Commissioned Book Review: Boaventura de Sousa Santos and Maria Paula Meneses, Knowledges Born in the Struggle: Constructing the Epistemologies of the Global South

Date01 August 2021
AuthorTaylor Borowetz
Publication Date01 August 2021
SubjectCommissioned Book Reviews
Political Studies Review
2021, Vol. 19(3) NP11 –NP12
Commissioned Book Review
963785PSW0010.1177/1478929920963785Political Studies ReviewCommissioned Book Review
Commissioned Book Review
Knowledges Born in the Struggle:
Constructing the Epistemologies of the
Global South by Boaventura de Sousa
Santos and Maria Paula Meneses. New
York: Routledge, 2019. 298 pp., £29.99
(paperback), ISBN 9780429344596.
Knowledges Born in the Struggle: Constructing
the Epistemologies of the Global South, edited by
Boaventura de Sousa Santos and Maria Paula
Meneses, is a wide, multifaceted collection of
modes of knowing and modes of b eing, of
voice s delibe rately silenced by Eurocentric epis-
temological hegemony at the behest of capitalism,
colonialism, and patriarchy. The collection chal-
lenges this abyssal exclusion, or: ‘[. . .] the cate-
gorization of the Other and the Other’s knowledges
as local and/or inferior’, (de Sousa Santos and
Meneses, 2020: xviii-xix). This book is the second
in a series following Epistemologies of the South:
Justice Against Epistemicide, which Santos also
The central project is immediately clear:
building the framework to allow the epistemo-
logical South to flourish. These knowledges,
forged in struggles against modern forms of
domination, hold the key to re-imagining social
emancipation. Santos and Meneses call for
cognitive justice as a necessary condition for
social justice, which is to be achieved through
ecologies of knowledge and intercultural
translation. Following chapters build on these
conceptualizations, with authors re-interpret-
ing them in the contexts of their own work. For
example, Gurminder Bhambra brings the con-
cept of the abyssal line into her formulation
of connected sociologies, and Arturo Escoba r
considers political ontology and territoriality
through the relational knowledges of the
Andean Yurumanguí. It becomes clear that each
chapter is more than just a visible manifesta-
tion of another way of knowing, more than
the seed of a new epistemological tradition.
They are the fertile ground itself; the project is
‘an alternative thinking of alternatives’ (de
Sousa Santos and Meneses, 2020: xv).
Knowledges Born in the Struggle sits in
superposition between critical reflections on
ontology and epistemology, sensitive to both
being and knowing, recognizing the necessity
of considering them together. The duality of
this approach not only facilitates a wide range
of theoretical-philosophical possibilities, but
also places it within a wider tradition of ana-
lysing the interconnectedness of ontology and
epistemology; rather than arguing for the emi-
nence of one or the other, it pre-empts consid-
erations of embodiment, identity, and subject
positions. Since Said’s Orientalism in 1978,
postcolonialism has been pulling at the loose
threads to unravel Eurocentric epistemic hegem-
ony. This epistemological move has arguably
been prefigured by an ontological component
forged through anticolonial struggle, validat-
ing the subjective experiences of the ‘wretched
of the earth’ (Fanon, 1963).
The composition of the chapters themselves
echo Santos’ call for ‘ecologies of knowledge’ to
emerge in opposition to the hegemony of western
enlightenment rationality (de Sousa Santos, 2014,
2018). Though the different contributions vary in
more than just their subject matter, they remain
mutually comprehensible: in Santos’ terms,
through a process of ‘inter-intelligibility’. Some
chapters disagree explicitly with what others held
as propositional knowledge, and others engaged
in direct criticism of central figures within their
fields. The epistemic South is never purported to
share a single voice as a mono-tone chorus, nor
does it share a singular identity or perspective.
The visibility of dissident voices seems to be a
strength of Santos’ vision rather than a contradic-
tion: an example of the essential multivocality
alongside a refusal to erect the boundaries of
another foundationally limited discourse.

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