Postcolonial and decolonial differences

Do prefixes matter?

Postcolonial, Decolonial, human rights, deconstruction, delinking


Amid academic fondness for embracing trends and ‘turns’, it is reasonable to ask about the actual difference between post- and decolonial perspectives and to consider whether this difference warrants our attention. This lemma seeks to provide some answers, engaging critically with key arguments by decolonial scholars on how their work differs from postcolonial perspectives. I argue that we should pay attention to the key debates sparked by the ‘decolonial turn’ while avoiding the use of buzzwords and strawman arguments. Additionally, I demonstrate the synergies and frictions between post-/decolonial writings within peace and conflict studies, focusing specifically on the deconstruction and reconstruction of human rights.

post- vs decolonial

F. Richard Georgi is postdoctoral researcher at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and research associate at the Max Planck Research Group ‘Multiplication of Authority’. He is currently involved in two research projects, on the violence of building peace and ‘prepping’ as activism for in-/security.


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This contribution is a dialogue between two Conflict Studies academics who have both invested in close research collaboration for over 20 years now. One of them is based in Bukavu, DR Congo; the other works in Ghent, Belgium. Both have been part of international research consortia and have developed joint research agendas and activities on conflict-related issues. Despite the shared incentive to do things differently, such collaboration has often been affected by dominant logics of knowledge production which have proven hard to overcome. Funding agencies are almost exclusively based in the Global North; they often require a research lead in the Global North and the association of research partners in the Global South. Selection committees are usually similarly based in the Global North and hardly ever invite voices from the Global South to participate in their assessment of proposals. These conditions have long been taken for granted as the established guiding framework for research funding – also by those applying for it and participating in collaborative work.


Awareness about how these standards have induced specific ways of doing research and how dominant epistemologies have constantly been guided by and served to reproduce power imbalances has been even thinner on the ground. Researchers from the Global North often see themselves as inherently in the driver’s seat; their colleagues in the Global South, meanwhile, see their role mostly reduced to that of associates and hence position themselves as such. This state of affairs leads to mutual frustration, marginalises local voices and leaves little room to question dominant perspectives, approaches and theories.


Many of these issues have gained increased visibility of late as part of debates on how to move away from the status quo and to decolonise knowledge production. Small steps have been made in seeking to change approaches and funding mechanisms. So far, however, these have not led to a radical change in how collaborative research is framed, funded and executed.


What follows is a conversation on how we have lived and dealt with these realities. We start from the different positionalities, roles and experiences we have had in research projects considered to be collaborative in nature. Our aim is not to reach mutual agreement on causes and consequences but to create space for critical reflection on our own approaches, choices, mistakes and solutions. Despite our efforts, the challenges outlined remain vividly present. How, then, to transcend existing logics and build collaboration based on inclusion, equity and equality, trust and horizontal partnership?

“Godefroid: This disparity in the balance of power should, in my opinion, also be read through the lens of a ‘superiority complex’ embodied by the North in the face of a follow-the-leader attitude adopted by academics in the South.”
Madina Tlostanova


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