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Title: Decoloniality and early colonial thought : grammar and cartography in the sixteenth century Portuguese expansion
Author: Da Costa, Joseph
ISNI:       0000 0004 9357 618X
Awarding Body: King's College London
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis intends to demonstrate the manner in which several thinkers of the Portuguese Renaissance utilised the quantitative and autopic methodologies within the construction of navigational and cartographic mimesis to confirm their own wider humanist ideas in line with the priorities of a bourgeoning imperial state. In this way it attempts to address the underrepresentation of the Portuguese expansion within historiographical discussions concerning the philosophy of empire, the history of science, and the coloniality of knowledge. It does so in an effort to expose the role of the state in early modern constructions of race and an increasingly ‘scientific’ conceptualisation of ‘racial’ and ethnic colonial difference. Appealing to nautical techniques enabled scholars to secularise their existing understandings of 'natural' social order which in turn was implemented by the state as a mechanism of control. Latitude and its observable and theoretical fixity provided a powerful tool with which to quantify the kind of social hierarchies that were so useful in the inclusion and exclusion of various peoples encountered in the Portuguese expansion. In its attempt to understand reified constructions of the social map, it also uncovers the silencing of alternative historical narratives in a confrontation that displays the obfuscation of the nuanced and plural reality beneath hegemonic and epistemic power dynamics. In an imperial environment in which the Portuguese were not a 'de facto' hegemony, the Portuguese ‘technoscientific’ literature of the era rationalised this experience with recourse to a powerful tool - the universally equivalent grid. This was a science of order with the capacity to incorporate resemblance and difference in its attempt to make sense of a social reality even more diverse than that of the Portuguese state, yet based on its existing models of incorporation and exclusion forged in the globally connected Mediterranean basin. On pushing beyond this sea and out into the Atlantic ocean, African and Asian sovereigns and nobles are depicted so frequently in traveller accounts because they were useful in achieving Portuguese imperial, political, commercial, and religious priorities. This at once problematises the histories of Africa that reduce African encounters with Europeans to object/subject dynamics. Social hierarchies had been represented in the grammatical construal of reality for centuries using the system of titles and pronouns inherited from established discourses. The flexibility of these codes could be applied to numerous encounters with reality and the role of the state and its institutions in their application cannot be underestimated. The earliest Portuguese grammarian, Fernão de Oliveira attempted to reify the way in which language contributed to the creation of social realities through the nautical rhetoric of the 'regimento da altura', a technique useful for quantifying the height of celestial bodies which was then made directly proportional to a system of latitude lines. A powerful social metaphor in the sense that it turned the globe into a scale. The application of this technique - long familiar to astronomers and, of course, Ptolemy - to nautical navigation and calculation was pioneered by the Portuguese as early as the middle of the fifteenth century. It was this technique that would revolutionise the quantitative nature of knowledge disseminated by the teams of practitioners surrounding Lusitanian cartographic and nautical arts at that time. In this way, formerly organic, spiritual, and biological perceptions of the social dynamics of Portuguese society, and by implication, Portuguese colonial societies were melded to an increasingly quantitative view of reality that supported perceptions of universal societal orders. In this way this thesis stands to offer an approach to negotiating contemporary manifestations of, and the structural inequalities predicated on, colonial difference. In understanding the Renaissance use of relational equivalence as a tool of negotiation with alterity perhaps we can avoid its development into a tool of subjugation.
Supervisor: Green, Tobias Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available