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‘Against Terricide’: Arturo Escobar Speaking in San Antonio on Decolonial Movements

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Deceleration Dialogue: Arturo Escobar with Marisol Cortez

Renowned Colombian scholar-activist of decolonial struggles in Latin America brings a vision of integrating human communities and the Earth in the face of climate crisis.

Marisol Cortez & Greg Harman

Deceleration is beyond excited to welcome Dr. Arturo Escobar, a renowned Colombian scholar-activist, to San Antonio for a series of community exchanges about his work and our own—meaning all of us who work to decolonize relationships to land and each other, whether in movements or in the university.

Arturo Escobar

In academic spaces, Escobar is a major figure in decolonial studies and political ecology. Since the 1970s, he has worked alongside land struggles led by Afro-descendent and Indigenous communities in Colombia, writing extensively about “development” as a colonial paradigm. His more recent work has focused on the alternatives to development voiced by these and other communities, cosmovisiones that emerge primarily in Global South movements for Black and Indigenous territorial rights and earth protection, but also from a multiplicity of place-based “transition discourses” in the Global North (degrowth, ecofeminism, just transition, solidarity economy).

Collectively, these concepts are intended to respond to what the Movement of Indigenous Women for Buen Vivir has called “terricide,” or “the killing of tangible ecosystems, the spiritual ecosystem, and that of the pueblos (peoples) and all forms of life,” Escobar writes in the 2021 article “Reframing Civilization(s): From Critique to Transitions.”

Rooted in a colonial system that is racist, patriarchal, and extractivist, terricide requires “una revolucíon del pensamiento,” Escobar quotes a Mapuche activist as saying, or a “revolution in our thought” that leads to new ways of thinking/being/doing. For centuries, Western notions of the human have been restricted to what Jamaican philosopher Sylvia Wynter calls one “genre” of the human (as “Man”: white/European, male, rational, autonomous). Drawing from Wynter and from the insights of decolonial movements in Colombia, Escobar writes that what is required now to exit terricide is to ground humanness instead in “relationality” (or “radical interdependence”) and in what he calls the “pluriverse.”

In this recent conversation with Deceleration (above), Escobar defines the pluriverse, the subject of much his writing, by referencing efforts within Indigenous communities to respond to the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 arrival in the Americas and the subsequent Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, México.

“At some point the Zapatistas said, ‘We do not want inclusion into your world. We don’t even want to change your world. We want a world where many different worlds are possible,’” Escobar told Deceleration. “So that’s the main definition of the pluriverse. It’s a world made of many worlds, not a world made of a single world, the Western modern capitalist world, but really where all peoples can thrive and flourish in many possible worlds.”

Developing a response to “civilizational crisis”–the current colliding ecological and political crises rooted in colonialism which Deceleration also seeks to address–will ultimately require a transition that is based on “reintegration with the Earth,” acknowledging the interdependence of “everything with everything.”

“That is very strong in Indigenous cosmovisions,” Escobar said. “Only with the pluriverse can we come to see and respect those other ways of being, other ways of thinking about the economy and society.”

Located in the environmental/climate justice movements of the Global North and enacted in the borderlands of what Jose Límon calls “Greater México,” Deceleration’s framing is formed by many of the transition discourses Escobar’s work seeks to make visible. In fact, it was within these movements—for a right to the city, for los derechos de la madre tierra, for buen vivir and degrowth—that I (Marisol) first came across Dr. Escobar’s work.

It was in grassroots struggle, not in the university, that I first encountered the critique of development that I have long seen communities here in San Antonio embody and articulate in our collective efforts to fight racist and patriarchal kinds of urban planning, protect the commons, and imagine new forms of social/ecological well being.

As UTSA’s 2023 Distinguished Brackenridge Lecturer, Escobar will be joining two community conversations in San Antonio in mid-April. The first event, on April 12, will include dialogue with local activists who are themselves engaged in decolonial struggle to create networks of care for planet and people, including representatives of Society of Native Nations, Black Freedom Factory; Yanawana Herbolarios; and Southwest Workers Union.

wed12apr6:00 pmwed8:00 pmArturo Escobar: A Community Conversation (Day One)integrating human communities and the Earth in the face of climate crisis

thu13apr4:00 pmthu6:00 pmArturo Escobar: A Community Conversation (Day Two)integrating human communities and the Earth in the face of climate crisis

In preparation for his San Antonio visit, Deceleration invited Dr. Escobar into this opening remote conversation to help introduce his ideas to new audiences and expand their accessibility. We encourage folks to listen in to the full 30-minute conversation, but key prescriptions Escobar offers here that we will be engaging with at these two community conversations include repairing communities post-capitalism and resisting “the dream of the individual;” relocalizing systems, including water and energy; restoring and strengthening local autonomy; and building communities and economies that are non-patriarchal, anti-racist, and non-extractive.

If you’re working in community, we hope this can inspire you to come check out one (or both) of these dialogues. If you’re working in the university, we hope this can inspire you to learn more about, and support, the flourishing decolonial work already underway in San Antonio for racial, gender, and environmental justice. And for all of us: we hope these conversations can inspire you to understand your own lives in deep relation to the many other worlds currently imagining new ways of thinking, being, and doing.

For just one prime example of decolonial efforts in our bioregion, we direct folks to the current Bridge to the Ancestors Youth Walk, organized by the (also invited) Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas.

Readings for consideration


Cover image: ‘Derechos de la Naturaleza,’ by Angie Vanessita, digital image, 2015

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