ISA: Poststructural and Postcolonial Thought

At the recent ISA conference in Montreal, I participated in a lively, weighty and difficult roundtable on postcolonial and poststructural approaches to International Relations. Alina Sajed had supplied the panellists with a provocation by way of refuting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s famous injunction that Europe was the inadequate and indispensible to frame the epistemological constellations of “modernity”. Sajed challenged the panellists to debate whether Europe was in fact dispensable as well as inadequate. There was certainly a spectrum of opinions given and positions taken on the function, possibility and desirability of the relationship between poststructural and postcolonial approaches. As a form of reflection I would like to lay out some thoughts by way of clarifying for myself what the stakes at play are in this discussion and where it might productively lead.

For myself I do not read the Europe that Chakrabarty considers in terms of the historical expansion and exercise of material colonial power. I read it in terms of a fantasy that captures the imagination. At stake is a conception of the whys, hows and shoulds of people suffering, surviving, accommodating, avoiding, resisting and diverting the colonial relation and its many neo- and post- articulations. In this particular respect, I take Frantz Fanon’s position and agree with Sajed: “Europe” must be dispensed with. In any case, as Ashis Nandy has shown, the monopolisation of the meaning of Europe by a fascistic figure (rational, male, hyper-patriarchal, white, civilized, propertied) has required the re-scripting of the pasts of peoples in Europe and a concomitant distillation of the traditions of European thought themselves so as to accord to this fantasy figure. Europe is a fantasy through and through, but one that damages different peoples with different intensities. And those who look in a mirror and experience no significant cognitive dissonance when they proclaim “European” can still count themselves, to different degrees, as being a thoughtful protagonist in a contested human drama. For others, there is only the promise of living this drama vicariously through the thought of others. That is why “Europe” is dispensable, even though for some peoples Europe has never been indispensible; regardless, it must be dispensed with.

Let me explain a little more what I mean by all of this. Europe is first and foremost a sense of being that constructs its empathy and outreach in terms of a self whereby all who cannot intuitively be considered of European heritage are categorized into two entities. First, they might be the “other” – foils to the understanding of the self. Their emptied presence is to be filled as the verso to the internal constitution of the European self. If they are lucky, they are given a kind of non-speaking part in the drama. In fact, they usually are lucky. Much critical European thought – and certainly almost all of canonized European thought – speaks volumes about the ”other” but only so as to fill in the European “self” with greater clarity.

Second, they might be the “abject” – the entity that is impossible for the self to bear a relationship to, although even this impossibility will be instructive to the inquiring European self. Abjects, under the European gaze, are reduced to a primal fear out of which an intensity of feeling is engendered that wills the drama of human (European) civilization. Defined in excess to the other/abject, the internal life of the European self can substitute itself for humanity at large in all times and spaces, and develop itself as a richly contradictory being that overflows its meaning and significance.

I do not know whether other colonialisms predating and contemporaneous to the European project matched this audacity. And in a significant sense, it really does not – and should not – matter. After all, the lure of making comparison is the precise methodology through which the European self overflows to define all others by a lack. I do though want to hazard a particular claim at this point, which might or might not bear up to scrutiny: the prime “others” of European colonialism were the indigenous peoples of the Americas. And while we owe much to Kristeva’s work on the term, the prime “abjects” of European colonialism were the enslaved Africans bought over to the Americas.

A quick note here: the abject is not the woman – and certainly not the woman without race; starting with Wollstonecraft, a feminism tradition has developed wherein the (white) woman is abjectified by a rhetorical sleight of hand. i.e., they are treated “as if” they were slaves. ADDED by Robbie Nov 2011: Sabine Broeck makes this case superbly for 20th century feminist traditions, especially focusing on Simone de Beauvoir’s work. In this confluence of meta-racial ascriptions made in the conjuncture of various processes of dispossessions it was possible that “natives” worldwide, behaving badly, could turn from others into abjects and that “negroes” could, with Christian baptism, strive towards other-status. To this day, “natives” and “negroes” share a relationality that is marked by the tension of these strivings. In general, all “others” – when judged to be unsalvageable – can slip into abject status to be dealt with by various extermination methods: directly, as in the Jewish Holocaust; “benignly” as in the megalomaniac policies of assimilation supported by the “fatal impact” theory; or through a combination of both, as in the ongoing Palestinian nakba.

With this said, I want to lay out three strategies within which Europe might be dispensed with, and its peoples redeemed through their humbled reinsertion into a multivocal human drama.

The first strategy is one that I used a little while ago to understand German idealism and those core scribes of the European self, Kant, Hegel, Marx and Weber. An internal critique of Europe is deployed that targets the pretensions to exceptionalism that structure the story of its modernization and support its special claim to modernity. For this purpose, one must use the tropes and analytics that usually define the relationship of Europe to its outside – i.e. difference, uneven development, multilinear development, cultural differentiation, and even processes of colonization – and instead use them to explore the internal relationality of the European self. Hence, one can re-interpret and re-narrate the substantive processes of modernization internal to Europe as well as European traditions of thought.

However, if used only on its own, such analysis runs the risk of re-affirming the narcissism of Europe, i.e., the assumption that the European self is so richly contradictory that there is no need to look anywhere else. This assumption is itself a form of erasure: one does not need the (post)colonial world and its peoples to understand colonialism. These peoples are held in abeyance or left alone to form the backdrop to the European drama. Intellectual travel to the hard-edge – the generative point of colonial practice – is deferred. At best, there is no need to cross the Atlantic after one has “discovered” Ireland. Europe has an infinite self-reflexivity… and therein lies the seductive pull of this strategy.

To tackle the reproduction of European narcissism and its deferral of colonialism requires two other strategies to be worked on, either at the same time or prior. One of these strategies was represented at the panel that I mentioned above by some comments from Gurminder Bhambra, a sociologist from Warwick. It is, on the face of it, a simple strategy, almost naively empirical: to account for all the myriad social inter-connections utilized by and often created by colonial practices. Yet the effect is not empirical, because, once begun, this strategy makes it impossible to talk about the making “modern” of Europe without talking about the making “colonial” of the places and peoples of the Americas, Asias, Africas and Pacifics.

Retrieving and exposing this interconnectivity – which has had to be constantly disavowed by the narcissism of the European self – therefore works at two levels: first, with regards to substantive encounters and relations, i.e. the enforced flow of peoples, goods, things; and second, with regards to the flow and production of ideas, knowledges memories and narratives. There is no modernity that is then applied to the colonial world; there is rather a planetary colonial-modern. (Works in IR theory that, in my opinion, tend towards this re-interpretation are those that relate classical political thought – and classical political economy – to the context of discovering the Americas and its indigenous peoples). Inter-connecting these histories saturates the production of the European self with its stipulated “others” and “abjects” and thus holds the potential, at least, to dissipate and make un-sensible the self/other|abject mode of narcissistic cognition.

However, I believe that for this potential to be actualised impels a third strategy: to use the awareness and acceptance of inter-connectedness to think otherwise – and certainly pluri-wise – about time, space and relation. The inter-connected worlds of past and present must be related to in ways that do not reproduce the fantasy of the European self/other|abject . This European self must be lost in order to retrieve relatable selves. And for this task, there is no redeemable resource in critical European thought. To be more accurate I mean that critical European thought, as soon as it is canonized as the radical resource, transforms into the mind of the European self to which all other bodies of thought have to be compared, assimilated, othered or abjected. For example, a disservice is done to the potential of Foucault’s thought if he is used to make sense of the colonial world on terms already given by the European experience and which valorise said experience. And this raises the question: why start with Foucault and not Fanon?

I suggest that, instead, attentiveness should be given to the way in which one is already personally implicated in actually existing relationalities and inter-connections forged by colonialism. For some who look in the mirror and experience cognitive dissonance when they say the word “European” that attentiveness might not be a choice but a reality. In any case, the apprehension of this reality needs to be lovingly developed by all. To claim that the personal is political is not the same as calling for a personification of the political and a narrow identity-politics. Hence, I am thinking in terms as basic as an orientation rather than a framework of analysis or even a methodology: simply, an orientation towards relatable selves. The fact that such an orientation might be and has been coopted by neo-liberal governance does not invalidate the task; rather, it makes it an even more pressing political task. Else we might just as well give up on talking about community, self-determination, liberation etc. (But to give up on them is a privilege afforded to a few. Interestingly, the critical European tradition has not yet given up on talking about sovereignty, governance or labour).

The orientation I have sketched out corresponds to what Walter Mignolo terms the “decolonial option”. To my mind, the scholarly aim in picking up this option is to make the self/other|abject framework obsolete in the realm of academic knowledge production. Moreover, to consider other relatable selves requires approaching un-modern cosmologies in the first instance as legitimate and problem solving contemporary sources of knowledge production. Sources for example, which render the inhabitable world as naturalpsychicalsocialspiritual rather than as ontologically discrete and profane dimensions. Sources, for example, wherein time is not linear, the “past” exceeds the notion of History, it is the past that is more alive and amenable to transformation than the present or future, and profane notions of cause and effect still exist but as “alongsides” and not as “definitionals”. Sources, for example, wherein agency (and not just ideas) is constituted as much as – and sometimes more through – spiritual relationality than through materiality or discourse. (Invoking these sources, I find Hegel’s embarrassing un-Europeaness flashing into focus to be blurred instantly by his desire to be quintessentially European.) And so sources wherein other selves relate without waiting for approval from that narcissistic European self. Having dispensed with Europe, those who look in the mirror and comfortably see a “European” might feel the weight of bearing the modern world lifted. That, though, is merely one – and certainly not the defining – purpose of decolonizing thought.


Rethinking the Modern: Colonialism, Empire and Slavery

In recent times, a number of academics and commentators have sought to offer a revisionist history of colonialism that sees it as something that wasn’t as bad as some others make out, that actually made the modern world as we now know it and so was essentially a good thing, or was something to be understood simply in terms of networks of circulation and distribution. The sense of colonialism as a wretched episode of human history that continues to distort the life chances of those unfortunate enough to live under its legacies is slowly being eroded. Similar revisions are underway to our understandings of modern transatlantic slavery and its continuing legacies. We believe that the historical processes of imperialism, colonialism and slavery shaped, and continue to shape, our common world in ways which have been and continue to be problematic. This conference seeks to confront head-on these new revisionist histories and provide the space for a more adequate understanding of these processes and their legacies as they continue into today.


The questions that this conference seeks to address include the following:

■Why colonialism was a really bad thing … as was slavery …
■In what ways do the standard forms of knowledge production in the academy undermine the lived thought and experience of the colonized and their descendents and, by extension, impoverish our understandings of the human condition?
■What are the ways in which we can ‘recover’ lost histories? What does it mean for ‘history’ to be lost and can lost histories ever be recovered?
■How do we address the current fashion for regarding colonialism as simply a network of practices?
■What kinds of relationships exist between modernity, nationalism and minorities?
■Can there be a ‘global history’ outside of a history of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery?
■To what extent is the rehabilitation of (old) empire associated with the legitimisation of new forms of imperialism?
■How are minorities identified, constructed, and governed within modernity?

■Imperial Enlightenment and Critical Thought
■Coloniality / Modernity
■The Place of Minorities in Modernity and Coloniality
■Recovering Forgotten Histories
■Decolonial Thought and Other Philosophies
■Slavery and its Legacies
■Is Global History / Sociology Possible?
■Migration and Empire: Voluntary and Forced
■Colonial Desires and Eastern Empires
■Reassessing Anti-Colonial and Liberation Movements
■From Empire to Neo-Imperialism
■The Colonial Context of the European Integration Project, Past and Present


Abstracts should be no more than 300 words and should be sent as an attachment to the following address:

The deadline for receipt of abstracts is Friday 25th February 2011.

International Relations and Non-Western Thought book
totally over-expensive book, but, i must shamelessly add, some cool stuff in it..

Disordering Things

Hi all,

Just a brief post to let you know that Meera and I are now also blogging over at The Disorder Of Things (along with several others) and that we hope to also pursue some of this agenda over there.

Foucault / post-colonial etc. Social Identities new issue

Graduate conference on Postcolonial Studies – Frankfurt, June 2011

Might be of interest:


Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”

Goethe-University Frankfurt


Call for Papers


International Graduate Conference


Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Contestations:



16th – 18th June 2011

Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany

Organizer: Prof. Dr. Nikita Dhawan

In the past two decades postcolonial perspectives are increasingly influential in the Social Sciences and the Humanities. In particular, postcolonial-feminist interventions have contributed decisively by revealing the pivotal status and stubborn persistence of colonial gendering and racialisation processes for the structuring of the postcolonial late-capitalist world. The epistemic and material conditions that underpinned European colonialism continue to shape current socio-political constellations and global relations; so that the formal end of European colonial rule has not translated into decolonisation of the global North and the global South. If the Social Sciences and the Humanities seek to overcome this violent and exploitative historical legacy in order to contribute to the processes of decolonisation, they need to adopt a critical perspective that involves a reassessment of their disciplinary powers and responsibilities.

It is against this backdrop that the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies (FRCPS) seeks to contribute to ongoing debates in the Social Sciences and the Humanities by hosting the International Graduate Conference on Postcolonial Studies. Conference presentations are sought particularly to examine those fields in which postcolonial theory has largely been underrepresented. Postcolonial-feminist theory comprises a key point of reference for the conference, because it has simultaneously led to an increasing differentiation and crucial revisions both within Postcolonial Studies as well as within Gender and Women’s Studies.

The conference’s goals are twofold: first, we seek to illustrate the epistemological and methodological relevance of a postcolonial (feminist) perspective within the various disciplines of the Social Sciences and the Humanities by example of concrete research projects; second, we aim to facilitate (trans-)disciplinary networking. The conference is conceived of as a graduate conference for early career researchers; contributions with a reference to postcolonial (feminist) theory from advanced students, doctoral candidates and postdocs in the Social Sciences and the Humanities are most welcome.




Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland)

Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago)

The following sections will be accepting paper proposals:

Section: 1 – Third World and Postcolonial Approaches to International Relations


Panel 1: Political Practice and Third World/Feminist Approaches to International Institutions

(Panel Convenors: Katja Freistein/Philip Liste)

Panel 2: Saving Brown Women? Deliberating the “Post” in Post-colonialism and Post-conflict (Panel Convenor: Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel)

Panel 3: Transnational Social Movements and the Postcolonial Condition

(Panel Convenor: Elisabeth Fink)

Section: 2 – Postcolonialism meets Economics


Panel 4: Building Bridges: Critical Political Economy and Postcolonial Theory

(Panel Convenors: Simone Claar/ Nikolai Huke)

Panel 5: Culture vs. Capitalism: Postcolonial Emancipations and the Ambivalences of the Market

(Panel Convenor: Katja Rieck)


Section: 3 – Postcolonial Academia? Knowledge, Methodology and Representation


Panel 6: Postcolonising Methodologies

(Panel Convenors: Joshua Kwesi Aikins/ Nadine Golly / Maria Teresa Herrera Vivar)

Panel 7: Teaching Emancipatory Postcolonial Knowledge

(Panel Convenors: Nadine Golly / Joanna James)

Panel 8: Between Subjection and Subjectivation: Postcolonial-Queer-Feminist Perspectives (Panel Convenors: Jasmin Dean / Astride Velho)

Section: 4 – Postcolonial Politics of Human Rights, International Aid and Global Governance


Panel 9: Postcolonial Perspectives on Human Rights

(Panel Convenors: Olivia Rutazibwa/ Eva Georg / Aylin Zafer)

Panel 10: Postcolonial Power and Capitalism – Critical Approaches to Contemporary International Aid

French: Pouvoir postcolonial et capitalisme – Approches critiques de l’aide internationale contemporaine

 (Panel Convenors: Olivia Rutazibwa / Kai Koddenbrock)

Section: 5 – Negotiating Western Normativity and Intellectual History – Secularism, In/Justice and Revolution


Panel 11: Secularism, Religion and Politics: Critical Interventions

(Panel Convenor: Zubair Ahmad)

Panel 12: Transnational In/Justice in a Postcolonial World

French: In/justice/s transnationales dans une monde postcolonial

(Panel Convenor: Franziska Dübgen)

Panel 13: Revolution Reconsidered – Slavery, Enlightenment and the Haitian Revolution (Panel Convenor: Jeanette Ehrmann)

Section: 6 – Entangled Historical Legacies and Politics of Memory


Panel 14: Postcolonial Perspectives after Auschwitz

(Panel Convenor: Ulrike Hamann)

Panel 15: Postcolonial Thought and the Problem of Periodization

(Panel Convenor: Felix Schürmann)

Panel 16: Taking Postcolonialism elsewhere? Post-Soviet Postcolonialities

(Panel Convenor: Alexander Vorbrugg)

Section: 7 – Postcolonial Statehood and Governmentality


Panel 17: Representations: The (Post)colonial ‘Body Politic’ in Historical Perspective

(Panel Convenor: Verena Steller)

Panel 18: Postcolonial Perspectives on Corruption and Statehood

(Panel Convenor: Philipp Zehmisch)

Panel 19: Weak States, Failed States, Developmental States – Problems and Challenges in Conceptualising Political Formations in Postcolonial Africa

French: ‘Etats fragiles, Etats défaillants, Etats développeurs’ – Problèmes et défis concernant la conceptualisation des formations politiques de l’Afrique postcoloniale

(Panel Convenor: Anna Krämer)



Section: 8 – Cultural Politics and Postcolonial Urban Spaces

Panel 20: African Cultural Production in the Global Economy

French: Les productions culturelles africaines dans l’économie mondialisée

(Panel Convenor: Lotte Arndt)

Panel 21: Postcolonial Representations of Urban Spaces

Spanish: Representaciones poscoloniales de espacios urbanos

(Panel Convenor: Andrea Gremels)

About the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies:

The Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies (FRCPS), which is headed by Prof. Dr. Nikita Dhawan, is one of the first research settings in the German-speaking academic landscape to decidedly approach research within the Social Sciences from a postcolonial perspective. Having established the promotion of young social scientists as one of its priorities, the FRCPS regularly holds a colloquium, whose participants individually organize the respective panels. In hosting the International Graduate Conference, the FRCPS aims to provide graduates and early career researchers with the opportunity to present and discuss their work in the above-mentioned thematic areas.

How to Submit Proposals:

For your paper proposal to be considered, we request that you email the respective panel convenors directly. An abstract (max. 500 words) and a short bio-note (max. 100 words) should accompany your proposal. The closing date for applications is 30th November 2010. Detailed information on the respective panels can be found here:

Conference languages are English, French and Spanish. Abstracts may be submitted in a language as stipulated in the relevant panel’s call for papers. For the French and Spanish-language panels translations will be made available. The conference rooms are accessible for people of all abilities. Please indicate if any further aides and/or support are needed when registering for the conference.  

Registration & Participation:


There are no conference fees, but we kindly request registrations until 31st May 2010: Please state ‘registration’ in the subject heading.

A limited number of travel bursaries will be provided, especially for paper presenters from the global South. Please motivate your application in a short accompanying letter (max. 300 words).

Critical and Decolonial Dialogues Across South-North and East-West

Critical and Decolonial Dialogues Across South-North and East-West
7-9 July 2010
Middelburg, The Netherlands,
The Roosevelt Academy of the University of Utrecht and
The Center for Global Studies and the Humanities at Duke University.
The aim of the three days workshop is to build a series of critical dialogues
around issues of Education, Development, (un)Freedom, Conviviality, Global
Justice and Epistemic Decolonization with the ultimate goal of instigating
conversations and collaborative projects between decolonial approaches and
current European critical visions in the humanities and the social sciences.
The workshop seeks to create networks of epistemic and political actions and
interventions toward building alternatives. The collapse of abstract universals
(Christianity, Liberalism, Marxism, Islamism) as the road to Paradise are
enough evidence that there is no one global future or destiny to work toward,
but the need to change the present demands to take seriously the concept
and practice of “dialogue.” A dialogue that is only possible within a diversity of
In Europe, there is a legacy of critical reflection on modernity that is rarely
brought to dialogue with decolonial thinking. On the other hand, decolonial
reflection on modernity is grounded on a genealogy of thought that is rarely, if
ever, taken into consideration by European critiques of modernity. What are
the issues, the concerns, the concepts, the investments of these two
trajectories of critical thoughts? What do they have in common and to what
extent they complement each other?
By critical reflections we refer here to the legacies of the Frankfurt School but
also to post-modern and post-structuralist critique of modernity in Europe. By
decolonial reflections we refer to the legacies of decolonial political revolutions
after WWI, to the epistemic legacies that emerged from that experience (i.e.
Gandhi, Shengor, Cesaire, Cabral, Fanon) as well as to current de-colonial
thinking in South America, the Caribbean, among Native Americas and
Latino/as in the US. The dialogue South-North and East-West intends to cut
across hegemonic geopolitics of knowledge.
By critical reflections we also mean pursuing research that on the one hand
unveils the persistent rhetoric of modernity, growth, development, happiness
that hides its need to increasing poverty, growing marginalization and
unhappiness for billions of people in the planet. The workshop is grounded on
the belief that there is great need to bring together committed researchers,
thinkers and practitioners to engage in a series of open and learned
dialogues. In particular this workshop aims to promote a South-North
theoretical encounter around the need to work toward decolonization of
knowledge, and hence epistemic justice.

On the one hand, the Western European tradition of thought has struggled to
understand modernity, in particular its experiences of violence such as the
holocaust, totalitarianism as well as experiences of discrimination (gender,
race) and social desintegration. On the other hand, the school of decolonial
thinking has fought to understand the violent experience of
colonialism/modernity by looking at issues such as slavery, the destruction of
nature, the imposition of the modern notions of gender, of time and space, the
hegemony of western aesthetics… In between both, critical schools of
thoughts emerged in South and Eastern Europe as well as in Africa, Asia and
Latin America that diversify trajectories of emancipation and demand for
urgent dialogues. Although, both traditions of thought are well established in
their own academic circles and within their own body of literature, they have
rarely been put together. It is a central tenet of this workshop that a dialogue
between these two perspectives would make a contribution towards a South-
North, East-West dialogue of knowledges. The workshop will follow from a
summer course in which students will explore both traditions of thought. It is
expected that students will also participate in the workshop.
Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vázquez