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Department of Geography


Decolonial Research Lab: Reading Group


Our informal reading group/seminar series engages with the urgent demands to decolonize geography, especially in relation to British university-based geographers in their research in Latin America and other parts of the global South.

Our aim is to meet fortnightly during term to discuss a recently published book (or chapters), or each other’s work, or to listen to a visiting speaker. The idea is that each participant brings to the discussion their insights into how we might bend our methodologies, concepts and theories and activities outside the university to challenge coloniality.

If you are interested to know more about the group and our present schedule, please contact Sarah Radcliffe on


13 October 2022 James Sidaway (National University of Singapore) Beyond the decolonial: Critical Muslim Geographies’

Prof. Sidaway’s talk considers selected decolonial moves in geography, building on engagements with postcolonial theory since the 1990s and earlier currents of radical geography. Based on a forthcoming paper in Dialogues in Human Geography, Sidaway charts their interactions, including the impacts of selective intellectual influences from Latin America, and foregrounds Muslim geographies. The decolonization of Muslim geographies questions concepts and upgrades terminology and speaks to crucial interfaces of circuits of capital, economic and political geographies and area studies. Such moves entail relearning from epistemological, social and spatial ‘peripheries’ and establishing connections, notably with Black geographies. The conclusions consider how such links transcend decolonial geographies.

9 November 2022 Laura Loyola-Hernandez (University of Leeds) ‘The (in)animation of coloniality: Resistance to decolonising initiatives in Environmental and Geographical disciplines.’

Discussion of Dr Loyola Hernandez and A. Gosal’s report Impact of decolonising initiatives and practices in the Faculty of Environment (2022 University of Leeds, DOI:

18 November 2022 Lucia Rojas Rodríguez (Geography, University of Cambridge)


Lent term

11th March 2022 Robert Lee (History, University of Cambridge) ‘Land Grab Universities’

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which distributed public domain land to raise funds for fledgling colleges across the United States. In popular memory, this law launched the celebrated land-grant university system with a gift of free land. But the truth is more complicated: The Morrill Act worked by turning land expropriated from tribal nations into seed money for higher education. In all, the act redistributed nearly 10.8 million acres from more than 250 tribal nations for the benefit of 52 colleges. This talk will examine the results of an investigation that combined digital tools with archival research to reconstruct the Morrill Act’s geographic and financial footprint, tying university beneficiaries to the Indigenous nations whose lands underwrote their prosperity.

8 March 2022 Michael Simpson (University of St Andrews) ‘The Paradox of Law and Violence: Policing on the Frontlines of Struggles against the Settler Colonial State’

From Standing Rock to Wet’suwet’en territory and across North America, land and water defenders on the frontlines of Indigenous-led struggles are facing increasingly militarized and unrestrained state violence. This paper considers what this alarming trend might teach us about the relationship between law and violence in settler colonial contexts where the state’s legal authority remains tenuous at bestConventional understandings suggest that the police serve as the coercive arm of the state which enforces law within its territorial boundaries, whereas the military defends the state from external threats extending beyond its borders. However, in settler colonial contexts the relationship between the police and military is not so straightforward. In Canada, the national police force was founded to expand the state’s territorial claims by dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their lands. On the edges of state power, police incursions into unceded Indigenous territories work not to enforce the law; here, the police precede the law, serving to actively constitute the state’s legal authority. This points to a fundamental paradox of the state in colonial contexts – that constitutional law is unlawfully constituted. I argue that this underlying paradox helps to make sense of police violence against Indigenous peoples asserting sovereignty on the frontlines of conflicts over resource extraction today. Where police forcibly remove Indigenous peoples claiming legal and territorial jurisdiction over their unceded lands and waters, these actions should be understood not as law-enforcing violence, but rather as the law-establishing violence of colonial dispossession.

25th February 2022 Max Ritts (Sociology, University of Cambridge) ‘Sound’s Coloniality: Formatting, recording and saving on Indigenous lands.’

The question of sound’s colonialities – e.g., its relation to constitutive, onto-epistemic practices of colonialism – remains undertheorized (cf. Kanngieser 2021). Recent trends in environmental conservation cast this absence into sharp relief. Worldwide, various governments and NGOs are now celebrating the use of fixed, distributed, and multi-purpose acoustic sensing systems as critical eco-governance infrastructure, set to resolve key issues of species monitoring, defamation, and even community engagement (Gibb et al 2019; Odom et al. 2020). Yet these terrestrial acoustic observatories are non-innocent projections of other social logics too. Within them, one finds an emergent “calculative reason… [that] promises to collect a heterogenous, changing group of elements ‘beneath’ some higher-order goal” (Carse 2016, 35-36). How might situated digital captures on sound relate to the broader environmental and social concerns of Indigenous communities? This talk shares initial reflections on the play of sound within the critical ambit of “coloniality” (Mignolo 2011), a matrix of power which extends unevenly across time and space. Hypothesizing sound’s digitisation and appeal to contemporary eco-governance as one possible expression of coloniality, we ask: What impacts do emergent sonic governance programmes pose to Indigenous communities, now routinely asked to collaborate in their implementation and use in the context of global conservation projects? What epistemological horizons, deskillings/reskillings, and kin relations are being valued and delimited in these observatories? And if the digitalisation of sound can be mobilised in ways that benefit Indigenous communities, how can researchers verify this is indeed what is transpiring on the ground?

28th January 2022 Open Meeting ‘Decolonising Initiatives: Geography and Architecture.’

With Prof. Irit Katz, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge.

Michaelmas term

26 November 2021 Anna Guasco (Geography, University of Cambridge) ‘Fieldwork, Access and (Dis)Embodiment’

Critiques of fieldwork within and beyond geography abound. In this presentation, I bring together three key strands of critique — feminist geographies, disability justice, and anti-colonial approaches — to raise questions about place, place-based research, embodiment, travel, and fieldwork. The physical, embodied experience of fieldwork, of getting one’s boots muddy or even inhaling dust in the archive, has long been understood as part of one’s authority, legitimacy, and expertise. I unpack the politics of knowledge embedded in this imaginary through the lens of access/accessibility, asking, among other questions: who is imagined to be conducting this fieldwork, and who is left out of this image? I will use the term ‘access’ broadly, acknowledging its many meanings and usages. Troubling standard notions of ‘access’ in geographical fieldwork and research travel, I will work towards asking what an ethic of not going ‘there’ might entail. This talk draws on both the methodology chapter of my dissertation and a piece I’m currently writing for Environmental History Now.

21 November 2021 Rogelio Luque-Lora (Geography, University of Cambridge) ‘Values, de/coloniality and the more-than-human world in Chile’


Michaelmas Term

Programme to be announced shortly


Michaelmas term

  • 19th October: Siby Warrington-Brown (PhD, Geography) – Urban material encounters and socio-spatial knowledge: Indigenous and low-income women’s work in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  • 31st October: Sarah Radcliffe (Geography) – The paradoxical political economies of indigeneity
  • 15th November: Discussion of Elizabeth Povinelli ‘Economies of Abandonment’ (2011, Duke University Press)
  • 30th November: Giulia Torino (PhD, Architecture) Colour-blindness, mestizaje, and the racialization of spatial justice in Bogotá

Easter Term 2019

A series of meetings to discuss decolonising geography with the aim of clarifying how the Department of Geography could move more towards a decolonising praxis and perspective.

  • Friday 24th May 12.45-2pm – preliminary meeting to discuss overall goals and organise an open meeting
  • Friday 7th June 12.45-2pm – agenda to be confirmed
  • Friday 21st June 12.45-2pm – agenda to be confirmed


  • 15 June: Siby Warrington-Brown (PhD Geography) ‘Racism and discrimination in the experience of peri-urban Indigenous women in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’
  • 27 April: A discussion about the challenges of making a research project decolonial, with Han Cheng (geography PhD)
  • 9 March: Dana Brablec Sklenar (PhD, Sociology) – draft chapter
  • 23 February: Mayra Tenorio (MPhil, Gender Studies) leads discussion on Diane Nelson ‘Who counts: the mathematics of death and life after genocide’ (2015, Duke University Press)
  • 9 February: Discussion of Ystanes, M & Strønen, I. 2018. The Social Life of Economic Inequalities in Contemporary Latin America: Decades of Change.
  • 1 December: Jonathan Harris (PhD Geography) – ‘Articulations of Amazigh Indigeneity’
  • 10 November: Sarah Radcliffe (Geography) – ‘Not-quite-neoliberal ecologies and decolonial Indigenous agendas in Ecuador’ (conference paper)


Discussions of papers by Sam Halvorsen, Laurie Denyer-Willis, Jess C. Hope, and many others.


In 2014-2015, we discussed publications by Christina Ewig, Elizabeth Povinelli, Juliet Erazo, Clifford Geertz, and SL Morgensen.

2012-13 – Working Theme: The politics of difference in multicultural governance

  • Thursday 25th April – Penelope Anthias (PhD student, Geography Department, Cambridge) ‘Mobilising resource imaginaries: struggles over land and gas in the Bolivian Chaco’
  • Friday 17th May – Sofia Zaragocin (PhD student, Gender Studies, Cambridge) ‘Two sides of a Gendered Border: Indigenous women on the Ecuador-Colombia border zone’
  • Thursday 6 June – Jorge Resina (Politics Department, Complutense University Madrid, visiting graduate at Geography Department, Cambridge) ‘Building the Plurinational State: Indigenous proposals and the struggle for territory in Ecuador’


Tuesday 25th October 2011

In the first session, I suggest that we look at the following (which together don’t make up too much reading, and people can choose two of three if short for time).

Engle, K. 2010 The elusive promise of indigenous development. Duke UP, Intro and Chap 4

Mignolo, W. 2000 Local histories/global designs. Princeton UP. Chap 1 ‘Border thinking and the colonial difference’

For those who want a more ‘grounded’ exploration of these issues:

Ortiz, P. 2009 Indigenous knowledge, education and ethnic identity. VDM Verlag.

Thursday 3rd November 2011

Talk by Dr Freddy Alvarez (Visiting Scholar, consultant to Ecuador’s Indigenous Development Council) and/or reading proposed by Freddy.

Thursday 17th Nov 2011

Bret Gustafson’s book “New Languages of the State”. Discussion led by Sandra.

Thursday 1st Dec 2011

Piece of writing by Sarah and/or reading on theme of current research.

2011-12 – Working theme: Knowledge and Difference

We meet in the coffee room in the Department of Geography from 12.45-2pm. Bring a sandwich! Please note that sessions are on Thursdays.

26 January 2012: Capucine Boidin (IHEAL- Sorbonne Nouvelle)

9 February 2012: Joanne Rappaport’s book, discussion led by David Lehmann

Intercultural utopias: public intellectuals, cultural experimentation, and ethnic pluralism in Colombia (Duke University Press, 2005; ISBN 0-8223-3599-9) This ethnography, based on a collaborative methodology, explores Colombia’s mutifaceted indigenous movement, focusing on its intellectuals: regional indigenous activists, nonindigenous urban collaborators, local teachers, shamans, and native politicians. It interweaves stories of activists with an analysis of the politics of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, tracing the development of a distinctly indigenous modernity that defies common stereotypes of ethnic separatism or a romantic return to the past. This emerging form of modernity is characterized by interethnic communication and the reframing of selectively appropriated Western research methodologies within indigenous philosophical frameworks.

23rd February 2012 ‘Bilingual Intercultural Education in Ecuador’

Our meeting will be an opportunity to hear from Alejandra Gomez (Education Faculty) about recent reforms and transformations in IBE education in Ecuador. Alejandra will talk about the new Law of Intercultural Education of Ecuador, its impact on EIB, and some of the recent changes in the nature and structure of DINEIB and the Ministry of Education. The readings listed here are designed to provide some background to Alejandra’s talk. The meeting will be slightly shorter than usual – 12.45-1.45pm.


January 2009

Our first meeting (in January 2009) discussed Sian Lazar El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia. (Duke UP, 2008).

Tuesday 17 March 2009

1-2pm in the Coffee Room of the Department of Geography. Our readings will include:

  • Mark Goodale Dilemmas of Modernity Bolivian Encounters with Law and Liberalism (Stanford University Press). [selected chapter – contact Sandra Brunnegger if you wish to have a copy]
  • Hale, Charles 2002 ‘Does multiculturalism menace? Governance, cultural rights and the politics of identity in Guatemala’ Journal of Latin American Studies 34(3): 485-524. doi:10.1017/S0022216X02006521
  • Hooker, Juliet 2005 ‘Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America’ Journal of Latin American Studies 37(2). doi:10.1017/S0022216X05009016


Meeting on 5 May 2009

Our discussion was be prompted by: Nuijten, M. 2003 Power community and the state: the political anthropology of organisation in Mexico. Pluto.

Sarah Radcliffe, Department of Geography and
Sandra Brunnegger, St Edmund’s College (