In Conversation with Rolando Vázquez

The End of the Contemporary?

In March of this year, the sociologist Rolando Vázquez was invited to Berlin to reflect on “decolonizing time” as a way of thinking beyond Western modernity. C& spoke to him about terminologies, alternative approaches to history, and about how he created a decolonial space for thinking at the Festival MaerzMusik* at Berliner Festspiele.

C&: In the work we do at C&, we would never talk about the practice as decolonial, that’s a label that people from the outside use. We would actually like to go beyond that. And perhaps it’s the same with artists that are much more specific about their work.

RV: The thing with the decolonial option is that it doesn’t try to be a new ideology or a new utopia taking over and becoming the new tag for things. It is an option that some collectives or people like us are using and offering as a tool that may or may not be useful for certain people. And as an option we need to locate it and we need to see its historicity, because then it has a right to exist in a humble situation – in uncovering its positionality, always allowing for other forms of legibility. However, the fact that the decolonial presents itself as an option does not mean that coloniality is relative; the awareness of coloniality is grounded in the historically lived experience of the devaluation of the life of peoples of the world and of earth.

C&: Definitely. That’s the main thing, to show that there are all these options that exist at the same time.

RV: Yes, although the risk is not recognizing that being an option is not the same as relativism. The option is not a postmodern position from which you can flow or have the privilege of choosing among performative fields etc. For example, there is no such thing as reverse racism because there is an uneven field; there is a modern/colonial history in which millions of people have died. And that is not a choice. You can’t choose the history that you’re a part of. But if you are on the side of privilege or on the side of racialization – you can use your positionality and express it in many ways.

C&: What do you think is the role Europe has vis-à-vis the decolonial?

RV: We think that the end of the contemporary opens a possibility of decolonizing Europe as well, that it is a possibility for Europe to move away from the position of abstraction, universality, of center, of newness. Europe can begin seeing itself through the eyes of the other. In my mind, Eurocentrism is a type of ignorance, a type of arrogant ignorance. The possibility of a truly intercultural dialogue requires the displacement of dominant positions from the center, to not just speak from the white male perspective that dominates the managerial position, the curricula, the writing, historical subjectivity, etc… The decolonial could be liberating for someone who is confined to this perspective, in the blindness of the position of privilege. The decolonial brings to the fore the conditions of oppression but also the impossibility for the privileged to live an ethical life in a system that is mounted on the consumption of others and the earth. Decolonial thinking is not only about the dignification of silenced relational worlds, but also about the contestation of privilege. It is a thinking that is offering itself as option – on the one hand to listen to the erased voices, and on the other, to reveal the historical positionality of those that have been placed in the default position as the norm. To me, those are the conditions of a possible transformation.


Rolando Vázquez is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. He curated the workshop “Staging the End of the Contemporary” for MaerzMusik (16-26 March 2017) directed by Berno Odo Polzer. The participants were also leading thinkers of decoloniality: Fabián Barba Izurieta, Teresa María Díaz Nerio, Jeannette Ehlers, Patricia Kaersenhout, Hannes Seidl, Ovidiu Tichindeleanu, and Madina Tlostanova.