological components that make it up, nor concretions in an asphyxiating global capitalism for most of the people. The various forms that today are added to the expression of the “social question”3 are hardly understood within the framework of coloniality “hidden under the rhetoric of modernity” (p. 26), and in its systematic and naturalized reproductions of a unique truth of the rationality of modernity.

As stated by Maldonado [2], the decolonial attitude provides the basis for what he calls decolonial reason. These (attitude and reason) are substantial in this “decolonial turn.”

The de-colonial turn refers rather, first, to the perception that modern forms of power have produced and hidden the creation of technologies of death that differentially affect different communities and people. This also refers to the recognition that colonial forms of power are multiple, and that both the knowledge and the lived experience of people that have been most marked by the project of modern death and dehumanization are highly relevant to understand the modern forms of power and to provide alternatives to them. (…). A third element of the des-colonial turn is a differentiation between idea and feeling on the one hand, and the decolonization project on the other.

It is considered that recognizing the social framework in which the people (singular and collective subjects) unfold in a universality that accounts for a historical-social totality enables one to think about their particular and singular realities beyond the phenomenal. Further, Quijano (In [1]) raises its decolonial court also through its distance from the Hegelian totality; personally, it is understood that the analysis that this author makes at this specific point may have other reflective edges. A social-historical totality is thus proposed in the dialectic of the universal-particular-singular for the understanding of the singular and collective reality of people within the framework of specific and generic territorial contexts mediated by ideological logics that transcend their daily lives. Hence, the objectification process that is achieved through research is key to the materialization of what the knowledge apprehended generates for this analysis of reality.

This decolonial perspective gives power to the social and human sciences of today, since it allows thinking and producing knowledge about the long-term processes that cross-section people in the disputes over the “control of the basic areas of social existence and from whose results a pattern of power distribution centered on relations of exploitation /domination/conflict between the population of a society and in a given history is configured” (Quijano in [1], p. 114). This allows thinking and rethinking reality transcending the “unique thought” of coloniality/modernity.

Taking the theoretical-methodological, ethical-political, and epistemological foundations of decoloniality, it is presented below what the analysis of discourses from decoloniality would be, in the overcoming of master-slave relations in a historical-social framework that contains both (who investigates as who is the subject of the investigation).

3.2. The discourses analysis

The awakening of the Global South before the internalized ideologies of the Global North was a fundamental point to generate new ways of understanding reality, and to investigate and intervene in it. These forms of apprehension of reality are far from the concretions of capitalism in the daily people and communities lives.

How to investigate from a decolonial perspective when what is demanded in the academy is clearly the opposite? How to overcome colonial logics that generate gaps between “us” and “others” so that it is possible to objectify oneself in the historical-social totality? It is believed that the social and human sciences of today are conditioned by a context of exercise and power logic of big capital (colonial/modern), and it should not throw away the objectification that is achieved from the delimitation of the research object from theoretical-methodological, ethical-political, and epistemological frameworks “others.” That exercise is learned, strengthened, and expanded (or constrained) from the “think” spaces of the academy.

Research from a decolonial perspective enables to generate knowledge and provides tools to achieve real processes of objectification in the subject-subject relationship. This is considered substantial since the colonial forms of power in modernity have been in charge of “dividing the world between hierarchies of lordship and different forms of slavery based, no longer on ethnic or religious differences, but more properly on presumed natural differences, this is, anchored in the very corporality of subjects considered as not entirely human” ([2], p. 65). It is a struggle against the required forgetfulness of people relegated to non-existence in this modern/ colonial and global world, in a relationship identified as master and slave: “The turn-decolonial refers to the moment when the suspicion of the slave remains ratified and alters the consciousness of the slave in a global way. To the reason of the colonizer invested with lies, is opposed in this case a des-colonizadora reason (reason des-colonial) that is opposed to the lie and modern/colonial hypocrisy.” ([2], p. 70). It is considered that the production of knowledge from the decolonial perspective allows: on the one hand, to transcend the phenomenal and generate analytical-reflexive detours necessary for the analysis of reality; and, on the other, to find the substance of the problems in a round trip with the “others.” Thus, the power of the decolonial perspective as a theoretical-methodological framework enables us to work with people in their various concretions to overcome relations of inequality, classifications, and power logics of colonial modernity. Who investigates from the Global South must have the clarity that is before a modernity/coloniality metamorphosed discursively in concepts (like rights and citizenship) that continues reproducing the logics of power of always.

Based on what has been raised about decoloniality, the relationship between the researcher and who is the subject of the research changes epistemic and methodological substance, giving rise to the potential to generate analytical tools that account for this substance. In this context, the analysis of the discourses comes to contain a strong implication in the reflection on what was said and not said, how it was said and the sensations and perceptions that mediate the people, who are raising their experiences, their pains, their joys, their expectations, etc. In this way, the breakthroughs that this decolonial perspective generates in the analysis of discourses for the social and human sciences are presented:

  • Relationships comprised in decolonial power logics (based on subject-subject relations and joint processes of objectification) that overcome the colonial (diverse and metamorphosed reproductions of inequalities).
  • Recognition of a historical-social totality as a field of research, where the overcoming of the logic of modernity/coloniality anticipates the knowledge.
  • Ethical exercise in research processes that generate knowledge from both: the subjects who investigate and the subjects of research.
  • To know part of a societal framework that contains and expands singular and collective pains of hegemonic logics of big capital, which violent symbolically and/or literally, and that only in the encounter in and with the others there is the power for change it.

These aspects generate the possibility of intersubjective relationship between the researcher and who is the subject of the research, analyzing the discourses not only from the spoken word, but incorporating sensations, perceptions, emotions, etc. framed in a social-historical context. Recognizing parts of a network that produces and reproduces the logic of modernity allows us to analyze these discourses by grounding the belief of an absolute truth (aletheia), and relocating them in collective historical processes of social pains generated by the imposed coloniality.

In this sense, it is imperative to distance oneself from the internalized colonialities imposed by a “unique” scientific knowledge from the Global North for the analysis of a dissimilar societal framework such as that of the societies of decoloniality. As Zimmermann says, with this decolonial turn, they are enabled and share “arguments about scientific knowledge, freed from Western modern rhetoric, that is, from science or knowledge subject to norms and formalities, giving voice to other covert cultural interpretations, colonized and discredited as primitive or mystical, by modern rationality” ([3], p. 3). The discourses and their analyses are generated and interpreted based on the recognition embodied in each of the colonized subjects of the Global South, focusing on certain aspects and leaving aside dissimilar ones from the logic of power and analysis of colonial modernity. It is committed to the “ideological and socio-cultural positioning, which supposes an ethical attitude of respect to man in all his cultural expressions, of care of the values that improve him, and opposed to the global social injustice that corresponds to a global cognitive injustice” ([3], p. 3). Value and meaning are given to “other” issues that are not registered from coloniality because they focus on their modern “truths.”

In this framework, the language becomes a core substance in this analytical logic, since it enables to reconstruct the social and cultural reality of the subjects through the meaning given in the interaction generated by one and another subject of the enunciation: “the language builds social reality, interacts with culture, and produces with writing and reading how we see, understand and value the world, subjects and their relationships” ([3], p. 4). With language, reality is created, which accounts for the societal framework of the moment as a synthesis of the social-historical totality that is singled out in the communication processes displayed by the subjects in discursivity. Throughout this process, subjectivity becomes a constitutive part, and therefore, the analysis of discourses that is mediated by decoloniality enables us to recognize subjects in their space, historical time, becoming, taking into account that from the epistemological point of view, a break with the colonial logics of the speeches and their interpretations. The questions imposed by the rationality of modernity/coloniality are no longer a substance of analysis, but the focus will be placed on the subject framed in its singular and collective history, where the analytical categories do not reflect the absolutes of the modern “truth.”

From decoloniality, language is substantial in the framework of the social historical totality that accounts for its materialization, as well as grammatical reflection, which “returns to the first meanings to understand the ideological content of discourse, although processes and structures, evaluations or social roles are only legible if we attend to a deep or crypto-typical level of pattern formation where these structures are installed” ([3], p. 5). Thus, the analysis of discourses from the decolonial view recognizes human diversity as inexhaustible, so that the epistemology mediated by its analysis is self-referential and procedural, that is, constantly questioning and distancing itself from conceptual and political instruments that do not lead to a rhetoric of the discursive interpellated by language and writing. This is possible by taking distance from the absolute truths of modernity/coloniality, where modes of thinking and acting are homogeneous. The Global South is committed to an analysis of discourses from a decoloniality, where the subject who investigates and the subject of research work together for an exploration of internal and counter-hegemonic plurality.

Likewise, the concretion of the language displayed in the speeches is expressed through writing, which also contains ideological components that cross it out, since “it brings the language to consciousness, makes it possible to structure, categorize and discipline, through two critical properties of grammar: nominalization and grammatical metaphor” ([3], p. 6). The grammatical terms require to be deconstructed in an ideological process that contains and expands them, which is present in the way of expressing and understanding the discourses.

In this way, both the subject who investigates and the subject of the investigation pass through the encounter of the discursive in an imprint that must be located in the social historical totality, on the one hand, and in the singularized concretions that give substance to reality. The way in which this is expressed in the writing is preoccupied with ideological components that the researcher must retrace to avoid falling into false ethnocentrisms typical of colonial modernity. Through the analysis and exposure of economies “others,” subjects “others,” ideologies “others,” a process of discourse analysis is formed from the decoloniality of power and knowledge, with a view to meeting both the subject (singular or collective) as with the object in the process of delimitation.

In synthesis, the proposed decolonial turn as a theoretical-methodological and epistemological frame of reference for the analysis of discourses leads to “other” encounters between subjects that, on the one hand, on the plane of being reproduce in everyday life ways of being, being, feel and think proper to decoloniality, and, on the other hand, on the plane of thinking, enables the epistemic break with the colonialities imposed ideologically, culturally, and symbolically. From the decoloniality of discourses, in the comprehension of their boundless heterogeneity, analytic-reflexive detours are generated, where language is a substantial point as a construction of reality.

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