(Po)ethical Indigenous Language Practices: Redefining Revitalisation and Challenging Epistemic Colonial Violence in Colombia

Camello Pinilla, Sandra Milena. 2017. (Po)ethical Indigenous Language Practices: Redefining Revitalisation and Challenging Epistemic Colonial Violence in Colombia. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text ((Po)ethical Indigenous Language Practices: Redefining Revitalisation and Challenging Epistemic Colonial Violence in Colombia)
CUL_thesis_CamelloPinillaS_2017.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (2MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

This research addresses the colonial legacies traversing understandings of indigenous languages and their “revitalisation” in Colombia, arguing that neither language theories nor policies escape power-knowledge relations. It shows how alphabets and grammars have operated as colonial normalising technologies and defined indigenous languages as “illiterate” or “incomplete” languages, forcing them to adjust to foreign models and justifying the intervention of colonisers, missionaries and academic experts (who sought to “transform” indigenous languages into “complete” grammatical and alphabetical languages). It examines the asymmetrical clashes regarding the validation of “expert knowledge” over indigenous knowledge practices. Additionally, it acknowledges the contributions of postcolonial, decolonial, ecological, critical and cultural theories for decentring alphabetical, grammatical and monolingual normalisations and relocating indigenous languages in complex (non-anthropocentric) relations and community filiations.

This research proposes a comprehensive “(po)ethical” approach that dialogues with indigenous language practices in their poetical, ethical and political dimensions. This has three important effects. Firstly, it challenges reductive models of literacy and grammaticality, consolidated since the colonial encounter. Secondly, it highlights the deep articulation of indigenous language practices with the recreation of traditions and community filiations. Thirdly, it redefines “revitalisation” as a process that goes beyond linguistics insofar as, conceived otherwise, it challenges colonial epistemic violence, rebuilds community filiations, and enables healing.

(Po)ethical practices are agonistic. They emerge from the pain of the conflicts, historical conditions and violent asymmetries that are inscribed in the bodies and the languages we inhabit. In contrast to colonial technologies and policies of multiculturalism, (po)ethical practices do not pursue the elimination or assimilation of difference. Through agonistic translations, they acknowledge and connect creative processes of resistance and healing, allowing dialogue between adversaries instead of “eradicating conflict” by eliminating difference. The research stresses the local and global potential of agonistic translations of (po)ethical language practices in challenging coloniality and rebuilding communities.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



(po)ethics, indigenous language practices, revitalisation, agonistic translation, colonial epistemic violence, ecology, decoloniality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


31 March 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Apr 2017 14:39

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:59



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)