Pluriversal Dialogues on Environmental Ethics

Decolonising Scientific Practice to Build Futures Beyond ‘Development’

By Dr. Alejandro Mora Motta

Coordination Team:

This project is being co-organized by a consortium of researchers from different institutes at the University of Bonn.

Dr Alejandro Mora Mottaa (coord. TRA 5), Emilia Fernengel, Prof Dr Paul Basua, Dr Jan Linhart (coord. TRA 4 and Argelander) b, Prof. Dr Christiane Woopenb, Dr Dennis Avilés Iraholac, PD Dr Eva Youkhanac, & Dr Antje Gunsenheimerd,e

aGlobal Heritage Lab, Transdisciplinary Research Area 5: Present Pasts, bCenter for Life Ethics, Transdisciplinary Research Area 4:  Individuals, Institutions and Societies, cCenter for Development Research, dInstitute for Archeology and Cultural Anthropology, eInterdisciplinary Latin American Center.


The current multidimensional planetary crisis, often addressed as the ‘Anthropocene’ and contested as a ‘civilisational crisis’ in Latin America, demands the search for alternative futures. Characterised by environmental crises such as irreversible climate change, it comprises a bundle of inequalities marked by modern dualisms (e.g. subjects/objects, culture/nature, or humans/non-humans) rooted in (neo-)colonial practices. At the centre of such a crisis lies the question of ‘otherness’ embedded in those long histories of coloniality in the region. Coloniality accounts for a global system in which nature and wilderness were separated from a Eurocentric notion of culture, and indigenous, black, and mestizo (among other subaltern) groups were considered an exteriority of that cultural system and were located in the ‘past’ of a univocal development process. Their ontologies and knowledge(s) were deemed inferior, backward or primitive by the Eurocentric knowledge system. The erasure of their heritage, tangible and intangible, was part of the violent onto-epistemic system of ‘othering’. This system naturalised structural inequalities and legitimised the exploitation of both nature and a major part of humanity. ‘Development’ constitutes a form of coloniality that reproduces the centuries-long exclusion of the ‘other’.

Against this background, we are interested in alternative ontological, epistemological, methodological, ethical and political approaches and practices often situated outside the academic space: These demand a transdisciplinary engagement that take the ‘other’ on equal terms. These approaches and practices are, in our view, forms of heritage of many historically neglected ‘others’. We do not depart from essentialising the ‘others’; instead, we want to focus on opening up dialogues that can offer respectful and critical engagement, thereby rethinking and reshaping ‘othering’ practices. The idea of the pluriverse, i.e. the possibility of the co-existence of worlds, transcends the heated debates of the last two decades about ontological differences, conflicts and politics, and emerges as an alternative to coloniality as it is understood. The pluriverse acknowledges the ontological status of other diverging worlds or realities (multiple co-existing realities). We can negotiate and integrate diverging notions of ‘human’, ‘non-human’, ‘nature’ or ‘environment’ into our projections of potential sustainable futures only by recognising the legitimacy and the possibility of other worlds.

What is the project about?

We aim to start an international research constellation to discuss long-term decolonial alternatives. To this end, our joint project brings together transdisciplinary experts from Latin America and Germany for a one-week event. We intend to experiment with the innovative concept of the pluriverse, aiming to decolonise the current academic system and reflect on environmental ethics in the search for alternatives beyond ‘development’. These dialogues will be held in workshops, experimenting with alternative practices and knowledge (co-)production methodologies from intercultural and environmental research and education. We will discuss, analyse and assess the potential, viability and challenges of pluriversal dialogues, mobilising diverging perspectives for co-creating pluriversal futures.

Our objectives:

  • To analyse how the ontological notions of human and non-human life, time and space, and particular environmental ethics are implicated in different practices of knowing.
  • To reflect on how such ontological notions might contribute to environmental and development studies, life ethics, cultural and heritage studies.
  • To explore the potential of pluriversal dialogues in decolonising research practices for futures beyond “development”.
  • To identify and further develop methods and communication techniques for research and education on socio-environmental challenges based on pluriversal dialogues between different disciplinary, positional and cultural perspectives.
  • To assess and validate the potential benefits of applying pluriversal dialogues in environmental education and research at the University of Bonn.

The University of Bonn consortium poses the following questions to initiate the dialogue:

  • What does the concept of environment mean?
  • How does it relate to concepts such as nature, ownership, stewardship and the commons?
  • What is meant by the perspective of ethics?
  • What are the most important ethical challenges concerning the environmental crises that have to be tackled?
  • What is necessary for a fruitful dialogue and co-production regarding environmental challenges with people from different cultural and political backgrounds, worldviews and cosmovisions?

Guests from Latin America and Germany:

  • Dr Luis Fernando Sarango Macas, Pluriversity Amawtay Wasi, Ecuador
  • Marcia Mandepora, Universidad Indígena Boliviana (UNIBOL) Guarani / Plurinational Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Bolivia
  • Dr Yilson Betrán-Barrera, National University of Colombia, Campus Caribe, Colombia
  • Ruth Sanders, Politik im Raum, Germany
  • Dr Nikolaus von Stillfried, Paradox Science Institute; University of Trier, Germany
  • Abelardo Ramos, Universidad Autónoma Intercultural Indígena (UAIIN) / Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC), Colombia
  • Francisca Elias Canás, Lecturer in Bilingual Education, Guatemala
  • Dr Gabriel Llanquinao, Universidad Catolica de Temuco, Chile
  • Claudia Palechor, Universidad Autónoma Intercultural Indígena (UAIIN) / Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC), Colombia
  • Dr Guillermo Pacheco Habert, Universidad Austral de Chile; Universidad de Osorno, Chile
  • Fritz Letsch, Theater Pedagogy, Germany
  • Dr Pablo de la Cruz, Fundacion Gaia – Amazonas, Colombia

This project is possible thanks to:

  • Transdisciplinary Research Area 5: Present Pasts
  • Transdisciplinary Research Area 4:  Individuals, Institutions and Societies
  • Argelander Program

The above-mentioned initiatives are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MWK) as part of the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments.