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Entangled Ontologies, Decoloniality and Decolonization Virtual Symposium at Virginia Tech

Decoloni- Symposium Poster

Thursday, March 4, 2021

About the Symposium

What productive tensions and differences exist between ontological, epistemological, and material critiques of the (post)colonial? What possibilities are opened up when we place Decoloniality, as an onto-epistemological (and political) project, in conversation with Decolonization, as a reparative project? Collaborating scholars will explore these questions from Native American/Indigenous, Africanist, Third World Marxist, Quantum, Post-human and Political Ecological positions.

Sponsored by the VT Department of Political Science (Pol. Sci.), VT Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG), & Community Change Collaborative (CCC).

Led by Desiree Poets, Laura Zanotti (Pol. Sci.) & Max Stephenson (IPG/CCC)

Zoom Registration:

Questions about the Symposium? Email

This event will have live closed captions for accessibility.

Featured Scholars and Symposium Collaborators

Norah Bowman

Norah Bowman (she/her), Ph.D. University of Alberta 2013, is a professor and the Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Okanagan College in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, on unceded Syilx territory. Her 2019 paper “Here/There/Everywhere: Quantum Models for Decolonizing Canadian State Onto-Epistemology” in Foundations of Science proposed a model for intervening in colonial state extractivism. Bowman’s 2019 co-authored book Amplify! Graphic Novels of Feminist Resistance, published by University of Toronto Press, introduces readers to intersectional feminist resistance movements around the world. Bowman’s recently completed book of anti-colonial feminist poetry will be published by Caitlin Press in 2021.

Ambient Violence, Visible Burdens: Complementary Onto-Epistemologies as Resistance to Colonial Toxic Damages

Canada’s global reputation as a peaceable nation is predicated on nationalist postures that ignore Canadian state violence against Indigenous Peoples. Thus, by its nature nearly invisible, by its toxic trail an evidentiary burden on survivors, and to legislators a problem of classification, the improper management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste is a particularly Canadian colonial violence. Yet Indigenous Peoples have the collective cultural knowledge to testify to the material damage done by toxins to human and other-than-human life. As confirmed by Baskat Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxic Substances, this “invisible violence” is “disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada” (SR 7). The effect of toxic violence is visible and invisible; it is material and immeasurable; it is collective and individual. Quantum social science models challenge classical epistemic structures to accept the complementarity of macro and micro phenomenon, and in this way, the burden of toxic substances on Indigenous Peoples can be best known and redressed by intervening in settler- colonial monadic materialism and taking up a relational, collective, quantum onto-epistemology.

Nadine Voelkner

Nadine is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands (RUG). Her research revolves around understanding the global politics of health and disease from an interspecies perspective, particularly infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). From this perspective, health issues such as infectious diseases are not simply biomedical problems but result from socio-political interactions including conflict, (agri-) industrialization, urbanization, and modern lifestyles, which alter the human-animal-microbe relations, sometimes leading to pathogenesis. She runs the Politics and Ecologies of (Global) Health research unit at the RUG and is a board member of the Groningen Centre for Health and Humanities. Nadine has published in International Political Sociology, Security Dialogue, and elsewhere, and is a co-author of the book Critical Security Methods (Routledge).

Entangled Species: Reading the Covid-19 Pandemic through Ecosophical Eyes

This paper explores the contribution of an ethics of entangled bodies arising from ecosophical thought to interpreting and acting on the current global pandemic of Covid-19. The pandemic reveals to us how human bodies are deeply and irrevocably entangled with viruses and other non-human bodies, including animals such as bats and civet cats, on a global scale. Viral strains move biologically and socially within and across species connecting distant geographies, never entirely inhibited by technoscientific infection barriers and political borders. For virologists, the human-virus relationship is one of profound relationality; one cannot be thought of without the other. While a small number of pathogenic viruses have caused major human disasters throughout history, the majority of viruses are benign; some are even essential to human life.

Yet, modern global health continues to proceed based on the understanding that viruses are external to, and menacing against, the human, giving rise to a (security) politics aimed at eliminating viruses, including those essential to human life. Building on the eco-philosophical thought of Guattari and Daoist philosophy, the paper proposes a decolonial reconceptualization of the human-virus relationship.

Jeff Corntassel

Dr. Jeff Corntassel is a writer, teacher and father from the Cherokee Nation. He is currently Associate Professor in the Indigenous Studies Department at the University of Victoria and Acting Director of the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE). His research and teaching interests focus on “Everyday Acts of Resurgence” and the intersections between Indigenous resurgence, climate change, gender, and community well-being. He is currently completing work for his forthcoming book on Sustainable Self-Determination, which examines Indigenous climate justice, food security, and gender-based resurgence.

Lisa Tilley

Dr. Lisa Tilley is currently a Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. Her work focuses on political economy/ecology, race, and historical/present-day colonialism, extraction and expropriation, especially in Southeast Asia. She also co-convenes the CPD-BISA working group and is Associate Editor of Global Social Theory.

Material Horizons of Decolonial Liberation and the Abolition of Extraction

What would it mean to abolish extraction? This question anchors an analysis that picks up the more material lineages of decolonial thought, draws these into conversation with work from the Black Radical Tradition, and works towards a horizon of liberation from extraction. Resource frontiers in the Global South have continued to devastate Indigenous ecologies since formal independence from colonialism was secured through anti-colonial struggle. This Fourth World expropriation within a context of Third World governance may only be analyzed within the frame of the world market and with attention to the imperatives of international capital. The argument here picks up the ongoing production of raced modes of expropriation and the integral generation of ecological collapse, then ultimately applies the political imperative of abolition to the extractive structures that are rapidly killing racialized communities and ecologies.

Bikrum Gill

Bikrum Gill is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech, where he is also a core faculty in the ASPECT doctoral program. His research interests are located at the intersection of political economy, political ecology, and decolonial theory. He has published on these themes in a variety of journals including Environment and Planning A, Politics, Globalizations, and in an edited collection titled Recentering Africa in International Relations. Bikrum is a co-investigator of a SSHRC funded multi-institutional research initiative titled "Four Stories about Food Sovereignty: Transnational Crises and Local Action," which places into conversation four Indigenous communities across Global North and South centering the importance of Indigenous sovereignty to addressing both the climate crisis and the broader legacies of settler-colonialism.

Against the Rule of Property: Violence, Land Reclamation, and Decolonial Revolution

This paper engages the “decolonial” turn in academic scholarship by recalling the centrality of revolutionary land reform to decolonization. It does so by examining the implications of two distinct anti-colonial land reform trajectories: an armed peasant-led path (in China) and a “non- violent” bourgeois/landlord-led path (in India). The armed peasant-led revolutionary path advanced, insofar as it fundamentally overturned the colonial/imperial landed order, more substantive decolonial relations than the “non-violent” path, which functioned to protect the landed order instituted by the colonial state. Nevertheless, as post-apartheid South Africa illustrates, the armed peasant-led trajectory would come to be largely abandoned in the post-Cold War and neoliberal context. It is within such a context, I argue, that the return of anti-colonial land reclamation in Zimbabwe in the early twenty-first century assumes world-historical significance, interrupting the liberal “end of history” thesis of the “rule of property” with the ontological re-emergence of those dispossessed by colonial property regimes.

Zubairu Wai

Zubairu Wai is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada. He is the author of Epistemologies of African Conflicts: Violence, Evolutionism and the War in Sierra Leone (2012), winner of the ATWS Toyin Falola Africa Book Award for 2013, and co-editor (with Marta Iniguez de Heredia) of Recentering Africa in International Relations: Beyond Lack, Peripherality, and Failure (2018). His research takes up epistemological questions regarding the nature and conditions of disciplinary knowledge and practices in International Relations, Development Studies, and African Studies, focusing on how the intersections of power, knowledge, and coloniality frame the discourses and political economy of conflict, development, and state formation in Africa, and the Global South more broadly.

Thinking the Decolonial Turn: Africa, Decoloniality, and the Challenge of Translation

The explosion, in recent years, of decolonial thought and its radical demand for epistemic decolonization has renewed debates about the cultural politics of colonial modernity, and the possibility of decentering its material, cultural, and ideological effects. While these attempts and the spirits within which they are inscribed constitute important lines of interventions, they also raise questions about the way these quests are taken up. Specific, is the abandonment of the material questions that grounded the emancipatory politics of Bandung and the anti-colonial liberation struggles of the 1950s and 1960s from which decoloniality claims to draw its inspiration, and the challenge that translating subalternised existence pose for decolonial praxis. In this paper, I want to interrogate the decolonial turn by putting it in conversation with debates about epistemic decolonization in Africa in the 1960s, which decoloniality has simultaneously ignored and appropriated from, and what they tell us about the nature and possibility of decolonial praxis.

Carmen Martinez Novo

Carmen Martinez Novo is Professor of Latin American Studies at the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida. She has a PhD in Anthropology from the New School for Social Research, NYC. She is the author of Undoing Multiculturalism: Resource Extraction and Indigenous Rights in Ecuador (2021, University of Pittsburgh Press), Who Defines Indigenous? Identities, Development, Intellectuals and the State in Northern Mexico (Rutgers 2006) as well as an edited volume, edited journal issues, and numerous articles and book chapters on Indigenous identities and politics in Mexico and Ecuador. She was a 2017-18 Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, among other grants. She is an Associate Editor and will be the next Editor in Chief of the Latin American Research Review starting in January 2021.

Decolonial Ventriloquism and Latin American Radical Populism: A Marriage of Convenience?

Some prominent scholars of the decolonial turn spoke about—and even for—the Latin American social movements at the turn of the twentieth century. Their discourses tended to be as essentialist and romantic as they were disengaged from the socio-economic realities of the groups they claimed to represent. As radical populist regimes came to power in Latin America at the beginning of the twenty-first century, decolonial scholars saw an opening for the epistemologies that they had discussed and shaped to have an impact in public policy and mainstream politics. On the other hand, scholarly support legitimized personalist regimes and provided them with novel and catching phrases such as the well-known Sumak Kawsay/Suma Qamaña (Living Well). The regimes took advantage of these concepts and of the scholarly legitimation as their policies increasingly focused on resource extraction and diverged from the protection of the social movements and natural ecosystems. When faced with this dilemma, scholars of the decolonial turn took some distance from the regimes, but often chose not to criticize them openly and also eschewed most self-criticism regarding their informal and formal involvement with the regimes as advisors and consultants. This paper explores the marriage of convenience of radical populist regimes and some decolonial scholarship.

Robbie Shilliam

Guest Discussant

Robbie Shilliam researches the political and intellectual complicities of colonialism and race in the global order. He is co-editor of the Rowman & Littlefield book series, Kilombo: International Relations and Colonial Question. Robbie was a co-founder of the Colonial/Postcolonial/Decolonial working group of the British International Studies Association and is a long-standing active member of the Global Development section of the International Studies Association.

More information:

Vera Smirnova

Guest Discussant

Vera Smirnova is a human geographer with research interests at the intersection of urban, critical, and political geography. Her current work examines the relations between land and power and their manifestations in capitalism, with a particular focus on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

More information:

Zuleka Randell Woods


Zuleka Randell Woods is a doctoral student in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization program and a Master’s student in the public health program at Virginia Tech. She has a master’s degree in Higher Education from Northeastern University in Boston. Currently, she works with the Virginia Tech Graduate School as a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion (ORDI). Her current research interest centers on race and power structures in international programs. Zuleka prides herself on being a community organizer and loves working with diverse populations to collaborate on efforts to secure social change. In her free time, she curates African stories to counter the too often voiced narrative of a “helpless” continent. 

Anthony Szczurek


Anthony Szczurek's research focuses on international climate politics, especially in the Global South, and how climate change affects political time and temporality.  He teaches at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA.  

Neda Moayerian


Neda Moayerian is a postdoctoral scholar at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance. She holds a PhD in Planning, Governance, and Globalization from Virginia Tech. Her research interests include human development, specifically through community cultural activities, individual and communal agency, and community-based /sustainable tourism. Neda holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning from the Art University of Tehran and a Master of Science in Urban Management from the University of Tehran.

Desiree Poets

Symposium Co-Host

Desirée Poets is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include urban Black and Indigenous movements in Latin America, community museums, and collaborative and critical research methods. Dr. Poets has served as an Editor Collaborator for Catalytic Communities (CatComm) NGO’s RioOnWatch publication and is a member of the Abolition Journal’s publication collective/editorial board. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Bulletin for Latin American Research, Settler Colonial Studies, Critical Military Studies, and Citizenship Studies. She has also contributed to the Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Politics and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, besides other edited volumes.

Laura Zanotti

Symposium Co-Host

Laura Zanotti is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching include critical political theory, international ethics as well as UN peacekeeping and NGOs. Her most recent book, entitled Ontological Entanglements, Agency and Ethics in International Relations—Exploring the Crossroads (Routledge Interventions, 2019) addresses the implications of embracing quantum physics’ entangled ontology for International Relations conceptualizations of agency and ethics. In her previous monograph, entitled Governing Disorder: United Nations Peace Operations, International Security, and Democratization in the Post-Cold War Era (Penn State University Press, 2011), Dr. Zanotti uses Foucauldian theoretical tools to address the political imaginary and unintended consequences of peacekeeping in Haiti and in Croatia. Dr. Zanotti’s work has appeared in numerous peer reviewed journals. She is also the co-author and the co-editor of two books.

Max Stephenson

Symposium Co-Host

Max Stephenson, Jr. serves as Professor of Public and International Affairs and the Director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance (VT-IPG). His current research and teaching interests include leadership and democratic theory, arts and community change processes, NGOs and international development, peacebuilding and humanitarian relief. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor, of nine books and more than 70 refereed articles and book chapters. Dr. Stephenson is also the author of more than 375 published commentaries concerning American and international politics and democracy.

Graduate Student Research Showcase 

Gabriela Sarmet, University of London - “The decolonial as a movement: the turn in cosmopolitics through confluence”

Soufiane Taif, Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne University - “Education as a soft power: French schools in Morocco”

Hannah Glasson, Virginia Tech - “Ecological crisis, Indigenous politics, and neoliberal narratives: interpreting the politics of ontology”

Molly Todd, Virginia Tech - “Expressive practices and borders of the decolonial imagination”

Pallavi Raonka, Virginia Tech - "Conceptualizing Adivasi (Indigenous) Munda women resistance in neoliberal state of Jharkhand"



9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST Paper Presentations

9:00 – 9:15 a.m. – Introductions

Section 1 Host: Desiree Poets

9:15 – 9:40 a.m. – Carmen Martinez Novo, Discussant: Max Stephenson

9:40 – 10:05 a.m. – Zubairu Wai, Discussants: Neda Moayerian, Zuleka Randell Woods

(10 min. break)

Section 2 Host: Max Stephenson

10:15 – 10:40 a.m. – Lisa Tilley, Discussant: Robbie Shilliam

10:40 – 11:05 a.m. – Bikrum Gill, Discussant: Vera Smirnova

(10 min. break)

 Section 3 Host: Laura Zanotti  

11:15 – 11:40 a.m. – Jeff Corntassel, Discussant: Desiree Poets

11:40 – 12:05 p.m. – Nadine Voelkner, Discussant: Anthony Szczurek

 (10 min. break)

  Section 4 Host: Max Stephenson     

12:15 – 12:40 p.m. – Norah Bowman, Discussant: Laura Zanotti

12:40 – 1:00 p.m. – Any Q&A from the audience


Section 5 Host: Desiree Poets

2 p.m. Graduate Student Research Presentations