The Intellectual Background of Rita Segato. Path of Decolonial Thought in Latin America

Interview with


Receipt: June 21, 2022

Acceptance: August 15, 2022

In December of last year, Rita Segato was in Guadalajara invited to participate in a round table organized within the framework of the 35th edition of the International Book Fair. The theme of the table echoed his book1. The morning of the event, I had the good fortune, thanks to the efforts of Renée de la Torre, to interview her on the premises of the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (ciesas).

It was a happy reunion, five years after his last visit to the University of Guadalajara, where he gave the Cátedra de la Interculturalidad in 2016. On that occasion, we, the organizers of the Chair, read her essays on Black Oedipus, coloniality and anthropology on demand. With her, it was agreed that the theme of the keynote lecture would be "Race and Gender from a Decolonial Perspective," followed by a two-day seminar where Segato and anthropologist na savi Jaime García Leyva would participate in a dialogue on the topic "Resistance to the pedagogy of cruelty in contexts of war and racism". As it usually happens in his presentations, we had an active and very large audience. As an extension of the seminar, Segato made a presentation of the cultural and gender anthropological expertise that he presented before a Guatemalan court. The expert opinion established the forms of violence and slavery exercised against a people q'eqchi as military targets during the civil war in the 1980s.

Her books and lectures have been influential in Latin American social sciences and have had a political impact. She is an important figure in gender studies, racism and the defense of indigenous peoples. It is also true that her work has illustrated a methodological practice of intersectionality, while at the same time providing a forum for open discussion between the academy and the plaza. Segato is a voice that reclaims the importance of the public intellectual at a time when research is bureaucratized and public opinion fades into the digital realm of social media.

In The nation and its others (2007) writes that "race is a sign", and argues that beyond social class, skin color is a structural marker of difference, even in societies such as Brazil and Mexico, which are characterized by a high degree of miscegenation. Anti-racist movements show great presence and creativity in many societies throughout the world. Latin America (Viveros Vigoya, 2020). The internationalism of the movements can be seen through the presence of neo-Zapatismo, as a referent of the struggles for the rights of native peoples; but also through symbolic figures such as George Floyd and Moïse Kabagambe, or in the movement Black Lives Matter (Pousadela, 2021). Alongside struggles and mobilizations, Segato sees other strategies that can be effective. He writes in The critique of coloniality in eight essays (2013) on the need to achieve affirmative action policies from the State, investment in public resources and education for rights. It calls for academics to exercise a destabilizing power of that structure at the university level. It calls to "anarchize" admission practices and color structures in favor of black people; that is, in a system that logically recruits, trains and reproduces students based on a Europeanizing or whitening ideal, it is necessary to respond with an anti-systemic practice that seeks to build an ideal more representative of our population. It seeks the blackening of the academic institution. It is a call that is generalized in favor of indigenous people as well: "Race is a visible manifestation in the bodies of the world geopolitical order organized by coloniality" (Segato, 2013: 276).

His arguments have transcended the university and have registered in popular culture. In a beautiful irony, Segato, who began her studies in the field of ethnomusicology, is now a reference in the popular music of struggle that accompanies the continental movements against gender violence to the chorus of "The Women of the World".The rapist in your way", a production of the Chilean collective Las Tesis that became a viral cry of protest in 2019 across the continent (Pichel, 2019). Public opinion fades, perhaps, but it is also true that it democratizes and sometimes takes to the streets.

In her work, Segato describes patriarchy as a structure, in the sense proposed by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in his classic book The elementary structures of parenthood (1949). For Lévi-Strauss, the basic structure of society is the relationship between two families, based on the exchange of women as a practice that forges an alliance. Las estructuras elementales de la violencia (2003), Segato proposes that modern patriarchy organizes the control of women on the basis of a rape mandate, a practice that forges the alliance between men as confreres. Nevertheless, she asks how patriarchy structures social relations in different times and spaces, a methodological position that forces us to think historically. In this sense, she proposes and defends that modern patriarchy has a particular form and that it is not common to all societies. The native peoples, for example, have been characterized by a "low-intensity patriarchy" that transforms where they are more subjected to the liberal and capitalist logic of Western modernity.

He does not propose a simple binary relationship as a characterization of masculinity and femininity. He says that masculinity is a status, a hierarchy of prestige that is grounded in the extraction of tribute in the form of rape: that is the "mandate." Femininity, in this context, is a subjugated position, but instead of assuming that femininity is a somehow natural attribute of women, she seems to assume that it is men's characterization of them through domination, through violence. Her work seeks to understand how this relationship is practiced in different cultural contexts.

Contra-pedagogías de la crueldad (2018) is a tough read, naming gender-based violence with candor and precision. Segato incorporates a dialogic, technical voice that produces a didactic narrative in presenting her ideas. Here she addresses the concept of sexual crime. For her, this is a problematic idea because while rape can be understood as a crime by sexual means, at its core it is power, not sexual, that is its raison d'être. The message of the violation is control (Segato, n.d.); it is an act of domination, a political act. Many times it is a message sent to another. Who is this other? Now they are the confreres or companions of the aggressor; they can also be his enemies or the general public. This revelation, sexual violence as a didactic of power, has been dealt with in various ways in her texts and emerges as a central aspect in the anthropological gender expertise she elaborated on the sexual slavery of Mayan women during the 1980s in Sepur Zarco, a community in the Guatemalan highlands in the Department of Izabal. According to the Guatemalan lawyer Eva Rocio Herrera Ramirez,

Rita Segato exposes that with the arrival of the army the community was disintegrated; the woman was not a spoil of war but through the destruction of her body the community was destroyed, rape broke her microcosm and the relationship with her husbands and her reproductive capacity. The women's children escaped to the mountains where they died of hunger (2018).

Again in Las estructuras elementales de la violencia (2003), Segato recalls the book Against our Will (1975), by Susan Brownmiller, a classic of second-generation feminism in the United States. The central argument is that rape has been a tool in warfare since ancient times and in the most diverse regions of the world. Veena Das writes about the rape of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu women at the hands of men from opposing groups in 1947 during the India-Pakistan partition. A similar story is told in the Bosnian war (1992-1995) and the Rwandan genocide (1994). After years of official dissimulation, a recently released report devastating (law2021) on the rape of women and girls as a military tactic and measure of destruction of certain communities during the civil wars in Lebanon (1975-1990). Now the use of gender-based violence by Russian soldiers against the Ukrainian population is reported.

Segato's work on Guatemala makes an important contribution to this literature that encompasses research, testimony, memory and militancy. She has addressed the femicides in Ciudad Juarez as well (Segato, 2013). These events have led her to refer to "new forms of war". She observes that gender violence is enhanced when applied to "non-warrior bodies" with the objective of the moral destruction of the enemy. Conventionally, warfare pits two groups of warriors against each other; but with increasing frequency it generates and increases contempt for the more fragile or innocent on the antagonist side. At La guerra contra las mujeres (2018), this general reflection on the history of the second half of the second half of the century xx leads him to distinguish between femicide, a misogynistic crime that victimizes women in different circumstances, and femi-genocide, a crime that victimizes women as genusas a genre, in conditions of impersonality.

In Contra-pedagogías de la crueldad (2018), Segato reflects on the importance of making community and on women as the key to community. Here she draws inspiration from the work of Julieta Paredes. It sounds like a utopian lesson, but it contains an observation and a practical lesson that gathers historical experiences of a community feminism (Paredes, 2014). This proposal indicates a path for the organization: the community is based on the work of women, particularly women from native peoples, such as the Aymara of Paredes. Segato finds its home in the community and community justice. Here we detect a certain optimism that is based on bonds, affection and friendship.


Herrera Ramírez, Eva R. (2018). “Caso Sepur Zarco y el uso del testimonio como prueba fundamental”. Sistemas Judiciales, vol. 17, núm. 21, pp. 135-145. Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Legal Action Worldwide (law) (2021). “They Raped Us in Every Possible Way, in Ways You Can’t Imagine”: Gendered Crimes during the Lebanese Civil Wars. Ginebra: law. Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude (1949). Les structures élémentaires de la parenté. París: Presses Universitaires de France

Paredes, Julieta (2014). Hilando fino. Desde el feminismo comunitario. México: El Rebozo, Zapateándole, Lente Flotante, En cortito que’s pa largo y AliFem ac. Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Pichel, Mar (2019, 11 de diciembre). “Rita Segato, la feminista cuyas tesis inspiraron ‘Un violador en tu camino’ La violación no es un acto sexual, es un acto de poder, de dominación, es un acto político”. bbc News (sitio web). Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Pousadela, Inés (2021, 26 de mayo). “#BLM más allá de Estados Unidos: Luchas antirracistas en América Latina”. Open Democracy (sitio web). Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Segato, Rita (2003). Las estructuras elementales de la violencia. Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes.

— (2007). La nación y sus otros: raza, etnicidad y diversidad religiosa en tiempos de políticas de la identidad. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros.

— (2013). La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón.

— (2013). La crítica de la colonialidad en ocho ensayos y una antropología por demanda. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros.

— (2018). Contra-pedagogías de la crueldad. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros.

— (2018). La guerra contra las mujeres. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros.

— (s.f.). Peritaje antropológico de género. Causa del caso Sepur Zarco. Municipio de El Estor. Departamento de Izabal. Recuperado de, consultado el 10 de agosto de 2022.

Viveros Vigoya, Mara (2020).Los colores del antirracismo (en Améfrica Ladina)”. Sexualidad, Salud y Sociedad, núm. 36, pp. 19-34.

Robert Curley D. in history from the University of Chicago; he works in the Department of Sociourban Studies and coordinates the PhD in Social Sciences at the University of Guadalajara. He is Co-Director of the Cátedra de la Interculturalidad. His interests include the cultural history of the xix and xxShe has published several articles on religious practice and the intersectionality between gender, social class and coloniality. Among her recent publications is "The archive, the nun and the problem of war rape in the Mexican revolution, 1914" (History and GraphicsNo. 57, 2021). His book Citizens and Believers: Religion and Politics in Revolutionary Jalisco, 1900-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2018) is translated for publication in Mexico in 2023.

Rita Segato was born in Buenos Aires and studied anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires. With the state of siege in 1974, she moved to Caracas, where she continued her studies and worked as a researcher with Isabel Aretz, a pioneer of Latin American ethnomusicology. She then enrolled at Queen's University, Northern Ireland, where she received her M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology in 1984. Since 1985 he has worked at the University of Brasilia, in the Department of Anthropology and in the Graduate Program of Bioethics and Human Rights. She has received awards and recognitions in several Latin American countries. She is the author of books on anthropology, gender analysis, race and racism, psychoanalysis and war, among many other topics. Among her publications are The elemental structures of violence. Essays on gender between anthropology, psychoanalysis and human rights. (2003, 2010); The nation and its others: race, ethnicity and religious diversity in times of identity politics. (2007); The critique of coloniality in eight essays and an anthropology on demand (2013); La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez (2014); La guerra contra las mujeres (2018) and Contra-pedagogías de la crueldad (2018).


Inline Feedbacks
Ver todos los comentarios


ISSN: 2594-2999.

Unless expressly mentioned, all content on this site is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Download legal provisions complete

EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.