Postcolonial theory in perspective

20 May, 2023 at 23:25 | Posted in Politics & Society | 1 Comment

Links is niet woke, Susan Neiman | 9789047715597 | Boeken | bol.comMany of the theoretical assumptions which support the most admirable impulses of the woke come from the intellectual movement they most despise. The best tenets of woke, such as the insistence on viewing the world from more than one geographical perspective, come straight from the Enlightenment. Contemporary rejections of this period usually go hand in hand with not much knowledge of it. But you can’t hope to make progress by sawing at the branch you don’t know you are sitting on.

It is now an article of faith that universalism, like other Enlightenment ideas, is a sham that was designed to disguise Eurocentric views which supported colonialism. These claims are not simply ungrounded: they turn the Enlightenment upside down. Enlightenment thinkers invented the critique of Eurocentrism and were the first to attack colonialism — on the basis of universalist ideas. When contemporary postcolonial theorists rightly insist that we learn to view the world from the perspective of non-Europeans, they are echoing a tradition that goes back to 18th-century thinkers, who risked their livelihoods, and sometimes their lives, to defend those ideas.

This is not merely a historical matter: we need Enlightenment ideas if we have any hope of moving forward against what are politely called the authoritarian tendencies of the present. But there is no time for politeness when many elected leaders around the world are openly undermining democracy.

Susan Neiman

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  1. A difficult topic. During the heydey of the pro-globalisation neo-liberal era a capitalist democracy was considered the end point of human development, “the end of history”.

    This was in line with the domination of neo-classical economics, another very Anglo-Saxon construct. Universal values and universalism sits very well with a discipline that basically tries to remove time and space and other matters that relate to context from its analysis.

    Power, and associated heirachies of knowledge, are behind a lot of this.

    Both universal values and cultural relativism have been used to cover abuses of power. But the important thing is that the two views are discussed and that if you ignore them you are employing such beliefs implicitly in your own analysis.

    And if you are relying on neo-classical theory, try and understand what its philosophical foundations are, where and when they arose, and why.

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