Sociology of Absences

The ‘sociology of absences’, developed by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, refers both to the general silences around particular experiences and the way in which these silences are actively created through particular processes. It enables an address of what is marginalised, suppressed, and of what has not been allowed to exist in the first place. It focuses on the processes that obstruct connections to be made between different struggles and knowledges to demonstrate how the ‘incompleteness’ and ‘inadequacy’ of counter-hegemonic forms is produced. Santos suggest that hegemonic globalisation overlays an understanding of the global upon the world that denies and erases local differences. In contrast, ‘the universal and the global constructed by the sociology of absences, far from denying or eliminating the particular and the local, rather encourages them to envision what is beyond them’ (2001: 191). In other words, the sociology of absences argues for understandings of the global to be created through the non-linear accretion of local engagements.


Essential Reading:

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa 2001. ‘Nuestra America: Reinventing a Subaltern Paradigm of Recognition and Redistribution,’ Theory, Culture & Society 18 (2-3): 185-217.


Further Readings:

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa 2006. ‘Globalizations,’ Theory, Culture & Society 23 (2-3): 393-399

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (ed.) 2007. Another Knowledge is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies. London: Verso.



What are the key features of a ‘sociology of absences’?

What is the role of ‘silence’ and ‘silencing’ that is being highlighted within Santos’s ‘sociology of absences’?

How can the problems identified by a ‘sociology of absences’ be addressed?

Discuss the challenges and limitations posed by this understanding.


Submitted by Gurminder K Bhambra

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