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United Nations Conference on Trade and Development - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul

1 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi

"HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE POOR?":


Colonial Rhetoric and the Invention of Poverty as Empty Space in the
archives of United Nations
Pâmela Marconatto Marques

Framework:

The present report proposes to gather a set of vestiges capable of suggesting that what is
conventionally called poverty is not an "inert fact of nature", "is not merely there", but it
is an idea that carries a narrative, an imaginary, an aesthetic and a vocabulary that give
it reality in and for a particular group and historical-political context. The clue followed
indicates that this idea, which gains strength in the post-World War II context, is
crossed by the same colonial logic that guaranteed the exploitation of life and work of
enslaved black people. To construct poverty as an empty space, where it is not possible
to live, and hence, from where it is necessary to leave, impotent and unproductive is
presented, in this work, as an Empire mechanism, triggered to produce the subalternity
of countries considered "the poorest in the world", interdicting its place of enunciation,
producing the relativization of its sovereignty and, thus, giving rise to all kinds of
foreign "therapeutic” intervention. Haiti, the only Latin American country to be
included in the list of the poorest, is activated, through some of its intellectuals, as a
counterpoint to this thesis.

Introduction

In 1721, Montesquieu has published a set of fictitious letters allegedly


written by Persian travellers on tour of Europe. Along with the reports of fascination
that the exuberance of their adornments and fabrics provoked in the French, one of the
travellers denounces the immediate reaction of his hosts before the revelation that he
was Persian: "Oh! Oh! Are you Persian? What an extraordinary thing! How is it
possible to be Persian?"(Montesquieu, 1973: 298). The pathetic mirror in which
Montesquieu projected a society that boasted of its progressive humanism denounced
not only the hollow courtesy of Parisian saloons, or the lack of empathy for other ways
of being/knowing/living/acting in the world. "How is it possible to be Persian?" sets the
question about the very reality of that other, about the conditions of possibility that he
may exist, live and be in the world as a contemporary.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
2 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
The literary caricature anticipated in more than two centuries the systematic
criticism made by Edward Said to what he calls Orientalism, denounced as a long
tradition whose foundation is an East invented by the West in order to, through its
exotisation, distortion, imprecision and detachment from concrete human experiences,
restructure it, dominate it, and exercise authority over it.. As he presents orientalism as
"a Western style", Said emphasizes that without examining it as a discourse one can not
understand "the extremely systematic discipline through which European and American
culture was able to handle - and even produce - the Orient politically, sociologically,
militarily, ideologically, scientifically and imaginatively since the post-Enlightenment"
(Said, 1978: p.29).

In the context of this critique, Said refuses to conceive of Orientalism as a


"visionary European fantasy about the East", seeing it as "an elaborated body of theory
and practice," "more valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than
as a veridical discourse on the East”, which must be taken seriously to the extent of the
"consolidated strength of [its] discourse, its very close ties to the institutions of political
and socioeconomic power and its formidable persistence" to remain solid as knowledge
"capable of being taught in academies, books, congresses, universities, institutes of
foreign relations" (Said, 1978: p.33).

Unlike the Persian, who in Montesquieu's tale "invades" the Parisian halls
with their difference, it is the West that travels in the work of Said, and the fascination
aroused by this foreigner - scientist, scholar, missionary, diplomat - who assumes the
position of speaking about an exotic other, ends up covering up the hegemonic project
in which he was inserted and that, in the limit, allowed him to be there and build the
Orient as an ontological and epistemological system radically different from the West:

(...)complex, suitable for study in the academy, for display in the museum, for
reconstruction in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in
anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial, and historical theses about
mankind and the universe, for instances of economic and sociological
theories of development, revolution, cultural personality, national or
religious character. [all of it] based more or less exclusively upon a
sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an
Oriental world emerged, first according to general ideas about who or what
was an Oriental, then according to a detailed logic governed not simply by
empirical reality but by a battery of desires, regressions, investments, and
projections. (Said, 1978: p.35)
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
3 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
Throughout the study, Said unveils how Orientalism was put into circulation
and institutionalized in the United States and Europe through centers, institutes,
research departments, advanced courses, degrees, specializations, master's degrees,
doctorates, secretaries, foreign affairs bureaus, commissions, all demanding and
producing specialists. And being an American or a European in that context

(...)is by no means an inert fact. It meant and means being aware, however
dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, and
more important, that one belongs to a part of the earth with a definite history
of involvement in the Orient (Said, 2007: pgs. 39-40)

Embedded in this history, radiating its effects from the "distribution of


geopolitical consciousness" in aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical
and philological texts that create and maintain the binary division of the world between
West and East and benefiting from an unequal relationship of political, intellectual,
cultural and moral power, the orientalism denounced by Said reveals itself, in its limit,
like a "nexus of knowledge and power creating “the Oriental” and in a sense obliterating
him as a human being". The attribution to the Oriental of a certain tendency toward
barbarism, antidemocratic relations, exaggerated and offensive sexuality makes it " as
something one judges (as in a court of law), something one studies and depicts (as in a
curriculum), something one disciplines (as in a school or prison), something one
illustrates (as in a zoological manual)" (Said, 1978, 73). In each of these cases, human
plurality is captured, contained and represented by hegemonic structures, which act as a
device from which a given extract of the world becomes available, controllable,
consumable and, in the limit, vulnerable to annihilation.

The way in which the West relates to its Others, from the incredulous - and
seemingly harmless - dazzling before the very possibility of existence of the Other here
and between us, to the active and systematic construction of an ontological abyss that
keeps the Other encapsulated in its difference, in a parallel existence to ours,
condemned to never be with us, denounces the creation of an impossibility to live
together, to inhabit a political, epistemic and also affective space, capable of hosting
the encounter. The East created by the West - while creating itself - can at the most
arouse curiosity, mobilize the adventurous spirit, consolidate itself as a career, generate
entertainment or suggest erudition, never destabilize or put in risk the organization of
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4 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
the corporal, affective and social scheme with which the Western thinks/acts/lives in the
world.
It is at this point that the contribution of this intellectual born in Jerusalem
and raised between Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon becomes valuable to this study,
dedicated to gathering a set of vestiges capable of suggesting, as did Said towards the
East, that this poverty is not an "inert fact of nature", "is not merely there", but it is an
idea that carries a narrative, an imaginary, an aesthetic and a vocabulary that give it
reality in and for a particular group and historical-political context.

The West and the rest: The colonial devices of catching the difference
“In order to feed its claim to the universal,
the Same required the flesh of the world.
The Other is its temptation.
Not yet the Other as a project of agreement,
but the Other matter to sublimate"
(Glissant, 1981: p.190).

The "invention" of an exogenous Other - situated in another time and space,


homogeneous in its negation of a fundamental evolutionary project, in which all peoples
should be engaged - involved the articulation of refined devices of knowledge/power
from which hegemonic representations were constructed, affirmed, diffused and, in the
limit, lived as material intervention and physical annihilation. This project - which
among the decolonial theorists had begun in 1492 with the arrival of the first Spanish
vessel to the Caribbean - would be supported by some fundamental premises, articulated
with a sense of civilizing mission, collected by the Argentine philosopher Enrique
Dussel as an indication of what he proposes to be the "myth of modernity":

- Modern civilization understands itself as more developed, superior (which


means holding an ideologically Eurocentric position).
- The superiority forces to develop the most primitive, rude, barbarian, as a
moral requirement.
- The path of this educational process of development must be that followed
by Europe.
- As the barbarian is opposed to the civilizing process, modern praxis must
ultimately exert violence if necessary, to destroy the obstacles of such
modernization (just colonial war).
- This domination produces victims (in very varied ways) and violence (that
is interpreted as an inevitable act and with the almost-ritual sense of
sacrifice);
- The civilizing hero invests his own victims with the character of being
holocausts of a saving sacrifice. The "barbarian" (the Indian, the African
slave, the woman) has a "guilt" (opposing the civilizing process) that allows
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United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
"Modernity" to present itself not only as innocent but as "emancipatory" from
that "guilt" of its own victims. (Dussel, 2005: p.30)

Dussel's conclusion leads us to the fact that colonial spoliation articulates


and legitimizes from the imaginary framed by the above assumptions, drawing the
primitive accumulation of capital in the race for "progress and development" in the
overseas metropolis. This imaginary is of particular interest to us by the veneer of
"mission" with which it has succeeded in overcoming the annihilation of indigenous and
African-American bodies-territories in such a way that their effect has been amortized,
neutralized, polished until it loses its sense of horror.

In this context, it is precisely the construction of the incontrovertible


difference between the colonizer and the colonized that allows the
expropriation/oppression/annihilation to assume another status. It softens, at the same
time, the privilege of the colonizer and the maze of the colonized. The
operationalization of this difference-generating device would be based on the notions of
race and culture - which will generally appear imbricated - forged in the colonial
encounter (Depestre, 1980, Hall, 1996b and Mignolo, 2009).

The indigenous colonized emerges from the narratives produced by the


colonizer sometimes as the good russoonian savage - exalted by a supposed innocence
and ignorance of the notions of property and government that approach him to the
Utopia of Thomas Morus - sometimes as "deprived of reason and of the knowledge of
God", "without any sense of justice", " more prone to incest, sodomy and debauchery
than any other race"," animalistic as to their customs and hostile to religion"," beasts in
human form" (Hall, 1996b, p.223). These series - docilization and demonization of the
Other - easily slide over each other, generating similar effects of capturing subjectivities
and exoticizing, and were repeated, reformulated, when applied to the contingents of
Africans men and women brought to slave labour in the plantation.

Throughout his work, Fanon attempts to denounce how, when referring to the
strategically racialized colonized - notably a black person - the European colonizer
treats him sometimes as a child, sometimes as a demon. It was difficult, they said, to
believe that God had created "a race so obstinate in its perversity and bestiality". Their
agglomerations were thus seen as "hordes of savages, infestation of superstitions and
fanaticism, worthy of contempt, laden with divine curses, place of cannibals, place of
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6 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
blacks" (Fanon, 1963: p.249). It is therefore justified to exercise disciplinary power over
them:
Evil, barbarism and incontinence are "identity" marks of the colonized, while
goodness, civilization and rationality are characteristic of the colonizer. Both
identities are in an exteriority relationship and are mutually preclusive. The
communication between them cannot occur in the field of culture - because
their codes are incommensurable - but in the realpolitik realm dictated by the
colonial power. (Castro-Gómez, 2005: 92)

If, by Realpolitik, Castro-Gómez means mass annihilation, enslavement as brutal


control of the body, time and death of the non-white other, its implementation in the
colonial environment could also counts on the establishment of legal and disciplinary
mechanisms aimed at "Civilize" the colonized, guaranteeing his adaptation, at one and
the same time, to Christian values and illuminist ideals. The cohesion of the system is
guaranteed by this comprehensive set of narratives and images forged by the colonizer,
which, capable of producing subjectivities, "is not satisfied imposing its law to the
present and the future of a dominated country. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to
the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it" (Fanon, 1963:
244), eventually engendering among the colonized the notion that the departure of the
colonizer would mean a return to an even more atrocious and unbearable time:

On the unconscious plane, colonialism therefore did not seek to be


considered by the native as a gently loving mother who protects her child
from a hostile environment, but rather as a mother who unceasmigly
restrains her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit
suicide and from giving free rein to its evil instincts. The colonial mother
protects her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its
biology, and its own unhappiness which is its very essence. (Fanon, 1963:p.
244)

The colonial difference was not based on the understanding that there is a diverse
other - endowed with equivalent rationality / subjectivity - but rather something
external, strange, and, at the limit, dangerous to Modern Reason, an "Other Reason that
heckles the West as a cry is able to do so "(Castiano, 2013, p.59). It is not the cry
mentioned by Deleuze and Guatarri in "What is philosophy" - "Not one but two cries
traverse capitalism and head for the same disappointment: Immigrants of all countries,
unite...! Workers of all countries...!" The cry mentioned by José Castiano, a
Mozambican philosopher, projects itself as a howl, chaos that demeans colonial speech
without meaning anything, functioning by the power of its form without content. The
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7 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
need to neutralize its issuer - political body that deterritorializes1 colonial discourse -
and territorialize its cry in an amortized context finds interesting definition in the words
of the Mozambican sociologist Maria Paula Meneses:
The creation of colonial alterity as an empty space, devoid of knowledge and
ready to be filled by the knowledge and culture of the West, was the colonial
counterpoint of transporting wisdom and civilization to people supposedly
living in the darkness of ignorance. Thus, the whole colonial system was
given consistency, transforming otherness into natural objects, upon whom it
was urgent to act to "introduce" them into history and development.
(Meneses, 2010: 78)
The strategy of capturing the difference from the Other, neutralizing it as
"empty space," leads the absence of the West to a place equivalent to that of the blank
slate, unfilled frame, zero point, vain, vacuum, as the light is modulated so that the fault
is highlighted. An adjustment of focus ensures that the difference is also projected as
negative for the West, a state that carries a refusal, abstention. Negative as "it is said of
the substance that plays the role of acid2". The lines of force drawn to ensure control
over the senses conferred on the colonial difference did not allow that from this negative
notion could derive the idea of the Other as a possibility, alternative to the project of the
Same3. Instead, it was quickly converted into a hollow of the world, an opaque mirror
where the Human face - white, masculine, European - could not see its reflection. In this
way, an abyssal line (Santos, 2007) between colonizer and colonized, the West - deeply
linked to the idea of modernity, lights, rebirth, progress - and the abject remnant that
consolidates as "everything the The West is not, its image inverted. (...) absolutely,
essentially different: the Other "(Hall, 1996b, p.38)

This scission was fundamental so that colonialism and all its instruments -
genocide and slavery among them - could be obliterated from the idea of Western
capitalist modernity. Thus, they could be presented as processes discontinuous in time
(colonialism as the archaic past of modernity) and in space (while modernity will be

1
We understand deterritorialization as a movement by which a majoritarian being is destabilized in a
minoritarian series, that is: how the Same is able to be found and affected by the Other. Territorialization,
in turn, concerns the fixation of a place, and therefore, in production of the Same (Deleuze & Guatarri,
1996)
2
References to the word "negative" found in FERREIRA, Aurélio Buarque de Holanda, New Aurelian
Dictionary of the Portuguese Language.
3
Reference to the theoretical matrix created by the Antillean thinker Edouard Glissant in "The Same and
the Diverse" to dialogue with Deleuze and Guatarri's "Repetition and Difference", which epigraphs this
study and whose translation is duly cited at the end of this work.
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Kituyi
presented as a European phenomenon that extends to the United States, colonialism will
be restricted to Latin America, Africa, Asia)4.

“History”, in this context - with the help of cartography, which literally


installed the Europeans in the center of the globe - was able to consolidate itself as an
arrow pointing to the West, an ineluctable process in which all peoples should be
engaged after an Europe which, in addition to projecting itself through its values
identified with Christianity, was constructed discursively as an ambitious, fearless and
determined conqueror (Bauman, 2004).

The opposite and synchronous movement to the strengthening of the image


of the European conqueror is the consolidation of what the Haitian sociologist Jean
Casimir understands as "debasement" of the social practices carried out by the colonized
peoples:
The disarticulation and domination of the colonized peoples, that is, the
defeat of their cultural scaffolding and the solutions offered by it, is seen, in
this approach, as a disarticulation and defeat of the bearers of these cultures.
The inability of their forms of organization to victoriously resist the
onslaught of the conquerors translates into mental aptitudes in relation to the
conquered populations, which are conceived as aggregates of individuals
and not as peoples and nations. (...) This process of debasement takes the
characteristics of a cultural war in the conquered countries. It is a
permanently unfinished war, whose concrete development can be seen in the
efforts to destroy the language, family relations, economic and political
activities, the codes of laws and legal customs, religion and society and the
philosophy of the oppressed. This debasement is implemented through
legislation on public administration, courts, churches, schools, the press.
(Casimir, 1980: p.04)

Casimir's citation emphasizes the way in which he affirms the debasement as a


destructuring of the daily practices to maintain the good life and the social bond
between the colonized peoples and its role as a colonial weapon of war. From the efforts
of the colonizer to dismantle them, emerges the notion of their potency as generators of
life and health among the colonized peoples:

The social practices of the peoples in America who survived the conquest and
the slave regime, gained meaning within their original culture. The patterns
of action and solutions brought by these original cultures were used and
conserved, as they offer viable - and rational - alternatives to existence. The
selection of solutions among existing ones and the creation of others
consistent with the cultural legacy were carried out under the dictation of
concrete survival imperatives. Such selection and creation invented a new

4
Two works by Walter Mignolo deal specifically with the theme: The darker side of the Renaissance:
literacy, territoriality and colonization. University of Michigan Press: 1995; The Darker Side of Western
Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Duke University Press: 2011.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
9 Partial Report of the Project “Poverty in dispute: a sociological analyses on the concept over
United Nations” by PhD Pâmela Marconatto Marques under the supervision of Sec. Mukhisa
Kituyi
culture, the culture, or the cultures, of the New World. These are different
sets from pre-Columbian, African, Asian and even European mother cultures,
as they result from practices unknown outside post-Columbian America. It is
important to keep in mind that these cultures of the "new world" are
divergent from the European conquering culture, since they were invented in
opposition to it and from their own sets of meanings. (Casimir, 1980: p.06)

The Haitian sociologist emphasizes that the position of subalternity


fabricated by the colonizer to these plots of life and sociabilities of the colonized make
them "oppressed culture" since that will be exogenous the "institutions in charge of
producing knowledge and norms or strategies to negotiate, modify and to adapt the
society projects of their bearers "(Casimir, 1980: p.08).
This same mechanism - to make vile, despicable, to humiliate, dishonor,
vilify - triggered by the colonizer to deconstruct the practices of maintenance of life and
generation of well-being among the colonized would find ways to restructure and
reengineer during the twentieth century, especially in the context which follows the
Second World War.

Making poverty vile: the reorganization of colonial logic under developmental


discourse
The fabric of hegemonies and subalternities anchored in colonial logic runs
through the industrial revolution and re-states in the post-World War II context, when
the newly created United Nations presents itself as the guarantor of a peace that,
according to the consensus of the time, only would be built through economic
development. That the rhetoric of development has become hegemonic at that moment,
at the end of a war coordinated against a totalitarian regime founded on racism is
particularly interesting. As the Martinian intellectual, Aimé Césaire, reminds us, it was
a racism that conjured up white, literate citizens, from wealthy classes, to brutish death.
More: it was a bloodthirsty racism perpetrated by a modern state, under the command of
a normative leader: man, white, functionally heterosexual, middle-class son, educated:

Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by


Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic,
very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being
aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is
his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at
bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime
against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against
the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied
to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved
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Kituyi
exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of
Africa. (Césaire, 1972, p. 45)

The grotesque shadow cast in the mirror by German experience was quickly
repressed, neutralized by redirecting the attention of the international community - and
its complex organogram composed of agencies, institutes, banks, NGOs - for the
developmentalist race in which it intended to engage the newly independent African
states, quickly converted into "poor", "underdeveloped" and "needy", as a way to
conjure and to take off power from the revolutionary rebels who emerged from the
struggles for independence:

In the post-war period, there was a "discovery" of the massive poverty


existing in Asia, Africa and Latin America. From a strictly economic and
quantitative definition, two thirds of humanity were transformed into poor -
and therefore into needy people, people in need of intervention - when in
1948 the World Bank defined as poor those countries whose annual per
capita income was less than US$ 100 a year: if the problem was insufficient
income, the solution was clearly economic development. (Lander, 2005:
p.16)

The third world is thus elevated to the condition of a problem, even though
the two previous "World Wars" - listed as the raison d'être of the recently constituted
United Nations - have had no direct connection with the subject, restricting itself to
eminently European, provincial issues.

In the words of Mignolo:

Development has become a term in the rhetoric of modernity to hide the


reorganization of the logic of coloniality: the new forms of control and
exploitation of the sector of the world labelled Third World and
underdeveloped countries "(Mignolo, 2000: p.293).

In the wake of the detailed study by Arturo Escobar (2007), Mignolo also
proposes to understand development as a representation regime, as an "invention"
resulting from postwar history that has framed, since then, every possible conception of
reality and social action of the countries known as underdeveloped. This implies that,
from that point on, one could criticize a particular approach, propose modifications or
advances in attention to it, but development itself and its need could no longer be
doubted: "development had become a certainty in the social imaginary" (Escobar, 2007:
p.13). Derived from this notion, the certainty that poverty, which is consolidating as an
absence of development or underdevelopment, must be eradicated, as evil.
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Mignolo points to what we consider the poto mitan of this logic: the racial
matrix of power that acts as a "mechanism by which not only people, but languages and
religions, knowledge and regions of the planet are racialized" (idem), marking the place
of non-white bodies in these processes, after all "being underdeveloped is not like being
an indigenous from the Americas? or a black man from Africa?" (Mignolo, 2000:
p.293).
Moreover, being a "black man from Africa" in that period implied, as much
as the national independence processes triumphed on the continent, to enter the stage of
the United Nations as a poor, underdeveloped state, in a sort of cushioning of the power
enacted by anticolonial struggles. It was not possible for these black countries to enter
this arena as bearers of the knowledge forged during the complex processes
experienced, apt to be shared among nations - such as Haitian - that have already been
engaged in similar struggles. Instead, they became the main recipient of the
development model advocated by the newly created International Monetary Fund,
World Bank and World Trade Organization, the so-called "Breton Woods Tripod." Its
presidency was expressly accorded to the countries with the greatest gross domestic
product, and whose organs would not only monetarily finance (and generate
indebtedness) "the entrance into development" of the so-called Third World nations, but
would offer them ready projects, specialists and a dispute settlement body to solve the
controversies that might appear while their economies were opened:

In the financial agreements concluded at Bretton Woods, the US defence of


free-market as a sufficient mechanism for overcoming war-torn destruction
and redirecting the capitalist economies of the West towards sustained
growth was clear. The apology of free trade by the United States government
had the support of US industry, which considered foreign markets vital to
postwar prosperity (Eichengreen apud Barreiros, 2000: p.138).

Thus, the imaginary about development - and its shadow, poverty - gains
materiality, anchoring in disciplinary systems to be adapted by the new states: rules of
law, public policies, universities, social sciences (Castro-Gómez , 2005, p.91).
Considering the role of the Social Sciences through this link between
knowledge and discipline allows us to understand the project of modernity carried out
since the colonial encounter and updated by the developmental logic of the post-Second
War also as an exercise of epistemic violence, understood as colonization of life by
speech. Thus, is possible to perceive how certain representations become dominant and
rigidly modulate the ways of imagining reality and interacting with it, enabling some
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Kituyi
associations - such as the relation between Gross Domestic Product and development -
and interdicting others - as, for example, poverty and well-being.
The Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot suggests "formulas of
erasure" and "formulas of banalization" to refer, respectively, to the actual erasure of
certain historical processes from hegemonic narratives, and to the fractured mention,
stripped of its foundations, so that its meaning is trivialized (Trouillot, 1995: p.96). Both
apply to what we understand as a cushioning of the potency of life in the spaces
invented as "Third World" by narratives that are dedicated sometimes to cover up,
others to trivialize different ways of being/producing/creating good life in the world.
We admit that these mechanisms, sometimes subtle and refined, coexist with grotesque
practices of dismantling/fighting other modes of being in the world, decoded as
"debasement of oppressed cultures", by the aforementioned Haitian sociologist Jean
Casimir. When applied to poverty, these techniques try to decode it as an abject,
impotent place, empty of creativity and well living, which, at the most, should inspire
the solidarity of "developed" states.
The characterization of cultural expressions of communities living in these
spaces associated with poverty as "traditional" or "non-modern", situating them in the
process of transition towards modernity acts as a discursive device to insert them as
past/margin in modern/colonial space/time, and thus deny them the possibility of being
understood as cultural dynamics or worldviews engaged in the conquest of good living
here and now, outside Western/capitalist logic and, therefore, its adversary and
challenger:

Modern Western societies are the image of the future for the rest of the
world, the way of life to which it would naturally come if it were not for the
obstacles represented by its inadequate racial composition, its archaic or
traditional culture, its magical religious prejudices, or more recently, by
populism and some excessively interventionist states, which do not respect
the spontaneous freedom of the market. (Lander, 2005, p.11)

In "The invention of the third world: Construction and deconstruction of the


development", Arturo Escobar stresses the way in which the discourse on development
operates the colonization of the other realities to which it is destined. His mention of US
President Harry Truman's inaugural address in 1949 helps to show how a narrative of
development in which poverty is mentioned at once as a sick space and therefore a place
of victims (powerless) and as threatening space, capable of affecting prosperous
neighbors, hinder their course (and thus, potent to the extent of their dangerousness):
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More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching
misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic
life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both
to them and to more prosperous areas. For the first time in history, humanity
possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people.
The United States is pre-eminent among nations in the development of
industrial and scientific techniques. The material resources which we can
afford to use for assistance of other peoples are limited. But our
imponderable resources in technical knowledge are constantly growing and
are inexhaustible. I believe that we should make available to peace-loving
peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them
realize their aspirations for a better life. What we envisage is a program of
development. Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the
key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of
modern scientific and technical knowledge. (Truman, 1949 apud Escobar,
p.2007)

In Truman's discourse, the articulation of the idea of technical-scientific


modernity with a "better life" made available to "these people" presented by their
deficiencies - "their food is inadequate, they are victims of illness. Their economic life
is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty constitutes an obstacle "- thanks to the
benevolence of this" humanity ", which" for the first time in history, has the knowledge
and capacity to alleviate [its] suffering. "Truman's discourse at this historic moment
finds solid support in the work of USAID, which, created in 1949 as a program in the
framework of US foreign policy, was elevated in 1961 to the state agency, as its website
in the section "Who we are", "History" tells us in a surprisingly clear way objectives.
The Program was focused on two goals:

I) Creating markets for the United States by reducing poverty and


increasing production in developing countries;
II) Diminishing the threat of communism by helping countries prosper under
capitalism.5

Following this historical account, we are informed that, once USAID was
created, "the opportunities for work in international development assistance have grown
tremendously." This assertion gains consistency when we see that the main partners in
implementing USAID action plans were US NGOs, but also when we realize that
training spaces for specialists in this area are now demanded by the government itself,
which in 1965 states that " the policies and programs on poverty that were being

5
The website of the USAID is https://www.usaid.gov/ and the citation was copy from
https://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are/usaid-history.
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developed should be shaped by a very determined logic, rigorous data and systematic
thinking, and not just by good intentions"6.

How the pragmatic clarity of USAID's founding goals - creating and


maintaining markets for the US- is articulated to a strategically opaque discourse that
marks government support policies for the production of knowledge about poverty is
particularly interesting. It is precisely in this discursive context in which rigor and
systematic thinking are called upon to sustain American good intentions, that in 1966
the University of Wisconsin-Madison "established an agreement with the US
Government's Office of Economic Opportunity to establish a national center of studies
on the nature, causes and cures for poverty ". The Institute for Research on Poverty is
created, and on its website, on the "About IRP" tab, "History of the Institute", informs:

When the federal government made new efforts to help the poor in the 1960s,
it also determined that social programs should be studied and evaluated for
their effectiveness. In charge of implementing the War on Poverty that
President Johnson had declared in 1964, the Office of Economic Opportunity
(OEO) sought to establish a center where specialists would conduct basic
research, provide advice and serve as a source of information. To remove it
from the day-to-day problem-solving arena, the center should be located
outside of Washington. The University of Wisconsin was the likely space in
order of its long tradition of applied social policy research and also because
several of its professors had served on the chair of the President's Council of
Economic Advisers when the anti-poverty strategy was being formulated.
Robert Lampman, for example, member of the department of economics,
became director of the new institute.

This sequence of governmental measures, taken in order to institutionalize


the production of knowledge about poverty, by consolidating partnerships with
academic institutions that, based on the discourse of rigor, are based on compadrio,
creating expertise among allies, gives us an interesting glance about how poverty would
be built in the multilateral arena at the United Nations: as a third-world problem to be
solved by the "winners" of the Second World War, more specifically by the United
States, that, thanks to its declared "internal war" against poverty, consolidated itself as
protagonist of the new international scene in this historical period.
Less than revealing the intricacies behind this plot, our intention here is to
identify, in this set of accounts, clues that tell how the production of a strategically
opaque discourse on poverty - requiring scholars, centers,public policies, which is
reflected through acronyms, indexes, curves, coefficients - is being implemented and

6
Quoted from the website of the University of Wisconsin: http://www.irp.wisc.edu/aboutirp/history.htm
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contributing to the fact that poverty appears as a "fact", a reality "per se" to which the
only possible response is systematic combat.
The way in which this pathological discourse of poverty (place from which
entire countries should be withdrawn) was generated in the United Nations, required the
adoption of a series of measures until its overcome, presented as a painful way, that
would demand, to its fulfilment, commitment and sacrifices that "very few communities
are willing to pay", as perceived in an official document of the organization:

There is a sense in which accelerated economic progress is impossible


without painful adjustments. Ancestral philosophies must be eradicated; the
old social institutions have to disintegrate; the bonds of caste, creed and race
must be broken; and large masses of people unable to keep up with progress
should see their expectations of a comfortable life frustrated. Very few
communities are willing to pay the price of economic progress. (United
Nations, 1951, I apud Escobar, 2007)

In this way, the discourse of development as an overcoming of poverty is


constructed as the mission/burden of a white North that was already at its peak and, out
of charity, humanitarian concern, pacifist effort, offers its aid to a South that is black
(not white) because poor, poor (or undeveloped) because black - insolent, backward,
from which one expects, on the other hand, total, strict and unrestricted commitment to
the elimination of the "obstacles" to economic progress constituted by ancestry,
spirituality, neighbourhood and compadrio. There is an evident aspect that appears
repeatedly in discourses, reports and scientific literature produced on poverty: the blame
of the communities for the shortage in which they live. The need to save them from
themselves, to control them, to stop their uncontrolled reproduction, their endemic
diseases, at the limit, the need to dilute their difference.

The complexity of the national realities of the southern countries of the


world was, in short, colonized by the discourse of development, and those who were
dissatisfied with this state of affairs had to struggle within that same discursive space -
since leaving it was not in discussion - for minimal fractions of freedom. This was the
case of the Iranian representative at the United Nations in the period 1957-1971,
diplomat Majid Rahnema, who tried to signal the need to address what had been
combated by the organization as "poverty" in another way:

The quite sophisticated and elaborate presentation made by Robert Mearns


of the World Bank prompts me to start my intervention by sharing with you a
couple of thoughts. Namely, on the different perceptions of poverty and why it
is important that, at least in this group, we make sure that we are all talking
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about the same thing. Is there only one form of poverty or a multitude of
poverties that are quite different from each other? In that case, is it proper
to postulate, without any precision, that “poverty” is a shame, a scourge, or
even a violation of human rights that should be eradicated? Or, if history and
anthropology would teach us that poverty has been- and still remains- a
mode of life that has always protected the poor from falling into destitution,
should we not, on the contrary, seek to respect or to regenerate it?
(Rahnema, s/a, p.01)

The breach that Rahnema attempts to establish in the discursive context on


poverty is rapidly and institutionally mended with the creation in 1964 of UNCTAD
(United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), which reinforces the UN body
of agencies responsible for the agenda of development in the organization.
On its website, in the "About" tab, UNCTAD comes up with the following
statement: "Globalization, including a phenomenal expansion of trade, has helped lift
millions out of poverty. But not nearly enough people have benefited. And tremendous
challenges remain." The way in which this discourse is articulated leads us to assume
that the problem with the so-called "poor" countries is that they have not yet benefited
from globalization, and that it is necessary to prepare their economies by adapting them.
Following is a list of efforts supposedly aimed at this goal:

Working at the national, regional, and global level, our efforts help countries
to: Diversify economies to make them less dependent on commodities; Limit
their exposure to financial volatility and debt; Attract investment and make it
more development friendly; Increase access to digital technologie; Promote
entrepreneurship and innovation; Help local firms move up value chains;
Speed up the flow of goods across borders; Protect consumers from abuse;
Curb regulations that stifle competition; Adapt to climate change and use
natural resources more effective7.

The articulation of a speech filled with the jargon of a benevolent8


imperialism that works by the simple effect of its appearance of progressive varnish
(friendly investment, protection of consumers, increase of access to technologies,
promotion of entrepreneurship) to a series of drastic financial adjustments to be (it is
necessary to attract investment, to change the value chain of local firms, to abolish

7
Quoted from the UNCTAD website, http://unctad.org/en/Pages/aboutus.aspx
8
The idea of "benevolent imperialism" is adressed in the study "Evaluation and Internationalization of
Higher Education: Quo vadis Latin America?" By Denise Leite and Maria Elly Herz Genro. In this essay,
the authors are revealing the plots by which the subject of higher education is being treated in the
multilateral spheres of the united nations from a neolanguage that, taking the logic of the imperialist
market of benevolent veneer, allows it to be applied as soft power, generating consensus and reproducing
itself without deep confrontations and clashes.
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security standards, to use resources more effectively), generate, as a surface effect, the
impression that the transformations to be promoted by the "poor" countries are as
logical as necessary.

The Haitian sociologist Jean Anil Louis-Juste highlight the subjectivities


created within this processing and operation of needs: in addition to the poor of the third
world, the developmentalist personality that exchanges the organic solidarity of the
community for that of the spectacle (he refers here, especially to some NGOs), a
solidarity based and expressed on development projects that affirm the individualistic
humanism of capital as the only way to deal with contemporary social inequalities:

The so-called "development aid", above all, transforms the political question
of democracy among peoples into a purely technological problem, equating
underdevelopment with the lack of modern techniques or the persistence of
archaic ways of life and work; underdevelopment, making it difficult to meet
the needs or satisfaction of the human needs of these major contingents of
Humanity, disregarding the historical process of impoverishment of these
countries within the old metropolis-colony relationship. By privatizing
development cooperation, developmentalist solidarity takes this
transformation to its total depoliticization, depleting the political content of
underdevelopment through the private relationship between generous
persons and deprived ones mediated by the NGO. This subsumption
contributes to conceal the achievement of political goals of former
metropolises in the organization of the life and work of the populations of the
Third World. In this sense, developmentalism emerges as a new way of
emptying the political content of post-war international relations, ruling out
the necessary intertwining between politics and economics, between freedom
and equality, between democracy and human development. (Juste, 2007:
p.220)

Juste also defends as a role/effect of development projects, the


neutralization of the political opposition at the base, while neoliberalism is promoted at
the top. The ideology of "development aid" would promote the linking of the poor,
through international organizations, with neoliberalism:

The diffusion of developmentalist individualism in all spheres of activity is


part of a fundamental political strategy of social control by capital. Micro-
development becomes the macro-social culture that diffuses from the
countryside to the city, from the organization of the neighbourhood to the
state institution, deepening individual/collective separation and re-animating
private/public dissociation. The micro-development activity tends to replace
the dynamics of struggle against exploitation, domination and discrimination,
paradoxically, in the name of the development of individuals. (Juste, 2007:
p.225)

The author's powerful critique of the post-war developmentalist model is


addressed above all to how it subordinates popular movements to the political project of
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the transnational capital. To the way in which "through the discourse of development,
global capital subsumes local social relations to its own expanded reproduction: it
conceals itself in order to better control the orientation of local practices" (Juste, 2007:
226).

It is the use of a syntax which, by covering hegemonic practices based on


the desire for expansion of northern markets with an apparent benevolence and
progressism, allows it to spread as a reasonable consensus that does not admit deep
debate or contestation. The fight against a poverty supposedly generated by archaism,
ignorance and obscurantism - which, at the limit never verbalized accompanies the
black bodies-knowledges where they are crowded - consolidates as the "unique model"
of access to development.

The apex of this perception can be found in one of UNCTAD's attributions:


the systematization of a listing of the “poorest countries in the world", initially called
"list of non-viable states" or "failed states", and subsequently changed to "least
advanced countries" to the current version as "least developed countries".

The criteria used by the agency to "downgrade" a country to "one of the


least developed in the world" combine, in a strategically hermetic way, (1) per capita
income; II) index of "human assets" composed of indicators of nutrition, infant
mortality, school enrolment and levels of illiteracy; and III) "economic vulnerability
index", composed of indicators of exposure to natural and commercial shocks, country
dimensions and degree of isolation9.

Among the most significant consequences of the burden of being included


in this list of countries is the fact that, once there, national sovereignty becomes
"relativized", giving rise to all kinds of international "therapeutic" intervention. The
implicit comparison methodology that underlies such a listing, as well as the kind of
macrossociological narrative that legitimizes it, means that, to use Stuart Hall's words,
"everything that is diverse in the rest of the world is decoded as a 'not yet ', a lack to be
compensated through appropriate social intervention "(Hall, 1996a: p.78).
Concerning the countries on the list, most of them are situated on the
African continent, with some representatives in the Middle East and only one case in the
Americas - Haiti, which, for the purposes of the report, is eloquently analysed as part of

9
All information on the listing can be found on the UNCTAD website as well as in its technical reports
launched every three years: http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Home.aspx
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the African group - they end up being a homogenized bloc for what they lack. These are
people, knowledge and spaces in the South of the world who are even more profoundly
subordinated, since their place of enunciation is not only delegitimized but, to fulfil the
destitutive effect of being on this list, needs to be constructed as non-existent, to be
cancelled.
The absence of conditions of possibility for speech to emerge in these
spaces makes the "Failed States" not only expansion of the north-centred financial
markets, but of every aid apparatus - including scientific production - directed at a
devoid South . After all, how could it be explain that "these people" living "under such
conditions", so far from the project of modernity, are not fully committed to not
succumbing to hunger or disease? That it is possible, from these interdicted spaces, to
question the West in its hegemonic project?
Guinean sociologist Carlos Cardoso points to the repercussions of this
discourse/practice on Western academic production on the newly constituted African
states:

As the new statesstruglled against the aftermaths of colonialism, in


postcolonial Africa the social thought shifted from civilizing discourse to
developmental discourse. Western social sciences have moved from the
mission of civilizing Africa to the mission of developing Africa.
Modernization theories, in vogue during the postwar period, presumed that
development was what the West had and what lacked in the so-called
underdeveloped countries, and that development was a linear historical
process. In this perspective, development is conceived as the process of
'recovery' (rattrapage) of Africa before the West, a linear process of
transition from prehistoric societies to modern capitalist societies. (Cardoso,
2011: p.129)

Cardoso goes further in his critic by stating that "the social sciences, as
conceived in the West and introduced in Africa, rejected the interpretation of Africa as a
civilized continent, especially that of a subject capable of autonomous thinking"
(Cardoso, 2011: 128) . The construction of the concept of underdevelopment and its
application to the continent were, according to the author, impregnated "from the
colonial racial discourse of 'otherness'". In the construction of Africa as a poor
continent, "domains such as literature, education, history, philosophy, languages were
completely excluded" because they did not correspond to what was intended to be
affirmed. The alleged technical and scientific superiority of the North in the post-war
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context would thus have served to further justify the scientific, political and economic
domination of Africa (idem).

From Haiti, Jean Casemir comments on the ambivalent position of the social
scientist producing from a "failed country" of the Caribbean region in the same period,
something not only unthinkable, but impossible since the north-centered paradigm that
needs a "coherent poverty", a misery at all levels, where speech is never able to emerge:

The successes of the social sciences that take place in the underdeveloped
countries, and particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, are largely
due to a new type of scientist incertain about his position on the fact that he
observes and on the recognition of the peculiarity of this position. It is one
thing for Melville J. Herskovits to study the Haitian Village or the Trinidad
Village, and it is very different for an anthropologist from these places who
dares to apprehend their characteristics. Within the classical framework of
scientific practices, an inhabitant of the referred peoples can not be a
scientist unless he migrates physically or mentally. (Casimir, 1980:p.03)

The reverse of this discourse with an enlightened surface practiced by the


North is the fear/desire towards this strange, rebellious, resilient Other who persists in
surviving in unimaginable conditions and who, for this very reason, mobilizes
unknown, incomprehensible, incompatible limits with the life and episteme of the
Same.To affirm as non-whites, to emphasize as blacks, the inhabitants of these spaces
built as failures, of interdicted speech, of production of impossible knowledge, is
fundamental to denounce the racist logic that crosses and engenders this mechanism of
production of neocolonial subalternity. The Mozambican historian Maria Paula
Meneses explains this overlap:

The historical location of the black people conceptually developed as an


earlier (and inferior) moment to Western modernity, self-justifies the
inevitability of the advantage of European culture, modern and potentially
universal. The attribution of a place of specificity to the African reality has
become the ideological artifice that has justified not only the invention of the
indigenous world as local, but also the naturalization of the non-
contemporaneity of Africa with the time of the modern West. Africa has
become a space of ontological difference, where tradition has been assumed
as a referential of a society considered outside history. (Meneses,2012: p.78)

The way in which newly independent African states - as well as


nations that until recently have been hit by US imperialism, such as Haiti - will
be "assimilated" to the structure of the United Nations as "unviable", with the
mission of ensuring moral consistency and political justification to the work
carried out there - which, after all, moves billions of dollars, besides
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guaranteeing prestige, political power and the right of direct intervention -
updates the dynamics of the colonial conquest with which it was intended to
break.
While Casimir was dedicated to the work "La cultura oprimida", in
strong interlocution with Pablo Gonçalez Casanova, from the National
Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and also with the group of
Brazilian intellectuals who questioned the problem of dependency, the IMF and
other UN agencies responsible for drafting this list of failed countries hired - and
quoted massively in their reports - professionals like Mats Luhndal, a Belgian
economist who had a career studying "Haitian poverty" decreed by UNCTAD.
In his best-known work "Poverty in Haiti," Luhndal comments on how he
met the country:

I came to Haiti for the first time in August 1969. At that time, I was a 23-
year-old university student of business and economics at Lund University.
One of my economics teachers was Associate Professor Bo Sodersten, later
Professor of International Economics at Lund. He had been to Haiti for a
week in September 1968, and it was he who urged me to go there. His urge
was the beginning of a more tha 40-year affair with the country. In spite of
all the dark aspects of Haitian life I have never regretted it. (Lundahl, 2011:
p.X)

Lundahl's speech is a clue as to how Haiti is becoming an interesting career


in the global north because of its poverty then presented as extreme and transformed
into a problem, making it likely to be visited by university students from developed
countries. They will have their analyzes taken with primacy by the same international
organizations that will refute the production of Haitian social scientists as nonexistent -
impossible -. It is symptomatic that Lundahl's approach takes as given "Haitian poverty"
and begins with the explanation on "why Haiti has failed so badly in terms of economic
and social development during its entire existence as a sovereign nation" until it reaches
the "effort to indentify possible ways out of its stagnation and regression"(Lundahl,
2011: p.X).
In his first paragraph on the country, the professor of the Stockholm School
of Economics - quoted in numerous IMF and World Bank area reports - refers to Haiti
in a discursive construction that brings together those that will be systematically pointed
out as constitutive factors of third-world poverty:
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(...)is one of the least enviable countries in the word. Two thirds of its people
are peasents who have to eke out a living on less than 1 hectare of land. Over
three-fourths of the population have to make do on less than two US dollars a
day, around fifty percent on less than one. Haiti never had a decent
government. The country has always been governed by Kleptocrats. It is no
coincidence that two military interventios by the United States took place
during the twentieth century. it is difficult to qualify Haiti as anything but a
failed state. Without the presence of UN military and police Haiti in all
probability would have suck into total chaos. (Lundahl, 2011: p.XI)

In the context of this study, Lundahl's theoretical production closes the


parade of examples set forth to expose the mechanisms through which knowledge
production, state and multilateral policies to combat poverty - in those archaic, exotic
and black spaces - are intertwined to constitute themselves as valid and to produce
mutual legitimacy.

Final notes

At the end of this study, we suggest that the colonial rhetoric that underlies
the notion that poverty can only produce failure and non-viability leads to the refutation
of the knowledge and practices developed from these places, understood by Boaventura
de Sousa Santos (2000) as "waste of their experiences "as producers of alternatives in
the construction of a" good life "capable of being shared and translated among the
peoples of the South:

First, social experience throughout the world is much broader and more
varied than what Western scientific or philosophical tradition knows and
considers important. Second, this social wealth is being wasted. It is from
this waste that ideas are nourished that proclaim that there is no alternative,
that history has come to an end, and others similar (Santos, 2000: p.02)

The author goes further to say that, in order to combat the waste of
experience, to make alternative initiatives and movements visible and to give them
credibility, "it is not enough to resort to social science as we know it" since, in the end,
"this science is responsible for hiding or discrediting the alternatives. " He proposes, in
this sense, that without a critique of the model of Western rationality, dominant at least
during the last centuries, "all the proposals presented by the new social analysis,
however many alternatives are judged, will tend to reproduce the same effect of
concealment and discredit" (idem).
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It is in the wake of this critique that the need to rehabilitate the place of
enunciation of those who speak from spaces labeled as "failures" is imposed. Not only
because doing so do we stop wasting their experiences, we make them exist and apt to
be translated among the peoples of the South, but because doing so implies enabling
these narratives, resulting from other experiences of conceptualization, to enter into
dispute with those hegemonic , to assume within the representations what the Congolese
philosopher Valentim Mudimbe understood as "an interrupted historicity" (Mudimbe,
1988: p.183). In this way, the inhabitants of these interdicted spaces can not only
achieve a greater autonomy in the way they are represented, but also in the way in
which they can relate and propose social models not necessarily mediated by Western
historicity and episteme.

In this sense, finding the colonial trail in the hegemonic discourses on


poverty implies also finding the race as evidence of the place that was occupied in
history. Poverty as a destitute black body. The black body decoded as failure. The
unviable poverty produced as evidence of the black's place in Western history.

Understanding the spaces associated with poverty outside the paradigm of


failure should lead to their emancipation as a place of powerful bodies-knowledge, a
condition that the production of counter-hegemonic narratives forged in these contexts
by black people may be, at first, admitted as a possibility. The reversal of this key of
colonial reading of the world is radical insofar as, at the same time, it conceives that
subalternized spaces are producers of potent knowledges and that these knowledges, in
turn, are able to enter into dispute with those produced by the North .

References

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BAUMAN, Zygmunt. Europa: uma aventura inacabada. Ed. Jorge Zahar: Rio de
Janeiro, 2004.
CASIMIR, Jean. La cultura oprimida. Mexico: Nueva Imagen, 1980;
CASTIANO, José. Saberes Locais na Academia: Condições e Possibilidades da Sua
Legitimação. Universidade Pedagógica/CEMEC: Maputo, 2013;
CASTRO-GÓMEZ, Santiago. "Ciencias sociales, violencia epistémica y el problema de
la "invención del otro", in Lander, Edgardo (org.), La colonialidad del saber:
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