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Decolonial Key Concepts



This is a work-in-progress list of key concepts that are often unknown or misunderstood among some of our interlocutors. Versión en español.


Concepts developed by the coordination of the Decoloniality Europe network.

Colonial Europe: Refers to contemporary problems that emerged with the Europe that was invented with colonialism since the 16th century, and that was erected as the centre of the world and as the beginning and end of history. This colonial Europe was built upon the negation of the ‘other’ inside and outside of Europe. This means that the colonial universalized Europe is not the same as the geographic Europe. Neither does it represent the totality of its population, but it does extend beyond the geographical European space, and is to be found in the minds and actions of people and groups worldwide. In this sense, when speaking about a colonial Europe, we refer to an epistemic, political, existential and (non-)ethical place, which is based upon the negation of the non-European ‘other’, and the violence, racism, epistemicide and genocide against him and her. Colonial Europe is constituted as the originary site of the white political field, and is thus dependent upon maintaining the racial hierarchies. (see “white political field”, “white” and “social races” as elaborated by the party of the Indigenous of the Republic below).


Coloniality refers to colonialism’s intense impact on epistemic, social and political relations worldwide. The ramifications of coloniality were so profound, that they persist today, and include racism, patriarchy, exploitation of labor and the accumulation of capital, Eurocentrism, knowledge appropriation and the patenting of life.


Decolonizing Europe: To decolonize Europe implies opening colonial Europe’s geopolitical, social, racial, and epistemic frontiers, and dismantling the incorporated and institutionalized forms of coloniality that it foments and defends. The decolonization of Europe also passes through the support and solidarity with rebel dignities throughout the world, within and beyond Europe. The actions of these rebel dignities destabilize and negate the Europe that sustains itself upon violence and the nullification of other ways of being and acting in the world. Dismantling the diverse colonial frontiers of Europe allows for the strengthening of its rebel dignities and the diversity of projects and positions. It also proves that another Europe, and another civilization are possible.

Key concepts developed by the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic (PIR), French political organisation led by activists who are descendents of France’s colonial history, and who live principally in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods in France.

Social races: These represent, in and indisociable way, the social relation of oppression and resistance to oppression produced by the processes of racialization linked to capitalist coloniality and the hierarchised social groups. The hierarchisation is produced in function of statuses defined according to the phenotypically, culturally or religiously racialised criteria. The social races are embodied as such only through the social conflict that defines their boundaries and power, and they can only be expressed in the plural: per definition, the social races only exist in their mutual relationship.

White political field: Refers to the space, the temporalities and the political logics that work at the heart of the imperialist states or the global interstate system structured through their institutional incarnations. These institutional incarnations are constituted, on the one hand, by the past and present conflicts within the established White group and, on the other hand, by devices of monopolization of the political developed by the same group.

Whites: Category that refers to the established group that benefits from the racialising social hierarchy produced by the ongoing coloniality of the power relationships in their political, economic, cultural and symbolic dimensions. The established frontiers of this dominant group transgress class and gender boundaries, and they have been constituted through a historical process of racialisation, associating the phenotypical characteristics (White epiderme) with a European and Christian origin.

Indigenous of the Republic: Population living in France, originating from the former French colonies as well as, from the country’s current possessions overseas. Forged by activists who are themselves descendants of the colonial immigration in France, this formulation refers to the category of indigenous used by the French Republic in the XIXth and XXth centuries to refer to its colonial subjects. The aims of this category is to visibilise the continuity, which persists in spite of its metamorphoses, between the status of the former colonial subjects and the contemporary status to which the populations who originate in the colonies are confined. It also underlines the obvious paradox between the Republic’s egalitarian ideals and its reality.

Key concepts developed by the Dutch Black Movement, which has a long trajectory working in relation to Dutch slavery and its legacies, centring especially in contemporary debates about education and research (decolonization of knowledge), reparations and Dutch public policies.

Old Term: Slave. 

New term: Enslaved person.

Argument: Slave is used as an attribute of a person, but no person is born as a slave but as a free human being. They are forced into slavery by a social and political system. Enslavement is an act, not an attribute.

Old term: Planter, master. 

New term: Driver of enslaved persons

Argument: The term planter for the white man who enslaved blacks is factually incorrect. The blacks were doing the planting for the driver of enslaved persons. The term master is incorrect because it suggests an acceptance by the enslaved person of the relationship of being enslaved and of the enslaver. The term driver of enslaved persons is preferred above that of “enslaver” because it is better suited to cover the content of the relationship during slavery.

Old term: Plantation.

New term: Labour camp
Argument: During World War II the nazi’s had set up labour camps where Europeans were forced to work without pay. This term accurately describes the nature of the social relation during slavery. It was based on forced labour. The term plantation has no connotation with oppression and exploitation. The term labour camp does.

Old term: Discovery of America. 

New term: Invasion of America.

Argument: Discovery does not have the connotation of violently taking over land from other people, invasion does.

Scientific colonialism. 

New term: Scientific colonialism

Argument: This is a new term used to describe a current in Eurocentric science that uses pseudo-scientific arguments to paint a positive image of colonialism and blurred it as a system of oppression and exploitation.


Key concepts developed by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), whose work revolves around the construction of an anti-racist and decolonial legal system, and the decolonisation of human rights.

Social being:  A term to replace the use of ‘man’, ‘human’ and challenge epistemic control of the nature of being that allows subalternisation.  Social being is a translation of ‘an-naas’, a Quranic concept usually mistranslated as ‘man’, ‘human’ in modern translation sthat internalise gendered, otherising discourses within European  discourses.  ‘Social being’ comes from the roots of án-naas’ and undermines the idea that otherisation of fellow social beings is possible.  All are socially interconnected by their state of being – no ‘man’or ‘human’ can deny another’s ‘humanity’ or worth within a universal understanding of being.

Jihad:  A struggle for emancipation of the soul and all the oppressed, that requires faith that the nature of the struggle and the end goal is are emancipatory when they are both just.

Translations: Blanca Castro Lorenzo and Julia Suárez-Krabbe

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