Border Thinking

‘Border thinking’ comes from decolonial theory. The concept was first used by Gloria Anzaldúa in her book ‘Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza’ and has subsequently been developed by decolonial thinkers, most prominently Walter Mignolo. It is based on the idea that the theoretical and the epistemic must have a lived dimension to them, and that theories already exist which sit at the very borders (if not outside of) of the colonial matrix of power. ‘Lived’ here is in the sense of the experiences of those who have been excluded from the production of knowledge by modernity. Border thinking does not happen irrespective of modernity but in response to it, as part of real life struggles against the oppressive apparatus of the colonial matrix of power. Thus, “border thinking is the epistemology of the exteriority; that is, of the outside created from the inside” (Mignolo & Tlostanova, 2006:206). The border is defined by epistemic difference and geographical distance. Mignolo and Tlostanova (2006:214) write:


“Consider, on the one hand, knowledge in the modern and imperial European languages and – on the other hand – Russian, Arabic and Mandarin. The difference here is imperial. However, they are not just different. In the modern/ colonial unconscious, they belong to different epistemic ranks. ‘Modern’ science, philosophy, and the social sciences are not grounded in Russian, Chinese and Arabic languages. That of course does not mean that there is no thinking going on or knowledge produced in Russian, Chinese and Arabic. It means, on the contrary, that in the global distribution of intellectual and scientific labour, knowledge produced in English, French or German does not need to take into account knowledge in Russian, Chinese and Arabic”


Border thinking, then, is thinking from the outside, using alternative knowledge traditions and alternative languages of expression. Examples of border thinking might include Islamic philosophical and scientific thought or First Nation epistemological traditions. Examples of the enactment of border thinking might include the Haitian revolution and the more contemporary World Social Forum. These alternative perspectives introduce other cosmologies into the hegemonic discourse of Western modernity which are not unwittingly committed to, or restrained by, it’s frame.


Essential Reading

Anzaldúa, G.E. (1999) Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, San Francisco : Aunt Lute Books

Mignolo, W. D. & Tlostanova, M. V. (2006) Theorizing from the Borders: Shifting to Geo- and Body-Politics of Knowledge. European Journal of Social Theory, 9 (2): 205–221.


Further Reading

Michaelsen, S. Shershow, C. (2007) Rethinking Border Thinking, South Atlantic Quarterly, 106(1): 39-60

Mignolo, W. (2000) Local Histories/Global Designs. Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Vázquez, R. (2011) Translation as Erasure: Thoughts on Modernity’s Epistemic Violence. Journal of Historical Sociology, 24 (1): 27–44.



How does border thinking change the way we think about the social in different contexts?

What is the relationship between border thinking and coloniality/modernity?

How might border thinking facilitate a process of decolonising social theory?

What is the relationship between border thinking and political struggle?


Submitted by Lucy Mayblin

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3 thoughts on “Transnationalism”

  • As a recent recipient of the graduate school certificate in African studies at ASU, my final drew from or focused in part on the settler narrative movement of the antebellum era. Despite the discovery of over 100 burials from this era that came to light recently, it was all treated in a quite troubing manner. Settler Colonial mentality was pervasive. It is clear, the slave labor narrative must be preserved at all cost. Local professional organizations and offices were disrespected and ignored as if the descended community did not exist. People wear the continuance of mixed relationships from this history and it is only now that they are finding their voice and their heritage in some cases. Global social theory is spot on.

  • I’m interested in colonialism,settler colonialism and decolonisation as it speaks to the original ownership of the land/country[?].
    I was interested to read ‘the tendency among some scholars of settler colonialism to treat settlement as inevitable, simultaneously relieving settler societies and states of the burden of reconciling with indigenous peoples, and placing the burden of accommodating settler sovereignty onto those same indigenous peoples'[above]
    I have been tentatively searching for references to the morality/legality of colonialisation,which could possibly have huge ramifications,and they are scarce.

  • Interesting. Could you please add Maria Lugones’s work in the further reading section please? She not only engaged with Quijano’s concept but revised it significantly to demonstrate the coloniality of gender. Thank you.

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