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José de J. Romero L.

Anthropologist / Universidad Central de Venezuela

Masters / Contemporary history of America (in progress)

Universidad Central de Venezuela

Professor / Bolivarian University of Venezuela

Program Degree Tutor
- Legal Studies,
- Political Studies.

Acculturation, Trans-culturation and Colonial Difference:

Transduction; a semiotic-epistemic possibility of resistance.

Somewhere in the vastness of the universe there is a galaxy and a solar system, within which there exists a
small blue planet; the third ( in relation to the sun). ( rotating around the sun?)

It is upon this small blue planet that a creature has been given the task of building multiple worlds; multiple
stories; multiple paths.

In the year 1492 there took place a series of events that made possible the emergence of a new world and a new
knowledge - one capable of locating and classifying temporal space - other existing worlds - as inferior and


This paper arises from the confluence of three broad yet merging lines
(of thought?) contributing to the development of an alternative analysis to
proposals in the deconstruction of essentialism in which identities are
characterized in the hegemonic discourse of modernity; the development of

classifications and the establishment of social hierarchies, based on

ethnic/racial difference.

The first of these lines is the field of anthropology, historically the space from
which the processes of contact and cultural exchange have been debated.

The second line is the field of semiotics, which assumes (divergence)and

(interpretation) as constituent parts in the creation of (meaning) and sense; in
this respect, identity should not be (considered) a factor of exclusion, but quite
the opposite, since so many interrelated links exist such as: the like and the
unlike; the material and the symbolic; resistance and power.

This line inquires into the narrative and dialogic construction of identity. The dynamics
related to this, includes the incorporating of the strange within your own and the grading
and crystallizing of differences. This approach also considers the forming of new social
links and languages; subjects and objects involved in a relationship of communication,
culture and power.

The third line in the realization of this study counts on contributions made by the
research group: modernity/coloniality/decoloniality, for whom communication and
cultural conflict is centred on the notion of "colonial difference". In these terms,
coloniality is understood to be a elemental factor of modernity: its hidden face, its dark
side, its globalized neo-liberal version; the new face of imperialism and colonialism.

Part I:


The original concept of Acculturation, belonging to the Anglo-

Saxon tradition of anthropology, refers to the processes of cultural
contact, through which societies or social groups receive and assimilate
elements, or combinations of tangible and intangible elements, from other
societies. In this sense, a specific type of cultural evolution is addressed,

and suggests that changes are brought about by the conjunction of two or
more original cultures, separate and autonomous. Accordingly,
acculturation implies that a dominated culture passively receives certain
elements from the other, involving a process of de-culturation or loss of

This concept of acculturation, linked to the idea of a dominated culture

passively receiving elements from the dominant society, has limitations
when addressing (more) complex processes in which these cultures, (in
situations of contact), exist; a fact proven by Cuban ethnologist and
anthropologist, Fernando Ortiz (1881 – 1969), in his book:
Counterpointing of cuban tabacco and sugar, (1940); where (the notion of
)Trans-culturation is first introduced.

The concept of transculturation is not solely about the acquisition of a

different culture, to which it refers in the strictest sense, but also to the
necessarily implicit process of loss, or the uprooting of a former culture,
which could be described as a partial deculturation, yet, which
nevertheless provides the means of the subsequent creation of a new
cultural phenomena that could be called neoculturation (Ortiz. 1978: 135).

Bronislaw Malinowski echoes this concept in his introduction to Ortiz’

work; to Malinowski Transculturalition “... Is a process in which a new
reality emerges; a composite and complex reality - a reality that is not an
agglomeration of mechanical characters, nor even a mosaic, but rather a
new phenomenon; original and independent”.

In order to describe this process, the Latin roots of the word trans-
culturalization provide the term (trans), which implies transition, (in this
case) a transition between two active cultures, mutually contributing to the
founding of a new reality of civilization, rather than a move towards one
particular culture. (Bronislaw Malinowski in Podetti, 2004: 1).

The process of trans-culturation, in its idea of communication, implies

interaction between two or more cultures, possessing an essentially
different cultural discourse. This "cultural difference" is understood here
as discourse, as a form of reference, or knowledge building of a particular
type of practice: a set of ideas, images and practices that makes possible
certain modes of speaking, forms of knowledge, and behaviour, associated
with a specific situation, social activity or institutional space (Stuart Hall
in Demaria, 2004: 50). All this implies an understanding that in situations
of contact, all cultures involved exchange of sense and meaning; a
bidirectional and heterogenic relationship. However, this notion of trans-
culturation does not clarify what happens when cultures are confronted by
differentials of power. What happens when one of the two cultures is
tacitly accepted as the ‘legitimate’ speaker? Will this culture alone
produce the ‘legitimate’ discourse that distinguishes and classifies all
other cultures it comes into contact with? Classification stems from the
establishment of hierarchies, as has occurred in the process of shaping the
modern/colonial world, ever since 1492. This system has facilitated the
implementation of capitalism throughout its history. The following is a list
of hierarchies as described by Grosfoguel (2004: 55):

1. an international division of labour, consisting of metropolitan centres,

peripheries subordinate to these centres, and some semi-peripheries which
have relations with both peripheral and centres regions.

2. an inter-state system of dominant states and subordinate states,

metropolitan centres and peripheries, mostly related to the hierarchy
of the international division of labour and almost all, organized around
the fiction of the state-nation.

3. a class hierarchy separating Capital and the various forms of labour


4. an ethnic and racial hierarchy, where white Europeans dominate in

terms of power, status and prestige over non-European, ethnic and
racial groups; "Otherness" is built-in as meaning culturally and
biologically inferior.

5. a gender hierarchy, where men dictate and dominate social

relationships through a male construct; patriarchal, chauvinistic,
political and cultural.

6. a sexually based hierarchy, where heterosexuality is favoured over


7. a spiritual hierarchy, which favours Christianity over other religions.

8. an epistemic hierarchy, which favours European expertise over non-

European knowledge, propagated through a global network of

These hierarchies are expressed in turn, by four domains of human

experience, (1) economic: the appropriation of land, exploitation of
manpower and financial control; (2) political: control of authority; (3)
social: control of gender and sexuality; and (4) epistemic: subjective and
personal control of knowledge (Mignolo, 2007: 36).

Thus, to study the semio-sphere that shapes the modern/colonial world

system; this asymmetric, hetero-foundational structure, generating new
meanings (Tlostanova, 2004), we must transcend the notion of cultural
difference, which underlies the notion of transculturation.

Transcending the idea of “cultural difference”, opens the door to the

concept of “colonial difference", as proposed by Mignolo (2000 2004).
This notion implies the recognition of power differentials between
cultures involved in the formation of modernity/coloniality. That further
means, acknowledging the differences by which the hegemonic discourses
of various empires of modern colonialism have maintained the belief in
the inferiority of certain human groups, local cultures and even
geographical regions of the planet. This has been prompted by the ideal of
the advancement of the modernization process, (Christianization,

Civilization, the proletarian Government and Development); modernity

being the point of arrival (Peñamarín and Mignolo: 2004: 18).

“Colonial difference" is the result of the relationship between modern

forms of exploitation and domination, understood as the Coloniality of
Power. The influence of that power [in the field of domination,
exploitation and conflict] in any of the four social domains in which these
are interwoven: labour, gender/sexuality, authority, inter-subjectivity, is
pervaded by the idea of Race (Mignolo, 2003: 49).

While the role of epistemology serves in the production of knowledge, the

experience of colonization and its impact on language has been referred to
as the Coloniality of knowledge a Coloniality of Being, in the propagation
of colonial Regimes of Thought, (Maldonado.-Torres, 2007: 130).

The significance of this change from “cultural difference” to “colonial

difference” lies in the ease with which cultural differences can be
reconciled; the ease with which "subaltern cultures" can be
‘accommodated’ by the dominant culture. Conceptualizing them as
cultural differences instead of colonial differences, they are presented as
“authenticity” that hides (their inherent condition of) subordination and
domination. This notion of colonial differences gives rise to the
elaboration of ethical and epistemic projects besides the politics of
liberation (Mignolo: 2004, 22).

When we add the idea of colonial difference to the concept of trans

culturation, (as it has been described), the whole notion of the latter
expands considerably, which in turn opens a path to new possibilities for
analysis; possibilities that allow us to see the illusory nature of the
modern/colonial world system, but also the epistemic possibilities for its
advancement; a world that no longer depends exclusively on certain
economic structures, a world that is supported and supplemented by a
coloniality of knowledge and an epistemic differential of power,

structured on the power of the vernacular languages of the West (Mignolo,


In this regard, the concept of transculturation cannot simply be understood

as a hybrid of crossbreeding, because these notions serve to naturalise the
alleged, mythical horizontality of cultural contact. Therefore, the problem
is no longer one of questioning whether transculturation is the result of
mixing, syncretism or integration, since the concept itself refers to the
birth of something new. What evolves takes more account of the
mechanisms shaping the ideology of the dominant group, and the forms of
resistance that arise as a consequence; namely, the adopting of an ideology
as a means of expressing the relationship between the imaginary world and
the actual conditions of existence… (Demaria, 2004: 45).

The concept of miscegenation (mestizaje), wrongly attributed to

transculturation, was initially a pejorative term used for those members of
a particular social stratum eventually becoming the majority. This theory
was configured at the same time a certain strategy was devised, the aim of
which was to homogenize; to overcome the concern for finding a name for
a common identity, associated with the Nation–State project. This was the
Eurocentric fiction of (being able to) unite sovereign individuals from a
common culture, and/or common blood ties into an imaginary community
(Grosfoguel, 2004: 59).

The idea of miscegenation (mestizaje) has historically been used by the

local elite to mask racism on the continent, through a discourse based on
the idea of a single race, originating from a common root and a common
ancient past, thus justifying the impossibility of think about racism in the
region with the premise that there is only one race. Yet, while racism has
been reduced to exercises in explicit violence against certain ethnic

groups, other practices - more subtle but no less violent - are made
invisible. We need look no further than the universities in Venezuela to
see how many black people or indigenous there are at the schools of
medicine, dentistry, engineering and architecture or the percentage of the
black population at schools such as that of social work. Let’s also look at
the racial distribution of the population in relation to social class, (and) or
remind ourselves of the apocalyptic stories that herald the arrival of
Judgment Day, when the Vatican elects a black Pope.

Part two:

On the modern/colonial ideal...

What we have termed trans- culturalization, within the configuration of

the modernity/coloniality ideal, is nothing more than the process by which
new cultures were formed and new senses developed; cultures and senses
interwoven by “colonial difference”, in the words of Mignolo (2003)
which define the realm of "colonial semiosis" as follows, "colonial
semiosis" implies the coexistence of interactions in cultural productions,
by members of radically different cultural traditions… the coexistence of
“high” and “low” cultures; the existence of power relationships meaning
one group controlling the politics and economy of another.

This notion of colonial semiosis allows an approach to spaces where new

narrativities are formed and other ones are forgotten; new concatenations
of actions and passions (Fabbri, 2004); multiple narrativities, some of
which, have brought about the drafting of the modern/colonial world as a
hegemonic discourse. As well as creating the complex set of rules and
safeguards against the random, the centrifugal and the deviation (Angenot,
1989: 22 to 23) ; particular issues are also noted and the acceptable ways
of dealing with them, establishing who can say what and under what

circumstances. Here, the configuration of the “modern” discourse as a

hegemonic discourse, implies the saturation of the whole process of social
life with a market-imposed logic.

Modernity is a form of social order, a discourse, an identity that granted

its special relationship, prompts a hegemonic power to depart from its
legitimate place of origin; a way of building a global world. Thus, this
world and this socially constructed reality, which implies a
Eurocentric/racist point of view, masks itself as an emancipatory project
for the human being, (…) a way out of immaturity, by force of reason - a
critical process, leading humanity to a new development (…) (Dussel,
2000: 65).

This Eurocentric modernity hides its dark side, presenting coloniality

merely as a consequence, concealing the fact that coloniality is
constitutive and not simply the outgrowing of modernity; it is impossible
to understand the development of modernity without an understanding of
coloniality. In this sense, the modernization of part of the world, involved
the colonization of the rest.

Furthermore, coloniality is different from, although linked to, the concept

of colonialism. The latter refers strictly to a structure of domination and
exploitation of a particular population, where the control of political
authority and the production of resources are in the hands of someone of a
different identity, and whose headquarters are in another territorial
jurisdiction (Quijano, 2007: 93). Colonialism is a practice that is older
than coloniality, but in the last 500 years the latter, founded on an ethnic
and racial classification of population, has proven to be more durable.

In addressing the concept of transculturation within this context and

expanding on it through the concept of "colonial difference" (Mignolo,
2000 2004) it is possible to see the process of transculturation that has
taken place since 1492, which continues even more rapidly today, having
at least two points of departure - both identified as "colonial differences "

The first site for this point of departure, is the “double consciousness of
the Creole” (Mignolo, 2000) as being the root of a narrative-(activity),
the passion of which is possible to situate in simply “wanting”, rather than
“wanting to be” or “ not wanting to be”. This leads to their assuming a
double identity - between being European and not. There are numerous
examples that can be cited, but perhaps one of the most significant of
these is the fact that a Spanish grammar written in 1492 (Elio Antonio de
Nebrija), was reprinted in Hispanic America ten times more, after the
nineteenth century wars of independence, than in all the previous three
centuries of Spanish colonization (Mignolo, 2003).

This fact, seemingly insignificant, nevertheless implies a need to highlight

the past of those who felt European, despite the fact they were not,
through the(ir) command of a specific linguistic order. The issue of
language is fundamental, because it is from this that the “Idea” of Latin
America is developed and fixed (Mignolo, 2007), which in itself is another
important idea to highlight. Similarly, one of the most significant
examples related to the “fixed” idea of Latin America is the fact that the
experiences of the Haitian people have never been included in this notion -
despite their French heritage. This is because the idea of Latin America
only ever embraced, from its very inception, the concerns purely of the
white Creoles who lived in Spanish America; a product of the racial
classification of population, a racial classification that kept the Haitian
Revolution, as background to the Venezuelan independence movements,
out of Venezuelan history books.

But going beyond that, this idea of Latin Americanism, built on its
relation to a specific linguistic affiliation, has always excluded, in space,
history and time the indigenous communities that have always inhabited
this territory, whose linguistic tradition is not Spanish. This strategy
seems not unlike the one being used today by Zionists (in Israel) to
disregard the existence of the Palestinian State, so as to be able to justify
their expansion into the Gaza Strip.

As a result, It is possible to note that the point of departure for the white
Creole is this "double consciousness" (2000), where the subject, though
not being European, is heir to European-ness; a person immersed in a
transculturation process that forces him to translate European culture into
his own in order to make his more similar. Thus, whoever sets out to
produce statements on modernity from the standpoint of "colonial
difference " alone, without mention to coloniality, reduces the semiosis to
a mere translation process of senses, that is, trying to grasp the meaning of
a text in a specific language and then producing a new text with equivalent
meaning. This translation process, in terms of the Creole double
consciousness, involves the search for a lost home.

Moreover, within the same taxonomy described by the notion of "colonial

difference", the whys and wherefores of resistance also exist. As noted by
Grosfoguel (2004: 60) (even) the Catholic saints were “transculturised";
trans-modernised, using the Enrique Dussel notion of Trans-modernity, in
complicity with colonized people these saints were subverted and
redefined, within a (new) vision of world; a non-European cosmology.
Each saint became an African god.

It is here that Post-Modern trends simplify and reduce this result of

contact, to mere cultural syncretism, and continue to reproduce in the
twenty-first century the ingenuousness of the colonial illusion of the
Spanish colonists of previous centuries, attempting to assimilate and

Christianize, believing that the slaves’ prayer was made to the images of
the Catholic saints (Grosfoguel, 2004: 61).

The process of transculturation described by Grosfoguel (2004) in these

examples cannot be taken in the same way as the transculturation process
of the white Creole. Although he also lives the colonial difference, it is
from a dual consciousness and his attempt to translate the European
culture into his own. Transculturalized saints are the product of a process
of semiotic and epistemic resistance, quite separate from the translation
process. This process of semiotic resistance we propose to call
“Transduction” namely, the set of processes by which a culture, an ethnic
group transforms the senses revolving about his self into other senses or
the senses of others.

In other words, what we are trying to elucidate here is that in the process
of transculturation characteristic to the modernity/coloniality experience,
those who live and resist from the colonial difference standpoint, do not
have to translate sense or meaning to make them appear similar, they need
only apply transduction as semiotic process of resistance, transforming
sense into the means of resistance.

The transduction process is a semiotic and epistemic exercise that attempts

to find alternative mechanisms of resistance against a pattern of power
opposed to the random. It is a proposal that needs exploring in depth, to
assess its usefulness. However, this proposal allows us to enter spaces,
allowing the realization of Trans-culturality. This is a concept which
implies dialogue, articulated with those formerly excluded from the
modern map of knowledge, as being "mythical", "organic", "superstitious
"and" pre-rational "(Castro-Gomez, 2007: 90).

The transduction concept involves a semantic leap from a Colonial

semiosis to a de-Colonial semiosis; de-coloniality taken as a departure
point in the refutation of the common theories of decolonization. Those
stories that argue, that the arrival of independence and the ensuing break
with colonial administrations and the consequent formation of states on
the periphery, bore the creation of a decolonized world.

Thus, the concept of decoloniality implies a distancing from the

assumption that the international division of labour, between metropolitan
centres and peripheries, as well as that between the already ranked ethnic-
racial populations, formed over several centuries of European colonial
expansion, has not significantly changed since the end of colonialism and
the formation of nation-states (Castro-Gomez and Grofoguel, 2007: 13), in
other words, we are living a transition from modern colonialism to a
modern global colonial-ity.

The course of decoloniality needs to be carried out as a trans-ductive

process of the truly existent senses for the production of new senses and
meanings, but moreover for the development of other grammars to
facilitate their production.

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