“Ever since Luxemburg put into question the completion of real subsumption by suggesting it was nothing more than a heuristic device Marx employed to totalize capitalism, thinkers outside of Euro-America have, in one way or another, underscored a conception of the social that embodied an uneven mix of practices of prior modes of production alongside the newer innovations of capitalism”
Harry Harootunian, 2015, Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism.
“By defining itself both as an accurate portrayal of Western modernity – that is, by starting from conventions that are purely local – and as universal grammar, social theory has condemned itself always to make generalizations from idioms of a provincialism that no longer requires demonstration since it proves extremely difficult to understand non-Western objects within its dominant paradigms.”
Achille Mbembe, 2001, On the Postcolony, University of California Press.
For anyone interested in the debate aroused by Vivek Chibber’s critique of postcolonial theory for being insufficiently Marxist-in-the-right-sort-of-way, which has included a robust response from Partha Chatterjee, Bruce Robbins has a review of Chibber’s book at n+1, and Chibber has a response to Robbins at Jacobin, to which Robbins has in turn his own response at n+1 again. Phew.
Andy Davies at Contentious Geographies has news of a piece by Partha Chatterjee entitled Subaltern Studies and Capital in Economic and Political Weekly, a response to Vivek Chibber’s book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital.
While on the subject of Chatterjee, here is a link to details (and the first chapter) of his newish book, The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power.
A couple of days ago, Dissent pointed to an almost real-time, developing ‘debate’ about the trajectories of postcolonial theory – in the form of the response to the publication of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. The book is largely a refutation/attack/hatchet-job/demolition job (depending on how you read it) on the work of the Subaltern Studies historians, who are taken as standing in for the whole field of ‘postcolonial theory’ (come in Aijaz Ahmad, all is forgiven….). If you don’t want to read the whole book (which can currently be surreptitiously downloaded if you stumble across it…), you can get a sampling of Chibber’s argument in an interview at Jacobin, titled How does the subaltern speak? (I wonder how many variations on that title there have been, and how many more we could all imagine in the future?).
There is already a debate emerging around Chibber’s book, not least encouraged by Verso’s own blog site – they have posted a response to a critical review by Chris Taylor, which Taylor has himself responded to in the update to his original piece.
Blog-twitter-sphere excitement about all this is circulating around a set-piece ‘debate’ between Chibber and one of his targets, Partha Chatterjee, in New York last month – via Andy Davies’s blog, I see that the video of this encounter is now up on YouTube.
Society and Space has a new virtual issue available, on the theme of ‘Literary Geographies’ (also the name and focus of a newish blog) – ten oldish and newish papers available on open access, until November:
“These ten papers, ranging from the 1980s to the present decade showcase just some of the papers in this journal that have contributed to discussions of literary geographies. As well as being of considerable interest in their own right, we hope they inspire future explorations in this area.”
Amongst the papers, including pieces by my former or current colleagues John Silk, Juliet Fall, and Parvati Raghurum, one of the papers, this one, is by me – on postcolonial theory, Spivak, Benita Parry, Coetzee, speech and silence and the work of representation, that sort of thing. It’s nice to be included. This might have been a citation classic by now if I’d not used that particular title, but never mind, I was warned (and it’s still a great song, and it still captures the essence of the paper’s argument).
Further to my earlier ramblings about postcolonial theory, here is an interesting piece by Partha Chatterjee on the legacies and contemporary relevance of the subaltern studies ‘tradition’ (you can find more on this topic at the Cultural Anthropology site) . Of particular interest is his argument is the claim that there are now ‘two aspects of mass politics in contemporary Indian democracy – one that involves a contest over sovereignty with the Indian state and the other that makes claims on governmental authorities over services and benefits’. The emergence of the latter aspect, he argues, which follows from the extensive ‘reach’ of apparatuses of governmentality into the everyday lives of even the most marginal populations, requires a ‘paradigm shift’ beyond the classic analysis of subaltern resistance. Chatterjee is an interesting example of someone able to make use of ‘governmentality’ ideas while also acknowledging the distinctive qualities of actually existing democratic politics.