Finding the trans-rational in post-development.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was honoured with the chance to attend the post-development conference in Kassel. Although post-development has not been so visible on my radar yet, in search for ways to support the decolonial vision, the conference theme “decolonial alternatives to development” convinced me to inscribe to participate.

When thinking about alternatives to develpment, my starting point is the critique of development as such, which I understand as continuation of coloniality of power, knowledge and being (Quijano 2007).

One of the major topics that I took home (or: on the road; because my journey from Kassel took me further North to the Theater for Living – Us vs Them Workshop with David Diamond) with me were the commonalities I perceived between the trans-rational peace philosophy on the one hand (Dietrich 2012; 2013; 2015) and the search for decolonial alternatives to development on the other. In some of the panels I followed, I noticed an overwhelming commonsense to look for such alternatives in indigenous, spiritual, or what trans-rational peace philosophy would term energetic, cosmovisions and practices.

Energetic practices are understood as holistic, perceiving “all existence as a fabric interrelating nature, society and divinities (cosmos). The individual is never separate, but always part and parcel of the larger relationality that, in turn, is ultimately a temporary manifestation of the primal energetic Oneness of all beings” (Echavarrìa 2014, 61). Examples for such cosmovisions can be found across history and cultures. My professor Wolfgang Dietrich has dedicated much of his life to gather and reflect on such cosmovisions in Interpretations of Peace in History and Culture (2012).

Through the discussions and exchanges that happened in and between the panels, I also noticed the urgency of addressing the systemic, epistemic crisis that Ndlovu-Gatsheni is elaborating in Epistemic Freedom in Africa (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018). While the three concepts coloniality of being, coloniality of knowledge and coloniality of power (Quijano 2007) are useful terms to understand the colonial matrix that underlies the world system, they need to be thought together. Still, we have to start somewhere. And when Ndlovu-Gatsheni speaks of epistemological decolonization as a primary necessity, it is a direct result of the coloniality of being, because “[d]enial of being automatically denies epistemic virtue” (2018, 80). Many of the aspects and ideas I heard fluctuating in the conference have spoken or and about such approach of epistemiological decolonization, while also intertwining with re-humanization as the practice of resistance to coloniality of being.

When I think of the dimensions of epistemic decolonization that Ndlovu-Gatsheni lays out in Epistemic Freedom in Africa (2018, 80/81), most of the conference topics circled around democratizing knowledge and fostering a plurality of ecologies of knowledge:

“opening up the academy to a plurality of knowledges including the subjugated ones as part of achievement of cognitive justice (Santos 2014). This opening up to ecologies of knowledge is meant to produce ‘convivial scholarship’ whic ‘confronts and humbles the challenge of over-prescription, over-standardization, over-routinization and over-prediction’ (Nyamnjoh 2017, 5)” (Ndlovu Gatsheni 2018, 81).

In the spirit of such democratization, keynote speaker Ashish Kothari spoke about his vision of a non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal pluriverse that constitute transformative, systemic alternatives, consisting of (at least?) three aspects:

  1. Resistance to dominant structures
    In Eco-Swaraj: a radical ecological democracy that Ashish Kothari spells out, such resistance is manifest through indigenous self-rule, taking control of the production process economically, and decision-making processes politically.
  2. Transformations:
    When we think of such transformations, they may be located on multiple layers, for example- and this speaks directly to the epistemic crisis – within spheres of learning and education. I heard multiple alternative (institutional) concepts to the idea of the university, such as multi-/plurversities, silent university / off university and communiversity. Still, and this is a question that was brought up in another panel, we need to reconsider our idea of transformation itself. In a modern mindset/cosmovision, transformation is likely to be located in a place in the future, which corresponds to a linear understanding of time and space, whereas energetic cosmovisions often entail a circular understanding of time and space, such as the past that lies before us (Lederach 2005), which leads very different implications for the location of transformation.
  3. Utopias are the third aspect that Ashish Kothari elaborates for the above mentioned systemic alternatives. In the context of the conference, it appears to me that these utopias are largely visions of the future, still inspired by the past (energetic frameworks). I also noticed that – while the little word peace that means so much to me has been only mentioned in a little indented text bullet, my understanding of utopias are certain understandings of peace.

He then raised the legitimate and practical question of who will catalyze the transformation? 

This question made me hesitate and ask myself whether this really was a question at all. All change begins and reverberates in me as it does in the outer world, despite my feelings of powerlessness to superstructures such as coloniality and all of its stifling aspects of capitalim, racism and modernity, among others. I cannot advance the decolonial cause through pointing the finger and writing academic texts, I need to live the change, and not just in one sphere of my life but in all the layers of my being and relating. Simply as it sounds, I have to be the change I want to see in the world.

This brings me to another aspect I have thankfully encountered at the conference: introspection and self-reflexivity. Sally Matthews spoke about the umcomfortable position of post-development theorists, who are hunted by the rejection of development (theoretically and/or conceptually) while at the same time living a lifestyle that benefits from development. She suggests three ways of “moving forward” through the discomfort:

  1. Recognizing and acknowledging the desirability of development. At least in terms of the logic of our modern world system, ”development” promises access and chances for people all around the world. We should avoid falling into a trap of arrogance when we assume that just because we have come to “understand the truth” that ‘development’ is a ‘bad’ concept which should be replaced, that the rest of the world is supposed to – again – follow our lead. It is a more complex thing.
    Acknowledging the desirability of development might then also mean – even if we don’t agree with it – facilitating other people’s access to ‘development’.
  2. Treading carefully when promoting alternatives. This second aspect of moving through the discomfort speaks directly to much of the alternatives that have been spelled out at the conference, always carrying the danger of romantizing about an imagined energetic/ancient/indigenous cosmovision that is free of conflict. We need to be aware of this danger and the pitfalls that accompany romantisizing the lives of those who live at the margins of ‘development’.
    Carefulness also tackles the difficult questions of representation (of the marginalized/oppressed). How can we advance the cause of such alternatives without speaking for them — thereby reproducing epistemic violence? How can we collectively build platforms that amplify their voices?
  3. Critiqueing development at home (e.g. Degrowth). One of the facets of coloniality is the constant tendency to look for problems elsewhere, particularly in the Global South, and needing to ‘help’ them, which always happens from a privileged, Euro-American-centric perspective. The structure of development aid being accused of coloniality by its very nature, we remain with the question: How then can we foster solidarity and work together on global issues, such as the climate crisis, racism and/or coloniality?
    A possible answer to this dilemma lies in developing solutions “at home”, thereby acknolwedging the interconnectedness of all being and action. Global solidarity and the struggle for humanization and epistemic freedom / justice begins locally and hopefully organically begins creating global networks.

All of these insights and reflections that were activated within me during and after the Post-development conference in Kassel have echoed within myself as a feeling of agency. Within the trans-rational framework, I find orientation to such quest for decolonial alternatives, sometimes under different labels and concepts, but intuitively I sense that we mean the same things.

This leaves me with the impression that the “post” in post-development might be pointing towards the trans-rational.

Transrationality shares “the postmodern commitment to plurality, but also reintegrate[s] the spiritual component. Trans-rational implies having passed through the rational, but without clinging to its purely materialistic perspective. Reason is acknowledged as one possible mode of perception, among others (…) Their descriptions of reality differ and the spiritual might as well be expressed in terms of a systemic approach, of deep-ecology, as transpersonal or yet again the holistic” (Echavarrìa 2014, 63).



Further Reading / References

Dietrich, Wolfgang. 2012. Interpretations of Peace in History and Culture. Many Peaces Series. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
———2013. Elicitive Conflict Transformation and the Transrational Shift in Peace Politics. Many Peaces Series. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
———2016. Elicitive Conflict Transformation. Lecture in the Winter Term 2015/201
———2018. Elicitive Conflict Mapping. Many Peaces Series. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Echavarría Álvarez, Josefina (2014). “Elicitive Conflict Mapping: A Practical Tool for Peacework”. Journal of Conflictology . Vol. 5, Iss. 2, pp. 58-71. Campus for Peace, UOC. DOI:

Lederach, John Paul. 2005. The Moral Imagination. The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo. 2018. Epistemic Freedom in Africa : Deprovincialization and Decolonization. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Quijano, Aníbal. 2007. Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. In: Cultural Studies 21 (2), p. 168-178.

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