CfP. Decolonizing the Self: How Do We Perceive Others When We Practice Autotheory?

Andrei Zavadski's picture
Call for Papers
May 15, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Women's & Gender History / Studies, Research and Methodology, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies

Special Issue (winter 2024) of The Februarz Journal,
edited by Shura Dogadaeva and Andrei Zavadski


Andrei: So much is currently being said about decolonization. The term is being used—and, as we currently see in Eastern Europe—also abused a lot. But what does decolonization mean in practice? How does one engage in decolonizing the self? In the next special issue of The February Journal, I would like to focus on approaches to practical self-decolonization. 

Shura: I agree. But when I think about this, I cannot help but wonder whether I have the right to engage in a self-decolonizing practice. Shouldn’t I, a citizen of Russia and, in one way or another, a product of its imperialist culture, shut up and listen? Shouldn’t I limit my own agency in this regard? 

Andrei: Decolonizing the self is, in my opinion, one of those tasks that require our immediate and active attention. As somebody who was born and grew up in Belarus, I ‘belong’ to both the colonized and—in a way, especially if we consider Lukashenka’s current politics—the colonizing sides, I think we consciously have to challenge this ‘belonging.’ Ultimately, such work should result in redefining our own subjectivity and thus altering the way we perceive others. It is our primary task, I feel. 

Shura: But how does one deconstruct one’s ‘belonging’? It is a very abstract term. Belonging to something often means substituting my own experience with a ‘collective,’ ‘universal’ one. Unless you are a white heterosexual male, which is likely to make your personal experience close to ‘the universal one.’ But does it mean, then, that closely listening to myself might lead to a change in how I relate to others? 

Andrei: If we consider belonging—but also theory, knowledge, and so on—to be a construct imposed by a historical white-male-heterosexual instance and by—more-often-than-not imperialist—thinking, then it is exactly what colonizes, corrupts us, resulting in a colonizing gaze (as well as discourse and behavior) that we exercise upon others. By decolonizing the self—for instance, by dissecting our own experience—we question our belonging and other similar constructs, challenge and deconstruct them, and thus decolonize our relationship to others. 

Shura: Personal experience allows one to think outside the box, giving this idiomatic cliché a literal meaning. If ‘culture,’ ‘knowledge,’ et cetera are constructs, they confine us within boxed realities. Reflecting on your own experience makes you realize that this box has walls, but they are not as strong as it might seem and can in fact be brought down. Utilizing one’s personal experience for this purpose might seem like a narcissistic trap, but I don’t think it is. Rather, it is about the fact that any personal experience is always much more than ‘universal,’ ‘universalized’ experience. I think autotheory (Fournier 2022; Vaneycken 2020; Wiegman 2020) is a great method to free the self from such imposed colonizing constructs. 

Andrei: How do you understand autotheory? For me, it is not simply about reflecting on your personal experience and sharing it with others: this would make one part of the identity politics discourse. Moreover, a person engaging in an autotheoretical practice of self-decolonization might, as our editor Isabel Bredenbröker points out, have to resist negative identity politics, that is, outside efforts to keep this person within the confines of one prescribed identity.  

Shura: Definitely. You know, I love this phrase from Preciado (2021), who writes in Can the Monster Speak? that ‘[t]o be branded with an identity means simply that one does not have the power to designate one’s identity as universal.’ Authotheory isn’t about branding oneself with an identity, it is about deconstructing the ‘universal,’ of which Preciado speaks. 

Andrei: So, autotheory is about relating your personal experience to the one declared as ‘universal,’ but not with the aim of making the former fit in, but rather, of loosening and shattering the very structure of the universal. Once these epistemological structures are in ruins, voices and experiences that did not fit in become much more audible. By decolonizing the self we are able to listen, hear, and perceive others and their unique experiences. I think my own practice of decolonizing the self started when I realized, some time ago, that I was queer. Luckily, this realization did not make me doubt my own sanity (which sadly happens to a lot of LGBTQIA+ people), but prompted closer attention to my personal experience. Analyzing it against the ‘universal norm’ into which I was supposed to fit, I grew skeptical of ‘the universal’ rather than my own experience. Which, in line with intersectionality thinking, made me more attentive to other marginalized voices around me.  

Shura: My practice originates in reading groups that I conducted with young adults at a Moscow museum. We read texts on Stalinisim, genocide, World War Two, and similar topics. I soon realized that my pupils did not have the language to talk about traumatic past events. I understood this as a consequence of the (post-)Soviet education system, which saw little transformation, if at all. It made me reevaluate my own education and reexamine, among other things, historical science as a practice of colonization. I started listening to these kids very carefully, and this act of listening made them try hard to formulate their own thoughts, rather than simply reproduce school-taught narratives. 

Andrei: This reminds me of how Maggie Nelson’s (2015) The Argonauts opens. On the novel’s very first page, she invokes Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained, albeit inexpressibly, within the expressed. By listening to what your students express you are able to get a sense of what they cannot express. 

Shura: Yes, listening is actually an essential practice for a teacher: it allows her to challenge constructions like ‘knowledge’ or ‘belonging,’ which, in turn, challenges and transforms the types of relationships with others that are imposed by these constructions. 

Andrei: So, it would be interesting to learn how individuals engage in self-decolonizing autotheoretical practices and what manifestations these practices acquire in artistic, pedagogical, activist, academic, and other fields of life. 

Shura: Yes! And not only discursive practices: we need to consider what is beyond discourse. (Even though Judith Butler would crucify us for suggesting there is anything non-discursive.) Perhaps there are artistic, performative practices out there that work with affects, emotions, and bodies, aiming at self-decolonization. The question here is: What would this inquiry add to what we know about decolonization already? 

Andrei: Ana Fabíola Maurício (2023), in her chapter in the book on silence that was reviewed in The February Journal’s Issue 01–02 (Veselov 2023), critiques the discourse of postcolonialism and postcolonial theory for imposing on an individual from an oppressed group a kind of responsibility to be that group’s voice and representative. In other words, the individual’s personal experience is seen as secondary to the collective experience of the group. I believe that engaging in autotheoretical self-decolonizing practices would be a way to emphasize individual experiences and challenge established theoretical approaches. 

Shura: It would be great to invite authors who are developing autotheoretical self-decolonizing practices in their academic, artistic, activist, pedagogical, and other activities. It would also be great to receive submissions that use different genres and forms of presentation, as well as ones that stem from different geographical, epistemological, and other contexts. 



  1. Fournier L (2022) Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. 
  2. Maurício AF (2023) Un-silencing bodies, un-silencing lives: Artistic (self-)decoloniality and artistic (self-) empowerment. In: Santos L (ed), Cultures of Silence: The Power of Untold Narratives. London and New York, Routledge: 9–27. 
  3. Nelson M (2015) The Argonauts. Minneapolis, MN, Graywolf Press.
  4. Preciado P (2021) Can the Monster Speak. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. 
  5. Vaneycken A (2020) Collectiveness as a form of autotheory. Parse, 12, (03/04/23).
  6. Veselov A (2023) Book review. Santos L (ed) (2023) Cultures of Silence: The Power of Untold Narratives. London and New York, Routledge. The February Journal, 01–02: 161–170.
  7. Wiegman R (2020) Introduction: Autotheory theory. Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, 1(76): 1–14. 


To submit a proposal, please provide the following information in English: 

• contribution type (e.g., article, visual essay, reflexive essay, data essay, etc.); 
• language of contribution; 
• title of contribution; 
• abstract (300 words); 
• keywords that indicate the focus of the contribution; 
• biographical information, including a short biographical statement of maximum 100 words stating research interests and relevant professional experience. 

Proposals for contributions are due on May 15, 2023. Send all the information requested above—as a single PDF document—to the


The February Journal is an independent interdisciplinary journal at intersections of academic, art, and activist practices. A project of Tabor CollectiveFebruary produces special issues on strategic themes that currently include migration, displacement, statelessness, and exile in the context of war, violence, and aggression. The journal publishes empirical, theoretical, and speculative research that uses de-centering, queer, feminist, decolonial, and autotheoretical methodologies. It welcomes research in a variety of genres, celebrating innovative ways of presentation. Peer-reviewed and available in open access, The February Journal provides a sourcebook of ideas for an international audience.

Contact Info: 

Andrei Zavadski