Decolonial thinking and sustainable development

Image: Christian Thöni


A critical view of what is socially defined as “the standard”, “the right” and “the ideal”

The decolonial movement proposes to give another vision to the social relations established in the colonial period, in which the great economic powers were recognized for their ability to explore the oceans to “discover” new lands. The colonizer's discourse was imposed, being the most accepted and valued because they represent the world's financial bourgeoisies who claim to bring development to regions devoid of a structure, such as those of the metropolises, based on the exploitation of natural resources. The perspective of colonized peoples was erased (which includes their culture in general, rituals, religions, languages, teachings, etc.) under the justification of the spread of the Catholic faith.

Even with the passage of many years, the power relationship between colonizer and colonized has not changed, but readjusted to new contexts. To identify them, it is necessary to see beyond the opacity of the language, in the information received, to understand the subject position of that speaker and his production conditions. By doing this, it questions what is most accepted and opens a small space to value what for a long time was purposely erased and forgotten. This movement represents a cultural shift under which it stands.

From an environmental perspective, the readaptation of colonization relationships is maintained in reinforcing the feeling of extreme need to accumulate material goods, which reaches people through social networks, mainstream media and education. In the production engineering course, normally, there is only one subject to deal with environmental sciences, which has little to do with the other subjects in the course.

Thus, in one moment, the student is given a vision of the sustainable use of natural resources with a view to valuing social aspects, while in all the others a set of techniques is taught to increasingly achieve greater production efficiency. The result is that environmental issues are treated only as a topic that must be checked when launching a product or managing a company, otherwise there will be no acceptability in the market and, consequently, no financial return.

In the song Fool's gold, by Raul Seixas (1973)[I], the author repeats in several stanzas that he should be happy for having achieved some professional and material achievements (“having a job, earning four thousand cruzeiros, being an artist, owning a Corcel 73 and living in Ipanema”), but that this left him disappointed. The same still criticizes human arrogance with the passive acceptance of a successful model (which requires unbridled exploration of nature), even in the face of the limitation that man has (“Who only uses ten percent / Of his animal head”).

The values ​​of modern society based on unbridled consumption repeat the colonial pattern that all natural resources, all indigenous lands and all cultural riches must be sacrificed in the name of something greater than each individual. Thus, Raul points to the insignificance of the consumerist way of life, which brings an unattainable well-being. The author questions conquests such as private property and the landing of man on the moon (“Because far from the fences/ Embandeiradas”) as things that make no sense and are not relevant to the real improvement of society.

On the other hand, native peoples do not have the same need to accumulate material goods and own property as the colonizers. Decolonial thinking helps to understand this. In these indigenous communities, man is understood as an inseparable part of nature, so that his exploitation would be a form of self-destruction. The connection between man and nature is strong enough for the relationship of mutual dependency to be respected and passed on between generations. All consumerist and capitalist discourse is rejected.

Decolonial thinking brings a critical view of what is socially defined as “the standard”, “the right” and “the ideal”. It is necessary to present in schools, academic and cinematographic productions and in public policies the discourses that have been erased, so that we can question social inequalities and fight for environmental justice. In developing the objectives of sustainable development, as a society, we cannot accept that economic aspects dominate decisions, to the detriment of social and environmental aspects. This would be accepting to inherit the environmental degradation of the past, contributing to it and transferring an even greater burden to the next generations.

Italo Emmanoel Moura Mosque, production engineer, is a doctoral student in Development and Environment at UFPI.



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