Anibal Quijano's Critique and the Path to True Democracy

Aníbal Quijano challenges Eurocentrism in social sciences, advocating for democracy rooted in social reality. Criticizing Eurocentric visions, he emphasizes the interplay of social mechanisms and citizenship. Quijano highlights how the Eurocentric power pattern shaped global institutions.

Anibal Quijano's Critique and the Path to True Democracy
Aníbal Quijano, a trailblazer in social sciences, challenges Eurocentrism to reshape the narrative on democracy and global power dynamics. Credit: Wikimedia

Aníbal Quijano (1928-2018) was a Peruvian sociologist known for his significant contributions to the study of contemporary society. Born in Yanama, Peru, in 1928, he grew up in Yungay and later pursued his education at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima.

Initially aspiring to become a doctor, Quijano shifted his focus to the Faculty of Letters, where he immersed himself in the study of history, ethnology, and anthropology. Although he also studied law, he chose not to practice as a lawyer, associating the field with the structures of power and society.

In his academic journey, Quijano extensively studied the works of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and other socialist and revolutionary thinkers. Diverging from classical Marxism, he critiqued the notion that socialist revolutions merely fought against a constituted bourgeoisie, emphasizing a more nuanced perspective.

During the 1950s, Quijano delved into research on slavery in Peru while simultaneously working as a high school teacher. His intellectual pursuits extended to a tribute to C. Wright Mills in 1962, titled “C. Wright Mills, Critical Conscience of a Mass Society.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Quijanos focus broadened to encompass topics such as the emergence of the cholo group in Peru, peasant movements in Latin America, and the historical and contemporary context of Peruvian politics. He also studied the social changes linked to urbanization and marginalization in the region.

As the 1970s unfolded, Quijano explored neo-imperialism, the Velasco military regime, and the evolving role of labor and popular movements. By the late 1980s, he introduced the concept of Eurocentric modernity/rationality and delved into issues of identity, centralizing his discussions about the concept of coloniality of power.

Transitioning into the 1990s, Quijano critically analyzed the processes leading to the formation, consolidation, and eventual crisis of a distinctive power pattern: the colonial/modern/eurocentric power pattern.

Aníbal Quijano and Striving for Democratic Societies

At the heart of Quijano's contributions is a determined effort to critically and radically reflect on the specific characteristics of historical processes and structures in Peruvian and Latin American societies. He staunchly rejects the notion of Social Sciences as technocratic disciplines, emphasizing the need to analyze these societies as peripheries of the colonial/modern power pattern. Quijano's intellectual pursuits are deeply rooted in the quest to challenge the traditional Eurocentric approach to studying social life, thereby expanding the scope of knowledge and epistemological principles to include the voices and experiences of indigenous peoples.

Germaná (2020) identifies two key aspects characterizing Quijano's alternative theoretical-methodological perspective. Firstly, Quijano seeks to overcome the “two cultures” thesis inherent in Eurocentric knowledge structures. His commitment lies in the construction of a new, truly democratic and egalitarian social order. This goes beyond mere intellectual understanding, as Quijano actively evaluates the characteristics of society and endeavors to chart a path towards achieving radical democratization. His work is underpinned by a profound ethical-political demand, aiming to contribute to the task of achieving a fundamentally democratic society.

Secondly, Quijano's perspective transcends the disciplinary tradition of the social sciences by viewing social life as a complex historical system. He scrutinizes social-historical reality as a dense fabric of social relations shaped by power within a historical totality marked by structural heterogeneity.

Anibal Quijano and the Indigenous Movement in Latin America

In his essay “El 'movimiento indígena' y las cuestiones pendientes en América Latina” (2005), Quijano delves into the indigenous movement in Latin America, raising crucial questions about its relationship with the nation-state and democracy within the existing power dynamics (Quijano, A. 2005: 52).

According to Quijano (2005), the indigenous problem in Latin America presents a multifaceted challenge that requires simultaneous attention to three dimensions:

  • The decolonization of political relations within the State.
  • The radical subversion of the conditions of exploitation and the end of servitude.
  • The decolonization of social domination and the elimination of “race” as the universal and basic form of social classification (2005: 59).

By addressing these dimensions, Quijano emphasizes the need to not only challenge political and economic structures, but also to address social hierarchies and classifications based on race.

In his essay, Quijano also explores the relationship between democracy, modernity, and revolution in Latin America. He questions whether modernity and democracy can be achieved in the region without significant upheavals in power structures. He posits that in Latin America, modernity and democracy often function as a “political mirage,” suggesting that true progress may require more radical changes (2005: 61).

The Concept of Democracy and Citizenship in Modernity

In his 1997 essay “Nation-State, citizenship and democracy: open questions,” Quijano delves into the relationship between democracy, citizenship, and modernity. He observes that democracy and citizenship are experiencing a global consolidation, emphasizing the emergence of a universal liberal democracy. According to Quijano, understanding democratic processes in different countries necessitates starting from a liberal framework.

Quijano contextualizes his observations within the framework of globalization, which he refers to as a process of historical change. He notes that the reconfiguration of power in this context implies social interests that may undermine democracy and citizenship. He highlights the emergence of anti-democratic policies in various countries, citing instances of radical and modern anti-democratic tendencies. The radical anti-democratic policies are characterized by racist and fascist discourses, while the modern ones manifest in political discourse that imposes limitations, leading to a restricted form of democracy.

Quijano views citizenship and democracy as phenomena of modernity, distinct from the concept of modernization. He argues that modernity is intertwined with the historical movement of capitalism. By examining the historical changes, Quijano emphasizes the significance of analyzing how Europe, as the central headquarters of this process, shaped modernity. He points to the role of institutions such as the Empire, the absolute monarchy, and the Church in founding the nation-state, the Republic, and the secular university. While these institutions took various forms globally, modernity is considered a new configuration of power based on capitalist social demands.

Eurocentrism, Democracy, and Citizenship in Modernity

In his analysis of the gestation and constitution of modernity, Quijano illuminates the privileged position of Europe in the emergence of capitalism and the impact of colonizing processes on the capitalist world. He emphasizes the early stages of Eurocentrism and its influence on the conceptualization of democracy and citizenship.

Quijano underscores the notion of America as a privileged creation of Europe within the context of capitalism. This marks the onset of Eurocentrism, where democracy and citizenship are perceived as only partially and distortedly intelligible issues. This Eurocentric perspective shapes the understanding of democratic struggles and social equality.

The democratic struggle, as perceived in Quijano's work, is rooted in historical rationality, requiring individuals to be not only free but also socially equal. The struggle is intricately linked to the constitution of citizenship and democracy, aiming to define and stabilize spaces of domination in the face of European empires in crisis during the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

Quijano delves into the nationalization of societies and states, highlighting the processes of democratization in the control of production resources within the private sphere and institutional mechanisms within the public sphere. He emphasizes the significance of these processes in shaping the places and roles of individuals within power relations, both in private and public domains.

Aníbal Quijano's Critique of Eurocentrism and Democracy

Aníbal Quijano's scholarly contributions mark a departure from the Eurocentric perspective in the study of social sciences, emphasizing the importance of understanding social reality from a non-Eurocentric viewpoint. His critique of Eurocentrism reveals his in-depth engagement with the existing inequalities and the legacy of the European tradition, particularly in its treatment of indigenous populations.

Quijano's analysis prompts critical reflections on the post-effects of modernity, especially in the context of envisioning democracy in Latin American countries. He underscores the inseparability of democracy from social mechanisms and citizenship, challenging the Eurocentric model of power that sought to establish homogeneity through universal institutions.

A central theme in Quijano's discourse is the examination of resource distribution, goods, and political power in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He highlights the significance of concentrating control in the hands of state officials, shedding light on the limitations of “populist” regimes in the “Third World.” Quijano argues that under these conditions, citizenship could only be formal and limited, or even blocked, resulting in distorted democracy as a mere discourse rather than an everyday practice.

Aníbal Quijano's Perspective on Original Peoples

Aníbal Quijano's work highlights the potential for original peoples to emerge as revolutionary actors in Peru. He challenges the Eurocentric view of social classification, emphasizing that in Eurocentric modernity, race, rather than social class, becomes the primary determinant of population categorization.

Quijano's insights reveal the pervasive influence of the Eurocentric tradition on daily life and the study of social sciences. By acknowledging this influence, he brings attention to the overlooked realities of Latin American countries, offering a critical perspective on how they have been historically understood and analyzed.

Quijano's understanding of the impact of Eurocentrism extends to his reflections on democracy within these countries. He prompts considerations about the potential for creating genuine democracy within societies that have experienced profound struggles, challenging conventional notions of democratic development and practice.

Published Books by Aníbal Quijano

Aníbal Quijano, a distinguished author, has made significant contributions to the discourse on historical-structural dependence, coloniality, and decoloniality of power. Below are some of his notable published works:

Cuestiones y horizontes. De la dependencia histórico-estructural a la colonialidad/descolonialidad del poder (2020)

Notas sobre raza y democracia en los países andinos (2003)
Published in Revista Venezolana de Economía y Ciencias Sociales, 9(1),53-59.

El "movimiento indígena" y las cuestiones pendientes en América Latina (2005)
Published in Socialism and Democracy, 19(3).

Estado-nación, ciudadanía y democracia: cuestiones abiertas (1997)
Included in Cuestiones y horizontes: de la dependencia histórico-estructural a la colonialidad/descolonialidad del poder (2014).

Aníbal Quijano's work has been highly influential in the field of social sciences, and his contributions have helped to shape the development of decolonial theory. His work continues to be relevant today as we grapple with issues of inequality, power, and knowledge production.

In-Text Citation: “Anibal Quijano.” árbol de la democracia, 8 Mar. 2023,