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(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020)

An English translation of Arturo Escobar’s book on Pluriversal Politics was published in spring 2020 by Duke University Press. Upon reading this book I realized that the Center for Ecozoic Studies was moving along the lines he was describing, and he gave helpful language for understanding this.

He writes of the long duration of patriarchy, heterosexism, racism, capitalism, modernity, and Western civilization and of escalating crises around racism, inequality, the environment, xenophobia,  poverty, energy, and meaning. Collectively these amount to a civilizational crisis, which is a relatively rare occurrence.

Then he writes of approaches to addressing these crises in which he contrasts modernist or universal approaches to ontological or pluriversal approaches. One modernist approach is strategies conducted in the name of progress to improve people’s conditions. This is the developmentalist approach and it is huge. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and a host of NGOs, national aid funds, and private and public consulting groups carry on this work. A second modernist approach concerns strategies for social justice. People involved in this work include the protest groups and movements working on human rights, environmental rights, inequality, and oppression.

The ontological or pluriversal approach is not so well known by these names, though this approach is also being widely practiced, especially by marginalized communities in the Global South.[1] The ontological approach involves ways of knowing, doing, and being that are counter to modernist ways. It takes multiple forms that are unique to place and are radically relational. They concern different ideas of what is real and what is possible. They involve change from below, whereas the first two approaches involve change from above and are universal in the sense that they call for reforms applicable to broad groups of people across cultures and geographies.

The ontological approach involves searching out and living ways of life that are right for particular groups of people. Thus, they yield a plurality of approaches, in other words a pluriverse. In these approaches, people who have taken the ontological turn work out new ways of living in their settings. This, of course, does not mean they can ignore outside influences and intrusions—they cannot. Because of this, all three approaches are needed, yet they are different. It makes a difference which approach one—or more accurately, a community—emphasizes.

Those who choose the modernist approaches may consider the ontological approach romantic. This is because they have a certain idea of what is real or realistic, and what is possible based on modernist narratives. Those who take the ontological approach claim the agency of place and the pluriversal. They see different reals and different possibles. The title of the Spanish edition of Escobar’s book means another possible is possible.

The ecozoic is radically relational. I had not thought of it as involving ontological politics and pluriversal embodiments, but now I can see that it does. To say that these multiple, diverse, grounded-in-place, movements from below are political is a claim that they have the potential to bring about change in the way that the two modernist approaches do. This claim is based on radical relationality—if everything is radically related, then change in any one part of a system changes the whole system. It is at least conceivable that these ecological, pluriversal movements from below will be the most effective means of change.

The next phase of CES involves new, diverse ways of living that are grounded in place. The “ways” we mean to support are not individualist ways. That would be modernism. We mean to support new ecological communal ways of living. It is exciting to think of the dynamism of ontological, pluriversal politics.

Other reals are real. Other possibles are possible.

[1] The terms Global North (or simply North) and Global South (or simply South) are not strictly geographic terms. Some of the Global North countries—such as Australia and New Zealand—are in the Southern Hemisphere, and many of the Global South countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, the population of the Global South countries in the Northern Hemisphere, which include India, Indonesia, and China, exceeds the population of Global South countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

Another reason that the terms are not geographical is that Global North is used to refer to relatively rich people wherever they are located who are members of the global consumer class, and Global South is used to refer to relatively poor people wherever they are located who are not members of the global consumer class. Thus, in Global North countries, such as the United States, there are people (homeless people, migrant workers, old and disabled people, abused people, and other employed and non-employed poor) who are part of the Global South. And in Global South countries, such as India, there are people who are part of the Global North (people who are part of the global consumer class and are privileged).