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From Epistemic Translations to Decolonial Encounters: Towards an Ethics of Reciprocity in the Academia

Izquierdo, Amanda Gonzalez

Academic research on subaltern communities often functions on the basis of
extractive knowledge: The researcher, an agent, seeks out knowledge from
the bodies of his research and brings that knowledge back to the academy.
Through this extraction and its subsequent interpretation, Western scholars
appropriate non-Western epistemologies and control how they are (re)presented.
It is the extraction, coupled with the act of moving the knowledge from a
minoritized place to a colonial one, that marks the violence and the epistemic
injustice of coloniality. Engaging with theories from scholars including Walter
Mignolo and Boaventura de Sousa Santos, this paper explores the movement
(translation) of knowledge, the linguistic translation of non-Western works
into Western languages, and linguistic translation as itself a form of movement
of knowledge. The aforementioned are examples of what I term epistemic
translations, which I maintain are inherently unjust. I then examine the ethics
of Mariana Mora’s collaborative research process with Zapatista communities
to offer an example of an endeavor that, instead of an epistemic translation,
was a just, decolonial epistemic encounter. In so doing, I consider how epistemic
translations can be decolonized by contemplating the ways in which academic
researchers can establish reciprocity so that non-Western peoples are
not the objects from which to extract knowledge, but subjects with agency in
a two-way process of sharing and creating knowledge. I argue that it is only
through praxes of co-laboring and reciprocity that a postcolonial epistemic
justice in research and academia can be obtained.

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