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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Modernity, Postcolonial Theory and Eurocentrism

Gurminder K. Bhambra.


Examining the relationship between modernity, postcolonial theory and Eurocentrism this paper deals first with sociological critiques of the value of postcolonial theory focussing particularly on recent articles on the subject by Gerard Delanty and Gregor McLennan. The second section looks at the inconsistencies and problems within postcolonial theories themselves which need to be worked through in order to offer a more theoretically coherent understanding of the social and political world today; this section focuses on the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty. The paper ends with an attempt to begin working through these problems and posits an alternative from which we could begin to theorise.

This paper seeks to counter McLennan’s dismissal of the charge of Eurocentrism being inherent in sociology with the assertion that it is in positing Europe as a coherent category demarcated from the rest of the world that Eurocentrism is best understood. The fact that a majority of postcolonial thinkers would also fall into this bracket of Eurocentric thought is acknowledged and the paper deals with this.

Whilst McLennan and other sociologists are concerned with defending sociology from postcolonial charges of Eurocentrism, I am rather concerned with working through the problems of postcolonial theory; one of which I see as being Eurocentrism.

In conclusion the paper asserts that one of the paramount misconceptions within the academic world, and one not completely avoided by those involved in postcolonial scholarship, is the notion that the concepts and paradigms utilised within the various disciplines emerged from an observation and analysis of the European experience. This misconception rests on inadequate socio-historical interpretations of the world which see it as being fundamentally based on the idea of spatial and temporal ‘disjunction’.

In his book The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism Ashis Nandy states that the “West has not merely produced modern colonialism, it informs most interpretations of colonialism. It colours even this interpretation of interpretation.” (1983: xii) The point is not that the concepts and paradigms we use in understanding the world today derive from the analysis and observation of the European experience, but that this is what we think.

Presenters

Gurminder K. Bhambra  (United Kingdom)
PhD student
Social and Political Thought
University of Sussex

I was born in Kenya, am 'originally' from India, and came to the UK as a child where I have lived since, apart from a year in Barcelona. The experience of being a part of many cultures has contributed to my current academic interests in post-colonial theory and attempts to theorise beyond difference.

Keywords
  • Modernity
  • Postcolonial theory
  • Eurocentrism
  • Sociology
  • History
Person as Subject
  • McLennan, Gregor Delanty, Gerard Chakrabarty, Dipesh



(30 min Conference Paper, English)