Aníbal Quijano was a Peruvian sociologist whose body of work contributed, in original ways, to dependency theory in the 1960s and 1970s; debates on historiography, modernity, culture, and identity in the 1980s; and decolonial theory with his articulation of the coloniality of power since the early 1990s to the present. His scholarship is, therefore, best conceptualized in three phases, all of which revolve around the broad concept of dependency which shifted from political-economic considerations to cultural and epistemological concerns.
The first phase of Quijano’s intellectual contribution to social theory is situated in the tumultuous years of the 1960s, the Cuban Revolution being the main reference point. Very few scholars in the Global North refer to Quijano’s (1966) critique and significant contribution to dependency theory during this period. His earlier work, for instance, is greatly informed by José Mariátegui, which allows him to disrupt the dichotomous and unilateral conceptualizations and political-economic analyses of center-periphery where the powerful center simply imposed itself on weaker peripheral countries.
For Quijano, this dualist conception disregarded the role the local elite played in maintaining colonial relations of power, dependency, and underdevelopment. This false dichotomy disregarded, in one instance, the collusion of the local elite in perpetuating the forces of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. It systematically made invisible the historical-structural heterogeneity of Latin America, a key concept that would later be reformulated to understand the modern/colonial world system through the coloniality of power. For Quijano, historical-structural heterogeneity is constituted by a dense fabric of social relations articulated by power. It is a social totality configured by a structural heterogeneity that points to the historical specificity of each sphere of social life. This concept, though not used frequently, is still relevant since it enables one to conceive of “social existence as a multidimensional totality composed of historically heterogeneous elements” (Quijano, 2014, p. 29), which simultaneously allows for a more complex understanding of the way Latin America and other regions in the Global South are entangled with the modern/colonial world system.
Conceiving of the historical-structural heterogeneity of power, in turn, refers to a social totality that is constantly reconfigured through conflict, both within and between societies. The successful groups in the disputes for power are able to set a certain course for social change, but they do not determine them unilaterally or without the emergence of resistance by counter-hegemonic movements.
Quijano’s (1981) advancement of dependency theory thus entails a complex conceptualization of a constantly reconfigured social totality and the historicization of social thought, namely “the search for historical specificity and the explanation of the limits of the categories used by Eurocentric thought” (p. 235). When the concept of dependency was transformed into yet another category to theorize, however, Quijano believed that it disregarded the sociology of dependency that would point to the historical-structural heterogeneity of dependency, that is, the historical particularities of colonial domination and not only abstracted political-economic analyses and theorizations. As Quijano pointed out, Cardosa and Follet (1970 ) were among the few who inquired upon the sociological saliency of dependency theory in studying the concrete articulation of political-economic and cultural dependency. The latter concept becomes much more important in Quijano’s second intellectual phase.
Culture: Modernity, State, Democracy, and Identity (1970s-1980s);
As early as the 1970s, Quijano began to shift his analytical and interpretive concerns of dependency to cultural issues related to modernity, identity, and social movements (Quijano, 1981, 1982, 1989). He argued that the privilege of structure, which was already one of the main characteristics of sociological studies focused on dependency, obtained an extreme place under structural analyses informed by Louis Althusser to the detriment of studies concerned with concrete social practices, social movements, their convergences and specific conflicts with the State.
Although Quijano had an emerging critique of Eurocentric thought between the 1960s and 1970s, it became more acute in the 1980s, namely with the publication of Sociedad and Sociology, where he describes the paradoxical consequences of French structural thought in defeating and invalidating the advances made by dependency theory. While dependency theory was able to successfully counter modernization theory, it paradoxically failed with the advancements of structural Marxism.
Structural analyses, as Quijano (1981) observed, tended to place little value on investigations centered on concrete social change. Social movements and their concrete experiences in organization and forms of action were sidelined as well as the quotidian or everyday social existence and its relations with the deep movement and re-articulation of the historical-structural heterogeneity of the region. Culture, understood as a concrete everyday practice, was also rejected. The effort to existing knowledge into an integrated theoretical representation of concrete and current social formation was eclipsed by what Quijano, along with others, referred to as Althusserianism.
Quijano (1981) begins to question whether it was historical materialism that informed radical thought in Latin America or if it was a situated materialist social theory and praxis embodied by thinkers such as José Carlos Mariátegui. He believed the former hindered social transformation for its orthodox vision of Marxism as a doctrine rather than as a historically situated praxis. According to Quijano, historical materialism led to univocal analyses/interpretations rather than an always already differentiated theoretical praxis: “Historical materialism, impregnated, to a great extent, with the same perspectives of positivist evolutionism and determinism—already questioned in structural-functionalism and its Eurocentric way of using theoretical categories, which prevented the recognition of the historical specificity of the social phenomena and their determinations in Latin America—allowed for the application of categories detached from concrete experience, used more as a classificatory and nominalist template” (Quijano, 1981, p. 232, my translation).
For Quijano, historical materialism “was really a catastrophe…for the formation of theoretical and political thought. This rampant ideology, which was absolutely useless…emptied the categories, proposals, and questions of real content” (Quijano, 1988, p. 165). It is in the late 1980s where Quijano’s analysis of modernity and Eurocentric rationality approximates what he would later conceptualize as Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality in 1991. Interesting to note here is that, once again, Quijano’s thinking is situated at a historical moment, namely the self-proclaimed end of history after the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In El estado actual de la investigación social en América Latina, published in 1988, he gestures toward the categorical imperative to advance new problematics, questions, and paradigms to understand the ongoing global transformations of the modern/colonial world. His prescient thought challenged the Eurocentric assumptions that were very much present throughout Latin American social thought: “Perhaps one of the interesting things in Latin America is that the possible emergence of a new problematic. In a way, culture begins to be de-Europeanized; all the myths of Eurocentric origin begin to disintegrate. And everything that this mythology built at the level of paradigm, of the theory of social classes and its form of knowledge, is disintegrating. What remains of it will be the founding nucleus of the problematic that emerges from now on” (Quijano, 1988, p. 169). Quijano thus points to the urgent need to challenge Eurocentric thought paradigmatically. It is this categorical imperative that, since the 1960s, enabled Quijano to challenge Eurocentric social theory.
Epistemic: Eurocentrism, Globalization, and Coloniality of Power
In Quijano’s third intellectual phase, it is important to refer not only to the commonly cited publications of Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality (1991) and Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America (2000), but also to the paper presentation he gave at the International Colloquium on Interdisciplinarity organized by UNESCO in Paris (April 1991). This paper was later published as the last chapter in the book L’Interdisciplinarité en Acte: Enjeux, Obstacles, Perspectives the following year, in which he approximates what he will conceptualize as the coloniality of power during the same year.
In this paper, he addresses the crisis of modernity in epistemological terms. Many of the arguments centred on the inextricable relationship between colonialism, modernity, and rationality are already present in this paper. In particular, he counters “the foundations of the universalist aim of Western rationality” (p. 354), arguing that modernity’s crisis also entails its cognitive model linked to relations of power and ontological or metaphysical ambition to reach universal validity. Quijano also argues for the decolonization of social, cultural, and political-economic relations and the epistemological reconstitution founded upon intercultural communication and exchange. It is the double movement of the decolonization and reconstitution of knowledge that enables Quijano to conceptualize the coloniality of power while also using his earlier critiques of Eurocentric rationality, modernity, development, and colonialism since the 1960s.
One of the complex definitions Quijano gives of coloniality, which was only recently translated by Mendieta (2020), describes coloniality as “one of the constitutive and specific elements of the global pattern of capitalist power. It is based on the imposition of a racial-ethnic classification of the world population as a cornerstone of such a pattern of power, and it operates on each of the material and subjective planes, spheres, and dimensions of quotidian existence, as well as at the social level” (p. 136). It is important to note here that from his earlier conceptualization of dependency, historical-structural heterogeneity, and social totality, Quijano is able to re-examine what he referred to as the modern/colonial world system through the powerful analytical concept of coloniality of power. Quijano (2000) conceives of the modern/colonial world system as a social totality, or better yet, a colonial matrix of power that initiated its global articulation in 1492. This matrix of domination constituted by the systematic control of labor, sex, subjectivity, and authority. These interconnected structures of domination are articulated globally by Eurocentric political, economic, social, and cultural institutions (e.g., racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, Eurocentric rationality, and liberal democracy).
Pedagogically, it is perhaps best to introduce coloniality as relational. The coloniality of power relations, coloniality of knowledge relations, coloniality of gender/sexual relations, coloniality of nature relations, coloniality of political-economic relations, and the coloniality of intersubjective relations as Quijano (2000) explicated in an article that has not been translated as of yet. Referring to these analytical concepts’ relational dimensions and varying subject positions situates them politically, that is, in fields of power and all spheres of social existence. It is not surprising, therefore, that the interdisciplinary modernity/coloniality research group heavily drew from Quijano’s work to advance the coloniality of knowledge (subjectivity at the epistemological level); coloniality of being (subjectivity at the ontological and psycho-existential level), and the coloniality of gender (subjectivity at the intersected dimensions of coloniality).
Understanding the coloniality of power as intersubjective and relational enables one to understand how it is contested by the irreducible heterogeneous realities of which Quijano discussed. It is Quijano’s preoccupation with the irreducibility of historical-structural heterogeneity and its epistemological possibilities that have allowed for the articulation of other decolonial analytics in distinct contexts. From Quijano’s historical-structural heterogeneity and historical-cultural heterogeneity observed in his first two intellectual phases, he shifted his attention toward decoloniality, a geopolitical project that aimed at defending and amplifying what can be referred to as historical-epistemological heterogeneity, that is, the multiplicity of ways of thinking, being, and relating that create the conditions of possibility for Other possible worlds to exist.
I close this entry with Quijano’s suggestions to think of decoloniality in liberational, relational, epistemological, and intercultural terms: “The liberation of intercultural relations from the prison of coloniality also implies the freedom of all peoples to choose, individually or collectively, such relations: a freedom to choose between various cultural orientations, and, above all, the freedom to produce, criticize, change, and exchange culture and society. This liberation is, part of the process of social liberation from all power organized as inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and as domination” (Quijano, 1991/2007, p. 178)
Quijano, Anibal (2007/1991) ‘Coloniality and Modernity Rationality,’ Cultural Studies, 21:2-3, 168-178,
Quijano, Anibal & Ennis, M. (2000). ‘Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America,’ Nepantla: Views from South 1(3), 533-580. https://www.muse.jhu.edu/article/23906.
Gandarilla Salgado, J. G., García-Bravo, M. H., & Benzi, D. (2021). Two Decades of Aníbal Quijano’s Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America. Contexto Internacional, 43, 199-222.
Dussel, E. (1994) The Invention of the Americas
Quijano, A. (2000). Colonialidad del poder y clasificación social. Festschrift for Immanuel Wallerstein. Journal of World-Systems Research. VI, 2, 341-385.
Quijano, A. (1993/1988). Modernity, identity, and utopia in Latin America. In The postmodernism debate in Latin America (pp. 201-216). Duke University Press.
Quijano, A., & Wallerstein, I. (1992). Americanity as a concept, or the Americas in the modern world. International social science journal, 44(4), 549-557.
Quijano, A. (1988). El estado actual de la investigación social en América Latina. Revista De Ciencias Sociales, (3-4), 155-169.
Quijano, A., & Westwell, P. (1983). Imperialism and marginality in Latin America. Latin American Perspectives, 10(2-3), 76-85.
Quijano, A. (1981). Sociedad y sociologia en América Latina (notas para una discusion)(Société et sociologie en Amérique latine. Notes pour une discussion). Revista de Ciencias Sociales (San Juan), 23(1-2), 225-249.
How did Quijano’s conceptualization of dependency change since the 1960s?
What are multiple dimensions to consider when thinking of coloniality of power?
How does the concept of historical-structural heterogeneity form part of Quijano’s conceptualization of coloniality of power?
Submitted by Jairo I. Fúnez-Flores