DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies

Spanish Translation Notes

Notes on the Concept of Decoloniality/ Descolonialidad/ De(s)Colonialidad and Its Translations between Spanish and English

According to different Latin-American authors, there are multiple ways to translate “decolonial”/“decolonization” between English and Spanish. On the one hand, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Aníbal Quijano, among others, have proposed the use of “descolonialidad/decolonización.” Walter Mignolo, Santiago Castro-Gomez, Catherine Walsh, and Ramón Grosfoguel, among others, have advocated the use of “decolonialidad/decolonización.” “De(s)colonialidad/de(s)colonización” has been used in recent years by yet other authors as a way of mediating between the two former positions. These three options are related to the use of the language in each country, the academic/activism trajectory of each author, the use of different theoretical approaches, and some geopolitical and historical issues. Here, we summarize the discussions regarding these options.

Descolonialidad / Descolonización

This is the most widely known option, and is used by authors such as Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (Bolivia) and Aníbal Quijano (Peru). It should be noted that the prefix “des” corresponds to the grammatical forms of the Spanish language, different from the prefix “de” which is an anglicism. Quijano criticized the English/French bias in the use of “decolonialidad” (without “s”). Rivera Cusicanqui, an Aymara feminist sociologist, historian, and activist, emphasizes that “there cannot be a discourse of descolonización, a theory of descolonización, without a descolonizante practice” (2010, 62), and criticizes that “neologisms such as ‘de-colonial’, ‘transmodernity’ (...) proliferate and entangle language, paralogizing their objects of study – indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples – with whom they believe they are in dialogue” (2010, 64-65). She recovered the previous notion of “internal colonialism” (per Mexican sociologist González Casanovas in 1969) and, in 1983, proposed the Andean Oral History Workshop as a practice of descolonización. The Workshop is a self-managed group that focuses on orality and identity in the Aymara region (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2010).

At the beginning of the 1990s, Quijano distinguished between “coloniality of power” and “colonialism”; the former, he argues, reflects “the imposition of racial/ethnic classification… operating in all domains… of daily existence and on a social scale” (2019, 151). For Quijano, the “coloniality of power” refers to a political dynamic that continues to be implicit in economic development projects in Latin America. To resist the “coloniality of power,” he introduced the term “Buen Vivir” to academic discourse. “Buen Vivir,” usually translated as “Good Living,” is an expression learned from Indigenous peoples of Latin America. The term was originally coined in Quechua and Aymara and refers to “an alternative social existence” (2019, 362). It is also recognized by Central American Mayan populations who seek an alternative to the crisis of existence, one that is different from capitalism (Cumes 2014, 7-9).

These authors have supported or belonged to Indigenous political movements, engaging as activists. In some countries, this activism has translated into public policies that are explicitly oriented towards “descolonización.” For instance, the Ministerio de Culturas, Descolonización y Despatriarcalización (Ministry of Cultures, Decolonization, and Depatriarchalization) was recently created in Bolivia. Female scholars, such as Rivera Cusicanqui, are also committed to women’s rights activism, encompassing ecofeminisms and practices of social transformation (Rivera Cusicanqui, 1987, 1997; Fernández Nadal, 2016).

Decolonialidad / Decolonización

The terms “decolonialidad”/”decolonización” originated in the translation from English into Spanish. This process of translation has affected the Spanish reception of works of scholars who have developed their careers in theoretical fields of the humanities from within anglophone countries. Since the early 2000s, authors such as Mignolo (Argentina-USA), Castro-Gomez (Colombia), Walsh (USA-Ecuador), and Grosfoguel (Puerto Rico-USA) have followed the principles of anglophone humanities (a specific epistemic culture). They focus on theoretical fields and do not tend to draw on ethnographic experience. For these authors, “descolonial” refers to the political independence of the ex-colonies and “decolonial” to a broader effort to re-think the structures left behind by colonisation. Mignolo (2009), himself, addresses loci of enunciation to explain why the place and academic discourse in which scholars are situated shapes the way knowledge is generated and written about. This meaning is discussed by speakers in ICTM Dialogues Session 14, when they quote Castro-Gomez & Grosfoguel, as follows.

One fundamental implication of the notion of the ‘coloniality of power’ is that the world has not been fully decolonized [descolonizado]. The first descolonización (initiated in the nineteenth century by the Spanish colonies and followed in the XX century by British and French colonies) was incomplete, since the legal-political independence of the peripheries was limited. Instead, the second descolonización – to which we refer with the category of decolonialidad – would have to address the heterarchy of the multiple racial, ethnical, sexual, epistemic, economic, and gendered relations that the first descolonización left untouched. As a result, the XXI century world needs a decolonialidad which complements the descolonización carried out in the XIX and XX centuries. Contrary to that descolonización, decolonialidad is a process of long-term resignifications that cannot be reduced to a legal-political event (Castro-Gomez & Grosfoguel, 2007, 17).

De(s)colonialidad / Des(s)colonización

This option has been used in recent years by authors such as Mignolo (2019) and Losacco (2020), as a way of mediating between the two previous positions. For example, in a recent Spanish-language publication in tribute to Aníbal Quijano, Mignolo states:

I write ‘de(s)colonialidad’ because ‘descolonialidad’ was how Aníbal spelled the word, since we are also used to say ‘decolonialidad’ without the ‘s’. Aníbal preferred descolonialidad, because the prefix ‘des’ corresponds to the grammar of the [Spanish] language, while decolonialidad was, in his opinion, a deviation or anglicism from the English (decoloniality) or the French (decolonialité). (2019, 11)

Coming from anglophone scholarship but working in Ecuador, Walsh also emphasized the usage of (s) to settle a dialogue between “des” and “de”coloniality:

To eliminate the “s” is my own decision. It is not to promote an anglicism. On the contrary, this decision pretends to mark a distinction with the meaning of the Spanish “des” and how it might be understood as to disarm, undo or revert the colonial. In other words, it could mean that it is possible to go through a colonial period into a non-colonial moment, as if the patterns and footprints stopped existing. With this lingüistic game, I aim to disclose that such a null state of coloniality doesn’t exist, but postures, positionings, horizons and projects of resistance, transgression, intervention, resurgence, creativity and incidence. Thus the decolonial denotes a path of constant struggle in which it is possible to identify, visibilize and encourage places of exteriority and alter-(n)ative constructions. (2013, 3)

In conclusion, the translation of these key concepts that have been built in between different languages/regions/politics involves important theoretical and geopolitical issues. The authors and presenters of ICTM Dialogues sessions have chosen their own options for presenting their reflections and practices, according to different biases related to each term and its meanings. The current, brief epistemological contribution is intended to build a more pluri-versal knowledge (instead of uni-versal) through di-verse translations.


Castro-Gómez, Santiago and Ramón Grosfoguel. 2007. “Giro decolonial, teoría crítica y pensamiento heterárquico” [Decolonial Turn, Critical Theory and Heterarchical Thinking]. In El giro decolonial: reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global [The Decolonial Turn: Reflections for an Epistemological Diversity Beyond Global Capitalism], edited by Santiago Castro-Gómez and Ramon Grosfoguel. Siglo del Hombre Editores; Universidad Central, Instituto de Estudios Sociales Contemporáneos y Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Instituto Pensar.
Cumes, Aura. 2014. “Prólogo” [Prologue]. El Utzlläj K’aslemal, el Raxnaquil K’aslemal: ‘EI Buen Vivir’ de los Pueblos de Guatemala [The Utzlläj K’aslemal, the Raxnaquil K’aslemal: The ‘Good Living’ of the Guatemalan Peoples], edited by In Confluencia Nuevo B’aqtun. Cooperación Vasca/Instituto HEGOA.
Fernández Nadal, Estela. 2016. “La filosofía en el mundo actual: Pensadoras latinoamericanas. Aproximaciones a las filosofías críticas de Ivone Gebara, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui y Francesca Gargallo” [Philosophy in the Contemporary World: Female Latin American Thinkers. Movements towards Ivone Gebara, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, and Francesca Gargallo’s Critical Philosophy]. Realidad: Revista de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades (148): 149–167. https://doi.org/10.5377/realidad.v0i148.4594.
Mignolo, Walter. 2019. “La descolonialidad del vivir y del pensar: Desprendimiento, reconstitución epistemológica y horizonte histórico de sentido [The Decoloniality of Living and Thinking: Detachment, Epistemological Reconstitution and Historical Horizon of Meaning].” In Ensayos en torno a la colonialidad del poder [Essays on the Coloniality of Power], edited by Aníbal Quijano, 11-46. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo.
Mignolo, Walter. 2009. “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom.” Theory, Culture & Society 26 (7–8): 159–81.
Quijano, Aníbal. 2019. Ensayos en torno a la colonialidad del poder [Essays on the Coloniality of Power]. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. 1987. “El potencial epistemológico y teórico de la historia oral: de la lógica instrumental a la descolonización de la historia” [The Epistemological and Theoretical Potential of Oral History: From Instrumental Logic to the Decolonization of History]. Temas Sociales 11 49-64. IDIS/UMSA.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. 1997. La noción de “derecho” o las paradojas de la modernidad postcolonial: indígenas y mujeres en Bolivia [The Notion of “Right” or the Paradoxes of Postcolonial Modernity: Indigenous Peoples and Women in Bolivia]. Temas Sociales 19 27-52. http://www.scielo.org.bo/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0040-29151997000100002&lng=es&tlng=es.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. 2010. Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: una reflexión sobre prácticas y discursos descolonizadores[Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: A reflecion on Decolonial Practices and Discourses]. Tinta Limón.
Walsh, Catherine. 2013. Lo pedagógico y lo decolonial: Entretejiendo caminos. [The Pedagogical and the Decolonial: Interweaving Paths]. Quito: Abya Yala.
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