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Decolonial Thought and Environmentalism in Latin America and Africa

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


In October 2015, ahead of the Paris Conference of the Parties climate summit, it was reported that a final week of negotiations on the draft text of the UN Climate Accord had gotten off to a stormy start.  According to the Reuters report: "'It is just like apartheid,' Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa’s delegate who speaks on behalf of the main grouping of more than 130 developing nations and China, told the meeting. 'We find ourselves in a position where in essence we are disenfranchised,' she said." 

The moment highlighted the fragility of north-south partnerships in the Paris climate agreements, in which the Annexe and the Non-Annexe countries to the Kyoto Protocol were to come to an accord. Yet, to an extent that many find distressing, elements of the accord trace the historical faultlines of the relationship between former colonies and former colonisers. Faced with publics at home who may become hostile to climate agreements, will governments be able to survive questions to their domestic legitimacy?

If at the highest level such dissent has been emerging, the question is pressing: On what basis might alternative and sustainable African environmentalisms emerge?

Decolonials' arguments for scholarly attention to intellectual heritages other than that of Modernist thought are compelling; many have much to bring to the crisis of modernist thought in the face of the Anthropocene, and in the face of what many refer to as Gaia: the Earth as an angry respondent to the many provocations of its Holocenic ecological accords. Such intellectual heritages have found a voice in democratic Constitutions and in legal provisions in Latin America -- Ecuador; Bolivia; Peru -- as they have in other parts of the world, including New Zealand, and in the city of Santa Monica in California. Yet they have received surprisingly little equivalent attention in Africa. After the sustained work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, the revised Kenyan constitution in 2010 included paragraphs on indigenous seeds and the protection of tree cover, giving seed and trees a place and a presence in Kenyan political life.

This doctoral-level short course explores these issues. It begins with a seminar on the relationship between coloniality, capital, and the interventions of Wangari Mathaai in Kenya,  in which graduates will explore the idea of metabolic rift in relation to the rise of industrial capitalism. The second seminar explores interventions from key Latin American thinkers in dialogue with Andean and Amerindian thought. The third seminar explores ways in which post-colonial thinkers have addressed the realisms of their time; this seminar focuses on the work of Aime Cesaire who drew on French surrealism in an attempt to be able to articulate a world he knew that did not match with dominant modes of existence. The final seminar returns to African debates, exploring the work of contemporary African environmentalists who seek to change the legal and economic framework of dominant environmental law, in constitutions, and nationally.


The course,offers a framework for addressing emerging African and Latin American environmentalisms that contest dominant notions of reality, in global environmental discourse. Students are invited to participate by drafting papers that respond to the central question: "How are decolonial environmentalists evidencing and challenging "the real" that is asserted in regional and/or global environmental negotiations?" Students will have the opportunity to discuss course readings and will receive extensive feedback on their own work from the guest lecturer, course co-organizer, other staff in attendance, and fellow participants.


The course will consist of:

Reading a pre-circulated curriculum of approx. 350 pages (35 hours)

Writing an article-length paper, which will be pre-circulated to other participants (3 weeks prior to workshop) and reading fellow

Students’ papers (55 hours)

Participation in seminar (12 hours)

Target group:

Although the course particularly targets students in anthropology , we welcome students with backgrounds of all kinds who are writing about decolonial thought and/or environmental issues.

Course is designed for students who have already completed some fieldwork or archival research and who are working on a piece of prose.




A set of 4 two-hour seminars over two days focusing on the course content, followed by 2 two-hour seminars on the third day to workshop student papers.


3.5 ECTS with paper

1.5 ECTS without paper

Seminar Readings:

1. Forest Tales: From Marx to Maathai

Central Question: Is decolonialist environmentalism a matter of nature, or culture, or something else?

John Bellamy Foster. 1999. Marx and Metabolic Rift: Classical foundations for environmental sociology. AJS Volume 105 Number 2 (September 1999): 366–405.

Maathai, Wangari. 2006. 'Foresters without diplomas' in Unbowed: A memoir. New York: Anchor Books.  (For more resources on Wangari Maathai, see also

Rob Nixon, 2011. Slow Violence, Gender, and the Environmentalism of the Poor (chapter on the work of Wangari Maathai). In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 128-149.

2. Forests, Perspectivism and the Arts of Multispecies Ecopolitics in Latin America

Central question: What kinds of politics become possible if environmental theory comes from different intellectual heritages?

Ghassan Hage, 2015. Critical anthropological thought and the radical political imaginary

today. In Alter-politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination. Melbourne University Press. Pp. 49-78

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 2003. “ “Anthropology” “And” “Science”.” 

Marisol de la Cadena, 2010. Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond ‘politics’. Cultural Anthropology 25(2):334–370


Lesley Green, ed. 2013. Contested Ecologies: Dialogues in the South on Nature and Knowledge. Cape Town: HSRC Press. Available online. Suggest you read the Introduction and any other chapters that interest you.

Marisol de la Cadena – Uncommoning Nature. In E-Flux Supercommunity, ed. Pedro Neves Marques.

Eduardo Kohn, 2014. How Forests Think.

3. Post-coloniality and Surrealism

Central question: What does Cesaire's surrealism offer in the reframing of environmentalism?

Aime Cesaire. 'Poetry and knowledge' in Michael Richardson, Krzysztof FijaƂkowski 

(eds) Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Carribean , pp.134-146. London: Verso.

Kelley, Robin D G.  1999. A Poetics of Anticolonialism. In Monthly Review: An

independent socialist magazine. Vol 51(6).

Aime Cesaire, A Tempest.


Aime Cesaire Notebook of a return to the native land.

Moukala, Edmond.  2011. Rabindrânâth Tagore, Pablo Neruda, Aimé Césaire: For a universal reconciliation. Paris: UNESCO. , see  Moukala’s introduction to the thought of Cesaire.

4. Challenging the Real: Contemporary African Environmentalists and International Environmental Law: Nnimmo Bassey, Gathuru Mburu, Samuel Nguiffo, Cormac Cullinan

Central Question: In what respects do these environmentalists challenge the framing of "the real" in environmental politics? What evidentiaries do they propose as alternatives?

Nnimmo Bassey, 2012. Extracts from To Cook a Continent

Gathuru Mburu 2015. Decolonising our minds and our lands.

Samuel Nguiffo, Interview with UCT Students, October 2016

Cormac Cullinan, Wild Law


Guest Lecturer: Prof. Lesley Green, PhD

Director: Environmental Humanities South

University of Cape Town, South Africa

Co-instructor: Heather Swanson, assistant professor,

Aarhus University

Organizer: Pierre du Plessis, PhD student,

Aarhus University

Dates and time:

Day 1, 26 April 2017: 14h00-16h00;  18h00-20h00: Seminars 1 & 2

Day 2, 27 April 2017: 10h00-12h00;  14h00-16h00: Seminars 3 & 4

Day 3, 28 April 2017:  10h00-12h00;  14h00-16h00: Workshopping student papers


Campus Moesgaard - room to be announced.

Students must apply by sending a 


Please apply by

Deadline for online registration and submission of application letter is 1 March, 2017.

Paper drafts are due April 14, 2017.


8 paper presenters

4 non-paper presenters


Course dates
26 April 2017 - 28 April 2017
Lesley Green and Heather Swanson
Campus Moesgaard
room to be announced
3,5 points

If you have any questions about this site, please contact Danske Universiteter via mail: dkuni @