Decolonization as Care

This entry is part 15 of 20 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By Uzma Z. Rizvi

What happens to our praxis once we start from a place of acknowledging difference in our persons, our histories, our bodies, and our aesthetics? This text starts from a standpoint of curiosity, consideration, and mindfulness as we explore how, who and what we are, inform structures we create. The moment and place of knowing requires a certain slowness to enter into our thoughts, movements, and research, allowing for nuance and precision, for care and humility, and for an aesthetic of difference to incubate our praxis. Once we allow our work to breathe, to reflect, to sense difference, it transforms structures around it or structures created through it.[1] The act of research becomes praxis through which critical awareness of one’s own condition and the condition of others comes into high relief. One aspect of this praxis includes bodies co-producing the work. There are intricate processes that situate us between theory and practice as praxis, which must begin to take into account the many ways in which we are identified, the modes of address, our different bodies, and varied epistemologies.

Intersectionality allows us to occupy that praxis and standpoint critically.[2] It takes into account systems of oppression within the world that hold marginalized people in place (often at an inferior position) in multiple ways. It is not a new idea to acknowledge that our vectors of identity (race, class, ethnicity/gender/body, et cetera) inform how we experience and consider the world, but what is significant in intersectionality is that that place holding happens in different ways at different times and for different reasons. On the flip side, it also means that privilege manifests itself in similarly multifaceted forms. If, due to your body experience, you have never had to question how the world looks at your race/class/ethnicity/gender/body, or if that has never impacted the way the world identifies your research or work, you should know that that is a privileged experience. And that privilege or lack thereof, informs you and your praxis.

Learning Oneself and Others: Intersectional Praxis

The paradox of ‘defining’ something like identity, of course, is that it is not static. Even for someone who is thoughtful and self-reflexive, the ways in which one approaches oneself and others, changes with time and experience. Our ability to understand ourselves in relation to everything else is predicated upon the ability to understand and contextualize the real, tangible, sensory aspect of moving through the world as compared to conceptual, abstract notions of thinking of our bodies in the world. It is important to understand that recognizing systems of power and one’s place in them is a tool that can be utilized. These systems have an impact on our bodies and identities and continue to affect our work. This is the methodology of intersectionality as it relates to praxis. Whereas intersectionality can be defined by levels of access to privilege, a research-based model of intersectionality recognizes that in moving between the lateral and hierarchical modes of being, one must be cognizant and thoughtful about how in each context there may be differences to take into account. And it allows for care to be an intrinsic part of the recognition of difference. All practitioners must first place themselves outside of the system that maintains their work in place. In order to re-conceptualize any practice, the first moments of recognition have to do with recognizing oneself as radically other, not of this system, not of the normalized way of being. That conceptual shift allows one to consider praxis as particular to one’s embodied standpoint, – there is no way for me/you/us to step outside of my/your/our body/bodies to create anything. We may develop tools for all of us to use, methods, codes, programs to help us practice – but what gets coded or institutionalized, what gets marked as knowledge, for what type of normative body, all that should be questioned. If the body that is creating systems of knowledge employs intersectional praxis – the episteme itself knows the diversity of possible bodies it must account for rather than just assuming one norm.

A simple example might be to consider my own childhood: as a person of South Asian heritage, I was often confounded while dealing with crayons that did not have any color to represent my skin tone. I was told by teachers to color in bodies as ‘peach’ because that was the norm in the 1970s, in the United States. But my body was not peach. The disjuncture, cognitive dissonance, and alienation between what I experienced as body and what I represented was unaccounted for: the tools (i.e. crayons) and the representation could not align unless I let go of wanting to see myself represented in that image. I had to make myself into something I was not, and it very quickly became clear to me that I was not the ‘norm’ in the world of crayons. This happens even as I work in archaeology. The normative person in the past is often a body that looks and acts like a contemporary normative body – often not one that looks/feels/could be imagined as mine: normative, and yet othered through time. It is important for us to think through how we might make sense of the many different ways we might imagine past bodies, or othered bodies, or any body that is not a normative privileged body.

Thinking through an intersectional approach to the formation of knowledge then requires some time, some care, and some criticality. Such an approach allows one to look not only at the praxis, but at the pathways and research material to create something: whether that is writing a course syllabus or a book, or reconstructing a history. In effect, such an approach allows for an epistemic critique in the service of decolonization.


Intersectionality as Decolonizing Research: Integrating Care

Self-recognition, knowledge, and reclamation are at the heart of how one might methodologically approach intersectionality in praxis, and this is really where care is paramount. In our contemporary moment, we have lost the ability to take time out to think, to write, to draw, to wonder, to let our curiosity dictate a research pattern. More and more we are propelled into a system that requires all labor to produce at breakneck speed, suggesting that somehow the survival-of-the-fittest model of labor capitalism is achieved with a lack of all human needs: food, sleep, air, love, et cetera. The late capitalist model has alienated the human body to such a degree that we no longer are allowed to be human to be considered successful.

One of the ways I consider intersectionality to be useful is because it forces the hand of alienation to move. It actually removes the clutches of that form of control over self and control over body and labor. In some measure that is precisely what we want, but it is a privileged position. I have been so disciplined into my subjectivity as an academic, that even when I have slowed down and allowed for care, I have produced an enormous amount of material. Perhaps even because of it: I have produced more work because I am happier working. In some sense, even though I am trying to contest and resist this system, I am actually fulfilling the goal of the late capitalist, neoliberal academic systems agenda.

The reclaiming of a self that is mired in a late capitalist lifestyle is one that requires thoughtfulness, a sense of self-care, and a commitment to time as something to give, not to spend. A radical change in praxis does not always mean a dramatic and drastic change. Sometimes the self-awareness may result in a small material or spatial shift, but it is enough to create a mindful balance: the dramatic quality of the change may be intangible but palpable. In all of my experience, however, the mode of resistance has only ever worked through collaboration, finding allies and solidarity with others. It is through different kinds of practices and alignments that one can contest some of the conditions within which we are working. This can maintain one’s livelihood and sense of self. And so through alliances and creating kin with others (human/nonhuman), we maintain and protect ourselves. And ultimately, that care for and with others is also self-care. Once we recognize ourselves, we begin to recognize our positions, and how our positions may be at the expense of others, be those others human or nonhuman. Once we recognize that we are placed in various systems in ways to keep us moving in place, we stop and then slowly realign our ways of experience, our praxis experiences radical change, one in which we might recognize decolonization as care.


These are excerpts from a chapter of the same title that is in press for the volume Slow Reader: A Resource for Design Thinking and Practice, edited by Carolyn Stauss and Paula Pais. A Slow Research Lab Collaboration with Valiz. Amsterdam, Valiz Publishers.

This excerpt has been published with the approval of the editors of the volume and the Slow Research Lab.


[1] I am borrowing the concepts of transformation from Paulo Freire’s 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group.

[2] Intersectionality, as I am using it, was first introduced in Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1989, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics. The University of Chicago Legal Forum. For more on race and architecture see Lesley Naa Norle Lokko’s volume, White Papers Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture. University of Minnesota Press (2000).



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Decolonizing Anthropology

Decolonizing Anthropology is a series edited by Carole McGranahan and Uzma Z. Rizvi. To read the introductory essay to the series and see the list of contributors, please follow this link: /2016/04/19/decolonizing-anthropology/