Andean Cosmovision and Global Governance

This article is part of the TRAFO Series „Doing Global International Relations”.



by Amaya Querejazu

Much of what we know about global governance can be questioned by taking an ontological turn and see what relational ontologies such as the Andean Cosmovision have to say about reality, the global, being in the world and political arrangements. Here is a brief opener to the discussion about what including difference in IR could actually mean.

Global governance cannot be considered global

Global governance is a concept that is here to stay. Out of many, one could highlight two of its manifestations: as a concept that somehow attempts to overcome the conceptual obstacles of the Westphalian approach, and as a political project that comes to life in several political arrangements in different issue areas such as global warming, development and conflict. In the past decades we have witnessed a huge proliferation of literature on Global Governance: different approaches, different methods and different concerns, and also a very diverse critique. But space for diversity is only an appearance. In fact, Global Governance should gain our attention more for what it conceals than of what it portrays.

If we take into account that power relies on the capacity to define (Lederer & Müller 2005), Global Governance symbolizes a very particular way of conceiving reality and understanding it: It represents a modern western and mostly liberal perspective, and therefore it cannot be considered global. Social sciences and specifically IR are accomplices of this because they do not question the ontological premises that lie underneath every concept and every approach. Among this, fundamental presumptions are the linearity of time with direct impact on our expectations on progress and development; the nature of the self (rational autonomous individuals capable of abstracting their selves from their environment to apprehend it completely) and a binary or dichotomic way of thinking that is based on contradictions (good/bad, civilized/uncivilized, developed/underdeveloped, etc.), and the fact that reality is universal. This is an atomistic ontology based on separation.

This perspective is not the only one, but certainly has become hegemonic, dominant and naturalized, through processes like colonization, imperialism and globalization. This leaves the idea that such a conception of reality is neutral and universal and all humanity is determined by it. Those who don´t share this view are considered uncivilized, irrational, and exotic; they are “tolerated” under the notion of multiculturalism and accepted as long as they don’t dare to question the idea of a universal reality. To really speak about Global Governance and produce knowledge about the global, we need to take an ontological turn, one that opens space for different accounts of what is real, what is global and furthermore about what it means to be in the world. Other perspectives offer alternatives, and I am not talking only about epistemological or methodological tools but rather other ontologies and cosmovisions. Just to think, for example, that humans are not to dominate nature might actually change our perspective on how the environmental agenda is developed in global governance architecture; just having a different conception of time can change our approaches on how to achieve development.

Relationality and Cosmovision

If we accept that the roots of the problem may be ontological, we may be as well compelled to take into account other types of ontologies, such as relational ones. Instead of focusing on contradiction and causal relations, relational ontologies stress the importance of complementarity, or the relation among things instead of apprehending them as essences isolated from their environment, they only can be fully comprehended if they are in context. Relational ontologies are pluriversal ontologies, which means that they conceive reality as composed by many worlds but also by many kinds of worlds (human, non-human and spiritual): a pluriverse. All these worlds exist on their own but are related to one another.

Yes, we live on one planet, and somehow all peoples have a cosmological account of the global, but in our social constructions such realities can be composed by many worlds. This is what is real for millions of people in the world (not only Amerindian cosmovisions uphold these ideas but also Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Ubuntu, among others), who are left aside not only from global politics, but most importantly from creating global realities. Different life projects are neglected when the Global is constructed under universal modern/western premises. So, our starting point is to take the discussion to another level, focusing on the moment where the separations began to take place (Latour 1993).


Representation of Andean Cosmovision where Pacha is portrayed as a great time-space house. Created by Santa Cruz Pachacuti in 1619.

Andean Cosmovision

In looking for alternatives I have been studying the Andean relational cosmovision, particularly I am interested in what insights we can get in imagining different political arrangements for global governance, what I call “Pluriversal Governance”. If we see reality differently, we can solve our problems differently. The ontological presumptions of the Andean cosmovision are: relationality (foundational principle that rules every aspect of life. Everything is related, nothing exist on its own, nor can be an abstraction); correspondence (opposites do not exclude each other, but coexist as correspondent in a dual whole); complementarity (principle that contests binary thinking by stressing that one thing can simply not be without its opposite: feminine is not without masculine, day is not without night, and in the political dimension peace is not without conflict, etc.); and, reciprocity (this is the principle for cosmic justice: every relation -human, non-human or spiritual- is built upon this ethical mandate, see here).

This ontological stand has epistemological consequences. In Andean cosmovision, there is no difference between what is rational and what is emotional or spiritual. Reality can be known through rational cognitive processes but also with the help of rituals. There is no separation between observer and observed. Knowledge is also affective, bodily and mystic: its origin lies in experience, memory and suffering. Spirituality is the most elevated form of conscience and conscience is the most elevated form of knowledge (Estermann 2009). Life is everywhere, earth, stones and rivers are alive, they can be deities, and as full subjects they hold not only political agency but also rights, desires and will. So where the West only sees objects, resources that man can dominate, the Andean approach is rather an awareness of trying to understand what nature tells humans, which creates other dimensions of political reality, and other perspectives to deal with it. Time is circular, the past coexists with the present and the future, in a constant repetition but also transformation. The past is in front of the path, because people can see it and it is known. This becomes a hermeneutic tool to reinterpret reality in many different ways. Humans are in a constant repetition of time. This also impacts the notion of space which is not fixed, but also alive, embebbed in time. For instance, the local cannot be fully understood without the global and the other way around. Both the global and the local are experiences that can or cannot be related to space. It depends on the context and the situation, mainly the subject´s interpretation as an experience.

The contribution of Andean Cosmovision to Global Governance

There are alternatives if we take into account other cosmovisions such as the Andean to re-imagine global governance. Here I mention just a view of them. First, Global Governance can be imagined as a great house of time and space where everything is included, each category with its opposite instead of limiting and building an inside/outside realm, this is known as Pacha (Untoja & Mamani 2013). Global governance should be a space for ontological negotiation and for dissidence. If we want peace, we cannot have it without conflict, the idea is to find the equilibrium between opposing, yet complementary forces. The concept of tinku could be used to understand this better: tinku is the encounter of opposites or enemies in a ritual fight that serves as catharsis but also as recognition of the other (see Bouysse- Cassagne 1987, Albó 1992). The purpose is to channel conflicts and bring forces back to equilibrium. Second, different conceptions of time and space should lead us to think that there can be different kinds of development, alternative ways of what a good life stands for. Andean peoples economic, social and political organization under the figure of the Ayllu is prior to the state. It is a vivid example of deterritorialized sovereignty, of another conception of democracy, participation and accountability. Third, thinking about nature as having political agency amplifies the spectrum of what environmental political arrangements should look like.

This insight can have a huge impact on the way we analyze and construct an agenda in issues such as climate change, development or conflict. Just thinking that humans are not called to dominate nature but to be care-takers, makes us think climate change differently; just to think that time is circular explains why all those development projects (based on the linearity of time towards progress) in Andean communities tend to fail; and just to think that enemies need a place to encounter to deal with their differences in order to restitute a cosmic equilibrium helps us understanding that peace is not achievable without the enemy. What is at stake is the conception of the world, and the world has many worlds, and no one lives in the world “in general” (Escobar 2007).None of this is to say that one cosmovision is better than the other, or to think of Andean cosmovision in a romanticized way. The purpose is to eliminate hierarchical ontological structures in which a given cosmovision (in this case the modern/western) becomes a category of validity above the others.


Albó, Xavier. “La Experiencia Religiosa Aymara.” In Rostros Indios De Dios, edited by Manuel (coord.) Marzal. 81-140. La Paz: CIPCA-HISBOL-UCB, 1992.

Bouysse Cassagne , Therese. “La Identidad Aymara. Aproximación Histórica (Siglo Xv; Siglo Xvi).” La Paz: HISBOL, 1987.

Escobar, A. LA Invención del Tercer Mundo. Construcción y deconstrucción del desarrollo. Caracas: Fundación editorial el perro y la rana, 2007.

Estermann, Josef. Filosofía Andina. Sabiduría Indígena Para Un Mundo Nuevo. 2 ed. La Paz: ISEAT, 2009.

Latour, Bruno. Nunca Fuimos Modernos. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2007

Lederer, M., & Müller, P. Criticizing Global Governance. (M. Lederer & P. Müller, Eds.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Platt, T. Desde la perspectiva de la Isla. Guerra y Transformación en un Archipiélago vertical andino: Macha (Norte de Posotí, Bolivia). Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena, 42(1), 297–324, 2010.

Untoja, Fernando, and Ana A. Mamani. Pacha, El Pensamiento Simultáneo. La Paz. Baul del Libro, 2013.


Amaya Querejazu is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Universidad de Antioquia (Medellín). She obtained a degree of Law (B.A.) from the Universidad Católica Boliviana, International Relations (M. Sc.) from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and of Political Science (M. Sc.) from the Universidad de Los Andes. Amaya currently works on her PhD dissertation at Political Science Department at Universidad de Los Andes (Bogotá), where she analyzes how Global Governance can be reconceived in pluriversal terms, drawing from Andean cosmovision insights. She analyzes the cases of Vivir Bien and the Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights.


Further Readings on TRAFO:

Antonia Witt, Felix Anderl, Stefan Kroll, Philip Wallmeier (2016), Clues, Careers, and Curricula – Doing Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Amitav Acharya (2016), Developing Global International Relations: What, Who, and How?, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Anthoni van Nieuwkerk (2016),  Reflections on (not so) International Relations … and what scholars from the Global South can do about it, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Frank Mattheis (2016), New metres for a wider world: interregionalism and Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Catherine Baker (2016), South-East European Studies in the ‘House of International Relations’, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.



Citation: Amaya Querejazu, Andean Cosmovision and Global Governance, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 22.09.2016,


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Editorial Board (2016, 22. September). Andean Cosmovision and Global Governance. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 24. Juni 2024, von

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