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Théories et discours

Colonialism, Difference and Exoticism in the Formation of a Postcolonial Metanarrative1

Colonialisme, différence et exotisme dans la formation d’un méta-récit postcolonial
Vasant Kaiwar
p. 47-71

Résumé

La théorie postcoloniale est la métathéorie d’une pratique universitaire dans laquelle toute perspective d’un monde au-delà du capital a, semble-t-il, été abolie. Mobilisant un métarécit très éclectique constitué de bribes de post-structuralisme, de post-modernisme, de romantisme, en passant par l’Ecole de Francfort et le maoïsme, elle est parvenue à réduire l’horizon critique à l’alternative entre résistance aléatoire et capitulation devant la séduction de la marchandise, et ce, au moment même où les manœuvres de capitalisme mondialisé condamnent l’une et l’autre de ces postures à une futilité manifeste.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  Parts II and III of this paper were presented at the Colloque Cultures Impériales, Université Pari (...)
  • 2  Fredric Jameson, “Actually Existing Marxism”, Polygraph 6/7 (1993), 172.

One of the fundamental peculiarities of human history, namely that human time, individual time is out of synch with socio-economic time, with the rhythms or cycles […] of the mode of production itself with its brief windows of opportunity that open on to collective praxis, and its incomprehensible inhuman periods of fatality and insurmountable misery.  [A]s biological organisms of a certain lifespan, we are poorly placed to witness the more fundamental dynamics of history, glimpsing only this or that incomplete moment […] Perhaps only the acknowledgement of this radical incommensurability between human existence and the dynamics of collective history and production is capable of generating some new ethic whereby we deduce the absent totality that makes a mockery of us, without relinquishing the fragile value of our own personal experience, [c]apable as well of generating new kinds of political attitudes, new kinds of political perception as well as of political patience, [a]nd new methods for decoding the age as well, and reading the imperceptible tremors within it of an inconceivable future.
Fredric Jameson2.

  • 3 In the interests of clarity and to limit my consideration of a sprawling literature, postcolonial t (...)
  • 4  See, for example, the following statement, “[T]he intellectual traditions once unbroken and alive (...)
  • 5 See Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism: What’s in a Name?”, in Roman de la Campa, E. Ann Kaplan, Michael (...)
  • 6 Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism”, Critic (...)

1One of the central characteristics of postcolonial theory is the contention that colonialism—defined not so much as the history of the physical occupation and rule by European states of vast regions of the world beyond Europe, but more as the attempted erasure or submergence of a whole host of life-worlds and “unbroken traditions” that flourished in those regions until the arrival of modern Europe—is the defining experience of humanity in our epoch3. What seems particularly to exercise its practitioners is that traditions kept alive through generations have, now, either been reduced to “history” or simply assumed submerged forms in the consciousness and “world” of the subalterns4.  Colonialism, with pre- and post-fixes, becomes the foundation of history, the category around which a virtual rather than a historical periodisation is constructed; after all, the postcolonial is said to originate in the first act of resistance to colonialism5.  However, since colonialism is defined as the usurpation of others’ life-worlds, there is no intrinsic reason why European colonization or the Enlightenment should be privileged.  This privileging, one might assume, is purely strategic, related to where the postcolonial theorists are from and where they find themselves6.

2Given the implicit global ambition of postcolonial theory, colonialism is presented as the concurrent condition of humanity on both sides of the colonial divide(s). In the “postcolonial” age, we are all somehow still under the epistemic sway of colonialism even as we resist under the sign of something “post”.  But, since this is posited to have been true when the colonial powers ruled their extra-European colonies, and possibly in the future as well, the postcolonial is not related to the departure of colonial powers from their colonies.  

  • 7 A far more adequate understanding of historicism would, of course, be the notion of a wholly exotic (...)
  • 8 As an example of this impulse, influenced by Marxist thinking, to theorise the specificities of col (...)
  • 9 The title of a book by Gyan Prakash, ed., The World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India, Delhi: (...)

3Postcolonial theory invokes capitalism often enough, but without a proper categorial or historical grounding of capitalism, as we shall see below, and a fairly firm rejection of a “transition” to capitalism—dismissed, ironically, on the grounds of historicism in the Popperian sense—it is never properly analysed or periodised7. The sort of commitment that led an earlier generation of theorists to inquire into the specificities of colonial capitalism—even to posit a specifically colonial mode-of-production—is notably absent here, as is any broader impulse to periodise the career of colonial capitalism itself8. Now, one is more likely to encounter the “world of the colonial labourer”9, a world rich in gods and spirits, symbols of difference to the presumably disenchanted social world of Europe, rather than forms of labour (formally or really) subsumed to capital, within specific historically determinate (colonial) relations in which consciousness and class action might unfold.  

  • 10  A phrase used by Fredric Jameson in his discussion of Althusser’s notion of “determination by stru (...)
  • 11 The final section of this article attempts a preliminary analysis of this in relation to the concep (...)
  • 12 Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopolitics and Geoculture, Essays on the Changing World-System, Cambridge an (...)
  • 13  Laura Chrisman, “The Imperial Unconscious? Representations of Imperial Discourse”, in Patrick Will (...)

4Postcolonial theory champions the fragments that are supposedly both subsumed and reproduced by the totalising projects of Enlightenment-inspired modernity. But in the absence of a proper analysis of capitalism and its structural properties, crises (breakdown points) and polarising social and geographical impacts the fragments come across—in anecdotal micronarrative form—as “exotic inventories of unrelated diversity”10 detritus of a “third world” left behind by those projects.  Consistent with this is a sort of categorial exoticism that begs the question of why people are constrained to live as they do and why their resistance or rebellion against their conditions of life assume certain historically determinate forms11. Respect for “difference” should not lead to amnesia about the processes that entrench and intensify socio-economic differences.  Neither should it be overlooked that the notion of difference has sometimes been articulated from a metropolitan Utilitarian Orientalist vantage point—in effect from a universalist perspective12. By failing to theorise these possibilities, postcolonial theory unwittingly enters into a collusive relationship with the imperialists’ “antinomies of essential oppositions”13, forgoes the opportunity to analyse the historic specificities of colonialism in the modern period, and abdicates the responsibility of grasping the nature of both anti-colonial and class struggles.

  • 14 These phrases occur in Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 67.  
  • 15 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, London/New York: Verso, 2000.

5Somewhat surprisingly, in this context, the exotic bodies of the colonial subjects are always/already adjusted to the needs of capital, tellingly as consumers if not as producers. Thus, what is available to them is to submit to the seduction of the commodity, the play of desires14, and so on, even as the onward march of global capitalism reduces the lives of many to unspeakable misery15. Postcolonial theory casts doubt on the abstract language of rights and justice, and perhaps some response is needed in view of the ways in which the US State Department, for example, has employed the language of human rights, but one suspects that as expressed in the narrative of postcolonial difference such scepticism about rights and justice can easily become a restatement of the dualist discourse of class privilege—rights for us but not for them.

6In the end, postcolonial theory seems to be caught up in an impasse: the world of capitalism is seen, in ultra-Maoist register as a totalitarian system, but there is nothing to do but somehow adjust to it.  While expressing, like postmodernism, an incredulity towards metanarratives, postcolonial theory has constructed its own metanarrative, drawn from fragments of other theories (such as anticolonial nationalism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, elements of the Frankfurt School, and Maoism) but this seems to be a metanarrative of resignation, punctuated by small acts of defiance.  

7The rest of this essay is divided into four sections, with each taking up an issue that defines postcolonial theory and shapes the postcolonial metanarrative, while developing a critique thereof: section II argues that a proper theorisation of difference should recognise that it takes shape against the backdrop of some more general identity, without losing the autonomy of the elements that constitute it; capital both homogenises and differentiates and to lose sight of this is to fetishise difference, a strong tendency in postcolonial theory. Section III notes that historical narratives that attempt to understand longer-term socio-economic dynamics are not necessarily historicist in an evolutionary and teleological sense and that a distinction should be made between teleology and explanatory mechanisms that underpin long-term historical developments if we are not to end up with disjointed mininarratives that are identical in their emphasis on difference. Section IV contends that, ironically, postcolonial theory’s aversion to grand narratives is not as complete as it seems; postcolonial theory assembles its own grand narratives of world history from fragments of other theories, cohering around the notion of colonial projects of epistemic domination and “postcolonial” resistance to them.  Section V takes issue with the exoticism that underpins the fetishism of difference implying a perduring categorial disconnect between the West and the many Orients that it seeks to dominate, if not hegemonise; this section maintains that as capital subsumes the supposedly exotic world of colonized subjects, superficial differences notwithstanding, the categories of political economy are capable of yielding an overall better understanding of the symbolic world of those who are incorporated into structurally subjugated positions in a capitalist world economy.  

A System that constitutively produces differences remains a system…

  • 16  Laura Chrisman, “The Imperial Unconscious?”, op. cit., 499-500.
  • 17 Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 198 (...)
  • 18 This is exemplified very well in, for example, Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô, [trans. with intro. by (...)

8Imperialist discourse, Laura Chrisman notes, often homogenises and misnames its others, disregarding the specificity of their cultural identities and historical experiences16. Sometimes this is accomplished by gross and arbitrary aggregation, and other strategies of assimilation, often across vast reaches of space17. This homogenisation and misnaming may, of course, have a number of functions: to suggest at the simplest level that the Others have no history to distinguish them from each other—they are identical in their barbarity or savagery. On the other, for Romantics in search of a noble savage untainted by bourgeois proprieties they serve quite another function, for, however denigrated they are, they nonetheless represent some sort of vital force: life-affirming and connected to nature or to a world where gods and spirits are quite as real as automobiles and cement mixers. This was perhaps inversely related to the capitalist development of the metropolis: to a system where production dominated humans, and where stifling conventions rendered social life rational but severely anaemic. So, the irrationalism/mythic fantasies of the Others are the antinomy of metropolitan bourgeois society, perhaps a self-exorcism by distancing of those forces still left in Europe, perhaps a device for not dealing with class anxieties in Europe itself. The irrationalism/mythic fantasies are the nightmare, so to speak, of Europe: in the colonies they represent something authentic and ineradicable, or so it might have been in the imperialist imagination18.  

  • 19 Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar, “The Coordinates of Orientalism”, presented at a Roundtable at (...)
  • 20  The ascriptive component is well analysed by Appadurai, “Number in the Colonial Imagination”,op. c (...)

9But, this obliteration of specificity is but one strategy of imperialist thought. It is counterbalanced—more than counterbalanced, one would think—by an opposing strategy: that of exaggerating and playing up, not to mention playing off, differences among the colonized populations19.  Difference, a keyword of imperialist discourse, is not understood in historical-material terms as the result of historically determinate processes but in ascriptive terms, religious affiliations, and so on20.  Simultaneously along the axes of sameness and difference, the “identity” of colonial subjects is constructed along both axes simultaneously, the strategy of the moment dictating which is to prevail.  

  • 21  Laura Chrisman, op. cit., 500.
  • 22 The founding principles of subaltern studies are stated by Ranajit Guha in the following essays, “O (...)
  • 23  Jacques Pouchepadass, “Pluralising Reason [a review of Provincializing Europe]”, History and Theor (...)
  • 24  This is noted by Sadik Al-Azm, “Orientalism and Orientalism-in-Reverse”, Khamsin, Journal of the R (...)
  • 25 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 112-13. [Henceforth all references to Chakrabarty will (...)
  • 26 Ibid., 67. This argument is quite consistent with American modernisation theories that de-emphasise (...)

10Reflecting perhaps its unacknowledged adherence to the categories of colonial anthropology and historiography—albeit in a softer, more sentimental vein—postcolonial theory constructs itself around the same axes: a grand narrative of the pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial in which the global South is positioned, its historical specificities seemingly preserved in microhistories but effectively cancelled in collusion with the imperialists’ “antinomies of essential oppositions”21. In this context, it matters not a great deal if this style of theorizing—for example in the Indian Subaltern Studies—began with the intention of challenging the hegemony of colonial historiography and its supposed derivatives22, it quickly settled into the fundamental coordinates of Orientalism. Thus, the claim is made that what “singularises” Indian culture is religion, supposedly “the only true or authentic site of nationalist resistance, uncontaminated by the pernicious influence of post-Enlightenment reason”23. Similar claims are advanced regarding Islam in the “Muslim world”24. Every nook and cranny of Europe’s many others has its own variation on the theme. The authenticity of indigenous cultural forms lies presumably not only in their imperviousness to the Enlightenment but also in their entrenchment in the lifeworlds of subaltern populations. Consistently enough, in the words of one of the leading postcolonial theorists of the day, these “subaltern pasts”—that live on in the present and manifest themselves in a consciousness in which the time of the gods and spirits is existentially more real than the homogeneous empty time of modernity—are themselves unhistoricisable.  They show the limits of the discipline of history itself25. But, this subaltern consciousness seems also to have made itself at home in the world of capital, if only in the position of consumer26.  

  • 27  The phrase is used by David Harvey in his discussion of postmodernism’s debt to Heidegger.  See Da (...)
  • 28  Ibid., 360.  
  • 29 Ibid., 433.
  • 30  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 15.
  • 31  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious,op. cit., 102.

11Postcolonial theory can thus maintain in a Heideggerian or Orientalist fashion the notion of places as the sites of “incommunicable otherness”27—possibly unreceptive to capitalism and modernity—but also as participants, albeit in vernacular accents, in their global unfolding. So, what then is the space of place? Small-scale face-to-face communities, modern nation-states, something in between? Postcolonial theory ranges happily across the entire scalar range, quietly changing the scales at which the essentialising moves are made: a village, a province, a movement, a former colony now a nation-state, an ethnic community scattered across the globe, or possibly even the entire postcolonial world, but disconnected from the ways in which capital’s actions create and recreate the uneven geographies of economic development, the possibility of discovering lived solidarities within and across spaces, and what it means to be living in the discarded nodes of a prior epoch of capital accumulation versus one just coming into view28. These forms of solidarity and difference would have to be considered part of a dynamic and ever-changing political-economic landscape29, not one emplaced in the tunnel of precolonial, colonial, postcolonial time. But, in that case, we must confront the capital system itself, explain its workings over time and space (let’s provisionally call this totalisation), insist that such an operation is not, per se, oppressive or totalitarian30; and remember that its “alienating necessities” will not, in Jameson’s memorable words, “forget us however much we might prefer to ignore them”31.

  • 32 Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 70-1; see also Willie Thompson, op. cit., 25, for similar concerns in (...)
  • 33  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 41.

12Since postcolonial theory frequently invokes capitalism, sometimes with the qualifier “colonial”, it must surely acknowledge the existence of a specific mode of production and that an explanation of its workings might be the first step in fighting back not only against oppression and exploitation, but also against the epistemic violence, empty universalising gestures and pretensions of post-Enlightenment modernity that it likes to complain about32. Of course, not all totalising explanations are equally able to serve this cause; neo-classical economics has its own variety that completely naturalises capital, making it a perpetual, end-of-history formation. In the face of this, Marxist theory’s capacity to analyse and lay bare the capital mode of production’s tendencies and contradictions—and the possibility of its eventual supersession—would seem to be a valuable aid, even if only strategically. Microhistory, fragments, and so on, frequently extolled by postcolonial theorists seem rather trivial in comparison and would reduce difference to what Jameson refers to as “exotic inventories of unrelated diversity”33.

  • 34 Ibid., 56-7.
  • 35  See Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 229-35, for an extended discussio (...)
  • 36  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 66.

13To recover difference in a properly theorised way it may be necessary to understand it as a relational concept. Difference takes shape against the background of some more general identity, without losing the autonomy of the elements that constitute it. This is to suggest that capital does not swallow everything in its path whole but that its actions on a wide range of already existing social formations transform their constituent elements, not into identical clones of some master instance replicating the same motion but in a mode of “structural difference and determinate contradiction”.  There is no great inconsistency in respecting both “the methodological imperative implicit in the concept of totality or totalisation” while paying attention to discontinuities, rifts, actions at a distance, and so on34. To think in categories like (abstract) capital and (abstract) labour (the capital relation) is not to obliterate or do violence to categories generated within other fields of self-understanding but to acknowledge that such categories are only relatively autonomous. There may be many culturally specific names for work but over time, under the dominion of capital, they come down to different names for abstract, socially necessary labour35. We can, Jameson notes, “think abstractly about the world only to the degree to which the world itself has already become abstract”36.

  • 37  I’m paraphrasing freely from a particularly significant passage in Fredric Jameson, The Cultural T (...)
  • 38  Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, 11.

14The difference that postcolonial theory insists on is quixotic. Difference, chosen in postcolonial “shame and pride”, is still the one articulated by the European colonizers; Europe remains the place of the universal, while the postcolonial theorists’ work merely affirms “a host of local specificities.”37 Opposition to totality may originate as more of a strategic than a theoretical point: as Eagleton notes, there may very well be some sort of total system, but since our ordinary political actions cannot dent it as a whole, people may come to accept that they would be better advised to trim their sails and stick to more modest but more viable projects38, but strategies do have a way of becoming dogmas in due course, especially after major historical setbacks.

  • 39  Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke Univers (...)

15In taking issue with the postcolonial insistence on difference, one should emphasize that a system that “constitutively produces differences remains [still] a system” and a critical grasp of the workings of the system on the requisite scale could be an indispensable ally to overcome both the fatalism and voluntarism that one detects in post-marked theories.  If the postcolonial theorist objects that “something precious and existential, something fragile and unique about our singularity, will be lost irretrievably when we find out that we are just like everybody else […] so be it; we might as well know the worst”39.  

Not all grand narratives are teleogies…

16What are the obstacles to producing a spontaneous understanding of long-term socio-economic dynamics? Do they lie, as the epigraph to this article suggests, in the radical incommensurability between human time, individual time and socio-economic time, the rhythms and cycles of the modes of production, unfolding over generations and centuries, such that as biological organisms of a limited lifespan we glimpse, at best, only this or that incomplete moment?

  • 40 I’m drawing on a fine clarification of both the plausibility and the limitations of postmodernism’s (...)
  • 41 Ibidem, 40.
  • 42 As Immanuel Wallerstein notes, the post-Einsteinian rethinking (or crisis) in the Baconian-Newtonia (...)
  • 43  A point admitted by Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity, London: Verso, 1998, 25.

17In that case, we should perhaps expect and anticipate the stock objections to anything that might smack of a grand narrative—anything transcending the limits of microhistory, of a single lifespan, any attempt even at longue-durée causal explanation. The objections of postcolonial theory—which recapitulate much of postmodernism’s aversion to grand narratives—would be understandable40. Thus, it would be legitimate to concede the ambiguity and deceptiveness of textual representations—“sources” in the historians’ jargon—and the difficulty of connecting them to non-linguistic reality41. Further, if the entire field was to be conceived as a web of linguistic communications composed of a multiplicity of games whose rules were incommensurable and relations agonistic, then science, too, becomes one more language game42. Any pretension to explanation based on universal rules and categories would have limited purchase, whether based on revolutionary tales of humanity as the agent of its own emancipation through advances in the knowledge of the material and human sciences or evolutionary Idealist variants43.  

  • 44 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Free Press, 1992, 128.
  • 45  See Willie Thompson, 110, for a summary of the charges postmodernists make against the Enlightenme (...)

18So, it seems, grand narratives of progress offer a soft target. The mere fact that they have found adherents across the political spectrum suggests that it was and, to some extent, remains the illusion of an epoch. A recent manifestation is Francis Fukuyama’s “Universal History” that “need not justify every tyrannical regime and every war to expose a larger meaningful pattern in human evolution […] any more than the biological theory of evolution is undermined by the fact of the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs”44. For adherents of Foucault, who made a meal of attacking the reality of progress in social spheres where it was widely agreed to have taken place such as penology, medicine, mental illness, sexual relations, Fukuyama’s triumphalism is a step too far. Perhaps this sort of overreach invites its own retribution in the form of a thorough debunking of the claims to improving human welfare, easily accomplished in the face of the obscenity of mass starvation in structurally adjusted Africa and mass distress in other parts of the global South. More controversially, it invites, too, a delegitimisation of the claims of science itself to contribute either to human welfare or even to a proper explanation of natural phenomena much less human societies.  The source of all the trouble with grand narratives seemingly begins with the Enlightenment, the subject of a comprehensive indictment by postmodernists and postcolonialists alike—not only for making universalist claims on behalf of scientific principles and perceptions in all matters and blotting out other ways of being-in-the-world but also of making possible the virtually genocidal elimination of indigenous populations in Europe’s colonies, the imposition of slavery, and so on45.  This, of course, is a caricature, part of what might be called a grand-narrative-in-reverse and we need not dwell on it too long.

  • 46  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 113-18.
  • 47  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 114-15.

19What might make sense in this context is to sort through a distinction between metanarratives and teleology46. A teleology is a historical outcome preordained in the beginning of the events that led to it. Revealed religions would fall into this category as would secular notions like Manifest Destiny and end-of-history triumphalism. On the other hand, as Thompson insists, the continuous enhancement of scientific knowledge is not a teleology, for once the process has started (with proper structural underpinnings and no exogenous hostile force) it is self-generating. There may be some quibble with this characterization but within limits it seems true enough. The more important distinction, for our consideration, is between a historical process that is somehow predestined to lead to a particular conclusion (a teleology) and an after-the-event attempt to recognize a “determining principle” at work (an explanatory principle).  Biologists have identified such a principle in natural selection, one that has been refined but not supplanted for the last century and a half47.  

  • 48  A classic example of the first mechanism is Karl Marx’s 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Pol (...)
  • 49 Of course, both in the Communist Manifesto and in part VIII of Capital, Vol. I, Marx does deal with (...)
  • 50 See the discussion in Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, with an introduction by Eric Hobsbawm, Lo (...)

20No such explanatory principle is readily identifiable in history, though Marx, for instance, variously posited growing tensions between the development of the productive forces and a given set of social-productive relations, and/or class struggles as the moving forces in history48. Marx was quite insistent that his procedure was scientific and distinguished his methods from those of Utopian socialism. However, Marx never produced a full transition narrative as such, especially once he began work on Capital49, but his analysis of capitalism’s contradictions and crises was designed to suggest that like other preceding modes of production, it, too, must come to an end, or more likely be brought to an end, though he held open the possibility not of triumphal progress but the mutual ruination of the contending classes50. Unlike teleologies, such an account does lend itself to debate, re-theorisation, refutation, and further refinement and indeed the history of debates within Marxism has been both lively and a point of renewal.  

  • 51 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has apparently said that she is not defending widow-burning, but Thompso (...)

21Admittedly, much cruel experimentation and many abominable acts have been committed under the sign of Marxism and justified as necessary for historical progress, just as in earlier times the Enlightenment provided respectable cover for some of the more disreputable actions of European colonizers. But, this is hardly what exercises postcolonial theorists in their rejection of the Enlightenment and Marxism, because, if the truth be told, indigenous institutions that are frequently implicitly defended were, and are, no less cruel51, and the religious traditions that are identified with authenticity produce their own grandly teleological narratives.  Something else is at stake.  The next section will examine at greater length what that might be.  

  • 52  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 40.
  • 53 There is more than a sense of this in Guha, Dominance without Hegemony. This work is much overlaid (...)

22For the moment, however, it is important to note that postmodern/postcolonial theorists cannot consistently avoid connections to larger causal fields as part of any historical explanation: in looking for silences, ambiguities, and so on, even the most rigid sceptics are forced to dig deeper, beyond what is said to how it is said, how it is historically possible to say whatever was said, the historical forms of rhetoric, historically determinate silences, and so on. The whole pretension that history is just another literary narrative gives way to something else: a going beyond sheer micronarrative and surface forms to investigate a deeper content. The content may be unstable—when has it been otherwise in history; after all, not even the most impeccable Rankean historian of today would interpret the French Revolution the way its contemporaries did—but that does not prevent the actual investigation of a reality that is not simply revealed to common sense or a superficial gaze. Something else is needed—a feel for time and place, for cultural nuances, for what might have been meant, and so on52. When postcolonial theorists, for example, come to considerations of the past, they are not above utilizing not merely their linguistic competence, nuances of social and cultural practices, the special significance of the categories in use in specific circumstances, but also their sense of the history of the region they study, knowledge of longer-term economic and political trends not to mention abstract categories like capital and labour—in other words, they seek to locate a particular moment of a local history in longer-term continuities and interruptions/breaks caused by a variety of historical forces53.  

  • 54  This is analysed in Vasant Kaiwar, “Des Subaltern Studies comme nouvel orientalisme”, ContreTemps, (...)

23In many respects, there seem to be two layers in operation in postcolonial histories: claims about history as a text with all sorts of interpretative latitude, slapdash attacks on “good history” as evolutionist and universalising54, but frequently enough accompanied by attempts to practice the same denigrated good history to understand longer-term trends encompassing a larger arena than their microhistories might involve. So perhaps this is the return of a repressed sense of history, not as mere textualisation but a longer-term unfolding of dynamics contained in the capitalist mode of production, conceived in its larger (dare one say, totalising) sense. If there is a grain of truth in this, then we might identify a dominant register within which postcolonial theory works to exoticise the regions it studies while perhaps unintentionally naturalising by amnesia the commodity economy and putting forward an agenda suggesting an end of history’s pretensions if not history itself; and a subordinated register which undertakes good historical analysis, even as it keeps alive some kind of hope of change for the better even if it eschews a proper theorisation of the issues raised thereby.  

  • 55  Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonial Theory and the “Post”-Condition”, Socialist Register (1997), 346.
  • 56  Ranajit Guha, History at the Limits of World History, especially chapter 5, “The Poverty of Histor (...)
  • 57  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 206-80 (“Romance and Reification: Plot Const (...)
  • 58 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London: Routledge, 1994, 174.
  • 59  Terry Eagleton, op. cit., 9-10.
  • 60 Gyan Prakash, “Postcolonial Criticism and Indian Historiography”, Social Text, Nos. 31-32 (1992): 8 (...)

24At one end, postcolonial theory has something in common with “end-of-history” scenarios. Aijaz Ahmad, for example, notes: “Lyotard’s posthistorical euphoria and Fukuyama’s posthistorical melancholy are rooted in the shared conviction that the great projects for emancipatory historical change that have punctuated this [the twentieth] century have ended in failure”55, and should best be abandoned, a position characteristic of postcolonial theory as well.  It is perhaps not a step too far to go from abandoning “emancipatory historical change” to abandoning “history” itself, a position forcefully argued by Ranajit Guha56. At the other end, postcolonial theorists like to ally themselves—however hesitantly—with thinkers like Jameson for whom history is not a cul-de-sac culminating merely in the bland seduction of the commodity.  Homi Bhabha, poster boy of postcolonial studies, speaks for a larger constituency in claiming that Jameson’s reading of Conrad’s Lord Jim in The Political Unconscious57 proves that he is practising “postcolonial criticism”58. Since the latter work begins with the stentorian injunction, “Always historicize”, and goes on to find intimations of modes of production, vast historic trajectories and transitions, even glimmers of Utopian impulses in the deeper reaches of literary works that make no explicit claim about history or political transformation, we must assume that similar grand aspirations are tucked away in the political unconscious of postcolonial theory however silenced they are in its predominantly postmodernist, anti-historical mode. What is missing in postcolonial historical practice is a proper recognition of the existence of a coherent, if invisible, set of forces that might exert “certain regular effects in our daily life”59, unless one is talking about the spirit world, in which case its effects are, according to the postcolonialists, all too real! But, for such a recognition to emerge, we would have to reverse a situation that Gyan Prakash, for instance, celebrates, namely that the main virtue of postcolonialism is precisely that it has abandoned, along with “nationalist ideas” of history and reason, the modes-of-production metanarratives of Marxism60.

An assemblage of fragments can also become a grand narrative…

  • 61  Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism”, op. cit., 31.
  • 62 Ibidem, 30.
  • 63  Anne McClintock, “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Post-colonialism’ ”, in Patrick Wil (...)

25Postcolonial theory claims for itself the same “incredulity towards metanarratives” as postmodernism, but is it so completely innocent of advancing one of its own? For, although postcolonial theory mainly addresses the former colonial world, a reading of the literature suggests that it is global in scope and ambition. The term postcolonial has now come to embrace the former white-settler colonies, and indeed the United States61. In the event, the term “colonial” with pre- and post- variants is also about all time, historical and prehistorical, if history is invoked at all.  As Ahmad notes of the postcolonial literature on India, “literally thousands of years of contradiction, sociality and creativity come to be gathered up under the single heading of ‘precolonial’, as if those diverse temporalities, those conflicts and principles of structuration, could now only be recalled in relation to the changes that the coming of the East India Company was to cause”62. While, of course, the departure of the British rulers in 1947 launches the Indian postcolonial, no such punctual breaks seem necessary for the chronology of postcoloniality. When, after all, does the postcolonial begin in the United States, or, what sort of historical periodisation would be appropriate for Latin America? What about those areas that were subject either to the progressively more draconian dominance of the United States, or in some cases to the aggression of Europe’s erstwhile colonies? In East Timor, McClintock notes, the Portuguese had scarcely left before the Indonesians invaded and initiated an especially violent colonial occupation, in collusion with US imperialist interests in South-east Asia. In Mozambique, independence from Portugal in 1975 was but the prelude to a long drawn-out and extraordinarily vicious conflict with a right-wing militia armed and supported by white-supremacist Rhodesia and, later, apartheid South Africa, whose cosy relationship with Western governments was a matter of common knowledge63.  

  • 64  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 39.

26Would a playfulness towards “sources”, attention to the time of the gods and spirits, an advocacy of a “subversive” history that takes apart the linear, secular time of the Enlightenment offer us insights into what has happened to the “postcolonial” world? What is the validity of a post-marked term that cannot seriously explain both the continuities and changes that have occurred between the dominant capitalist powers and those they dominate? And which certainly seems not to be able to pay attention to the internal divisions of the latter societies, including the surge of virtually genocidal attacks on Muslims in India, for example, except to point a finger at something called modernity? What are the implications, in short, of ignoring the brute realities of imperialism and class politics and focusing so singularly on the contested world of conflicting representations64? Some useful ground, no doubt, can be covered by examining contested representations of an epochal event like the Vietnam War, for instance, but can any account of it afford not to situate those representations in a historical understanding of capitalist economic cycles, the military-industrial complex, the geopolitics of the Cold War, the rise and fall of hegemonic powers, not to mention American anxieties about their place in the world?

  • 65 Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonial Theory”, op. cit., 366.
  • 66 Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism”, op. cit., 31.
  • 67  Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 222-23.
  • 68  Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura”, 346; Fernando Coronil, “Can Postcoloniality be Decolonized? (...)
  • 69 Ibid., 347.

27The manner in which “colonialism” is deployed in postcolonial theory— with pre- and post- fixes—suggests it is a universality with variants65, a grand narrative in fact with some notion of loss or regression, loss of authenticity, and so on. The fundamental effect of constructing this “globalized transhistoricity” of colonialism is to evacuate the very meaning of the term and disperse it so widely that postcolonial theorists are reduced to fulminating against “good history” and in favour of “subversive history” whose objective no doubt is to destabilise notions of time and space such that the postcolonial academy is free to take up any one of a myriad of fragments, more or less arbitrarily, since they all amount to the same thing, more or less66, some form, we would assume, of the grand march of colonialism and subaltern resistance to it.  In effect the repudiation of any coherent periodisation and proper theorisation of the political economy of imperialism—under the general guise of rejecting metanarratives of capital—produces “disjointed mininarratives” that end up ceding ground precisely to Eurocentric diffusionist views, including Orientalism67; reacting to so-called economic determinism leads to a futile search for authenticity and cultural essentialism (identity through difference, as it were)68; confounding ideological grand narratives with actualities of power ignores the possibility that “fragmentation in one realm” [that of ideas] represents not “the dissolution of power but its further concentration”69.  

  • 70  James Schmidt, What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-century Answers and Twentieth-century Questions, (...)
  • 71  Who would doubt the reality of barbarities visited on the colonized populations—in the so-called C (...)
  • 72  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 5-6. This sense of loss can be traced back to certain tendencies in (...)
  • 73  In effect, a combination of narodnik and fascist ideas. See, V D Savarkar, Hindutva, Who is a Hind (...)
  • 74  M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, edited by Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge: Cambridge Uni (...)

28Paradoxically, postcolonial theory posits its universalist aspiration from an anti-universalist position, and assembles its grand narrative from fragments of other theories.  It shares with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory a sense of the sheer ambition of Enlightenment-inspired Reason to subjugate a host of different ways-of-being-in-the-world to itself and the eminent possibility of the eruption of all sorts of barbarisms that Reason could never entirely banish70. Colonialism comes to stand for both the agency of Enlightenment-inspired reason and its unrepressable barbarism71. Postcolonial theory also shares with the more romantic variants of nationalism a sense of historic loss, as colonial rulers supplanted previously unbroken indigenous traditions with their own72. However, the loss would appear to be a qualified one: no longer a subject of critical study and continued theorisation, lost traditions survive in submerged forms in the subaltern consciousness. Of course, this kind of Romantic nationalism produced its own forms of violence, political and epistemic, especially directed against national minorities: as early as the 1910s and 1920s it was generating Indian variants of blood-and-soil ideas for recuperating traditions submerged by foreign—mainly Muslim—occupation73. To be fair, Romantic nationalism also has a less sanguinary narrative, as in Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, a plea to build the future on the authentic grounds of ancient traditions74. Postcolonial theory, in claiming to give voice to these submerged traditions, produces a grand narrative of loss, even regression.  

  • 75 Chakrabarty’s ‘seduction of the commodity’ draws, it seems, explicitly on Lyotard. Perry Anderson n (...)
  • 76 Frank Rich, One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democ (...)

29Postcolonial theory also takes on, as noted above, an implicit naturalisation of the generalised commodity economy and the implicit fatalism that seems to follow from it75. Perhaps this is postcolonial theory’s debt to postmodernism and to forms of what has been called “market populism”76.  

  • 77  Sudipto Kaviraj: “Transition narratives create the increasingly untenable illusion that given all (...)
  • 78  Simon Bromley, “The Politics of Postmodernism”, Capital and Class, 45 (Autumn 1991), 128.
  • 79  Terry Eagleton, op. cit., 11. This is more than borne out by a reading of Chatterjee, 13, when aft (...)

30This motley assortment comes with its own exclusions and anxieties.  The extraordinary vehemence with which ex-Marxists in the ranks of postcolonial theory denounce Marxism, especially what they take to be Marxism’s penchant for generating transition narratives77, is one such manifestation. Any argument relating to a sense of a realisable future which potentially inheres in the present—an idea that can be plausibly traced to the Enlightenment78, but which informed and continues to inform much progressive thought in the ex-colonial countries—has to be dismissed. But an absolute scepticism of totalities usually masks a suspicion of certain kinds of totality and an enthusiastic endorsement of others. As Eagleton so rightly points out vis-à-vis postmodernism, some kinds of totality—prisons, patriarchy, the body, absolutist political orders—would be acceptable topics while others—modes of production, social formations, doctrinal systems—would be not-so-silently censored79. This is entirely the case with postcolonial theory as well.

Categorial exoticism merely mystifies capital’s ability to subsume difference…

  • 80  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 96, 112-13.
  • 81  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, in Prakash (ed.), The World of the Rural Labourer, op. cit., 1-46.
  • 82  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 68-9.
  • 83  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 2.
  • 84  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 9-10. Prakash cites a number of works that apparently foll (...)
  • 85  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 19.

31Postcolonial theory seems utterly fascinated by goblins, fairies, gods and spirits of all kinds, possibly suggesting the richly enchanted world of third-world subalterns in opposition to the disenchanted, Enlightenment-inspired secular universe we live in. Dipesh Chakrabarty states that “primitive” rebels attribute much autonomous causality to the spirit world80. His colleague-in-arms, Gyan Prakash, joins in, asserting that the secular “colonial” categories of labour and capital merely demonstrate how distant the colonial government was from the world of its indigenous subjects. In the world of the latter, mundane matters, caste hierarchy, ritual notions of purity and pollution, and patriarchal forms of domination were all mediated through interactions between humans and the spirit world81. Both express unease about employing purely secular categories like labour and capital and consider it tantamount either to exorbitating productive labour, thereby ignoring people’s “many-sided creativity in favour of an obsessional reduction to detail function and maximum productivity”82, or worse, reinforcing via “a near-exclusive concern with the economic […] the bourgeois ‘naturalisation’ of the economy as the foundation of all societies at all times”83. Prakash maintains that the administrative departments of the colonial state instituted the economy as the “foundation” of society and used the census to place certain categories of people in the discursive field of labour, thus making them available for scholarly study84. He goes on to assert that British rule “created” a class of agricultural labourers not by transforming Indian society but by “rendering Indian society knowable as a collection of economic groups.”85 It almost seems as if “labour” was extruded from the category-making sociological imagination of colonial officials.  Subjecting labour to serious systematic analysis is to give the game away, to play up to colonial categories.  One might ask in response where, indeed, does labour under capitalism, or under pre-capitalist tributary modes of production, get to express its many-sided creativity and why an analysis of the capital relation and the uneven and combined forms it assumes under colonial rule should constitute “bourgeois naturalisation of the economy”?  

32A close look at the ways in which spirits and gods are mobilised by rural people in India—and, I would venture to guess, elsewhere—shows a clustering around questions of the ownership of the means of production, and around the control and distribution of the product of labour. Arguably, a variety of ideological formations—whether informed by categories derived from spirit cults or by neoclassical economics—has a role to play in constituting social-productive relations. The categories develop and change based on the need to enforce social discipline and extract the product of labour, perhaps by depressing the immediate producers’ share of the total social product: lengthening or intensifying the working day; segmenting it spatially as in serfdom, or subjecting workers to the pace and intensity of machines. This can be supported by noting that generally the densest thicket of symbolic categories develops in close proximity to some aspect or other of production, either

  1. the “natural” component of production relations, including the passage of seasons in an agricultural social-economy;

  2. the “social” component—e.g. relations of dependency, direct and indirect forms of social domination;  

  3. or, in combinations of “i” and “ii” that might have the effect of promoting the naturalisation of social relations.

  • 86 See Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopolitics and Geoculture, op. cit., 193-5, for a discussion of organize (...)
  • 87 Prakash himself, in more sensible moments, discusses the ever-changing field of the spirit world in (...)
  • 88 See, for example, Jameson’s discussion of “the place of quality in an increasingly quantified world (...)

33At times of transition from one socio-economic order to another this naturalisation starts to break down, and has to be reinstituted by resort to reworking and revitalising all kinds of symbolic resources. And, through their resistance, workers, too, enrich this discursive field creating or reinvigorating symbolic categories of resistance. Customary class balances may be “alienated” to the spirit world and invoking that world may be a way for immediate producers to resist new demands, consistent with a new socio-political dispensation, for example, colonialism86. Either way, it is in such times that the historicity of forms of exploitation and oppression become more transparent to the subordinated groups than either before or after. The very intensity with which traditions were invented during the colonial period is a sure sign of this pressing need to create and/or revitalise symbolic categories of domination and resistance at a time when new realities came into existence87. In any transitional period, the discourses of the exploiters and the exploited enter into more or less sharp, if temporary, dissonance and allow for the imagination of alternative horizons of possibility88, and the prospect of organising new forms of collective resistance. In the modern epoch of capital, this also means the clarification to some extent of the very category of class.

  • 89  Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, Vol. 2: Syntax of History, Minneapolis, MN: University (...)

34Jameson notes, for example, that Marx is at great pains in Capital to underscore the objective and historical preconditions of his discovery of the labour theory of value in a social situation in which for the first time labour and land had become commodified. Marx’s personal discovery of this “scientific truth” is therefore both grounded within his system and is a function of the originality of a historical situation in which for the first time the development of capitalism itself permits the production of a concept that can retroactively “recover the truth of even the millennia of precapitalist human history”89, but in a mode of historical determinateness.  If so, labour as a category “emerges” twice: as a social reality sufficiently autonomous of its customary integument to be visible as a key component of production relations under capital, and as a category of analysis that reveals the nature of the surplus-extractive relationship of a whole host of preceding historical epochs.  

  • 90  For the notion of labour as the essential mediation of value-determined relations of production, s (...)
  • 91  On the question of historically specific forms of labour, see Jairus Banaji, “Modes of Production (...)

35On the ground, value-positing, value-producing labour emerges as a global productive force both in the European experiences of autochthonous transitions to capitalism and in colonial “land (and labour) settlements” that (partially or fully) commodify land and labour90. Even if the English progenitors of these settlements had not come to India, for example, with the vocabulary of political economy ready to hand, they would—in transplanting the social-property relations of their home country—have introduced into India the categories corresponding to the relations of exploitation under those new conditions. They might have had to resort to neologisms.  Labour, too, would have acquired, in those circumstances, indigenous names unrecognisable to colonial rulers but the perduring categorial dissonance implied by Prakash in his World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India seems untenable91.

  • 92  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 76-7.
  • 93  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 9-10.

36A proper analysis of the economic, social and symbolic forms of an epoch should go together if one is to avoid the reductionism of postcolonial theory. One would thereby avoid the kind of “decisionist” or “strategic essentialist” arguments that have been used by postcolonial theory.  In other words, the decision to use categories that are known to be faulty or unconnected to the lives of people stems from the realisation that it is the only way to wring some measure of justice from those who wield power and are captive to “a disenchanted universalistic language”92. One might imagine that Prakash’s use of the word “capitalism” is similarly decisionist, for he gives no analysis or reason for assuming that capital, no less than labour, is not simply a figment of the colonial category-generating imagination93.  

  • 94  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 60-1.

37Indeed, to the extent that postcolonial theory ventures beyond decisionism, it seems to stray into territories encompassable by convention or nature (biology). For example, Prakash’s discussion of labour (and presumably capital) suggests that it is simply a colonial convention.  Rather like the category of caste, arbitrarily rendered into some uniform system over the length and breadth of India for the purposes of administrative rationalisation, labour, too, comes across, in his account, as an administrative convenience. All sorts of people, hitherto representing their life by thousands of localised conventions, would now be shoehorned into the singular abstract category of labour.  When workers, for their part, resist exploitation, hunger and enforced poverty it is part of a “standing fight” of life against death; of concrete human life in its rich many-sidedness against the abstraction and dismemberment of death94. It is therefore grounded in some ancient, unhistorical, biological human capacity to resist oppression. If one chooses to do so by forming a union as opposed to invoking gods and spirits that is simply the result of more or less arbitrary conventions.  

  • 95 Prakash’s discussion of colonial capitalism seems purely formal. Its development seems not to affec (...)
  • 96  Anne McClintock, op. cit., 300-01.  For a devastating study of the impact of these policies, inclu (...)

38Capital, one would think, is harder to pigeonhole in this way, but in describing capitalism purely in terms of markets and market integration95, with exogenous imports of technology facilitating a human tendency to produce for exchange, there is some danger of seeing capital as some sort of natural economy—something that coincides with human nature, for example, and comes into existence once obstacles in its path are removed.  It is almost as if the history of capital cannot be written in largely historical-materialist terms, in which the capital system has an origin, a trajectory, systemic tendencies including periodic economic crises and recoveries, and so on, while keeping a fairly firm grip on historical period and spatial configurations. Nor for that matter is much attention paid to structural adjustment, macro- and micro-economic policies, and the crippling debt regime imposed on former colonies by the so-called multilateral agencies, and the devastation of the forest reserves of many third world countries like Indonesia and Brazil96, all of which began in the late 1970s and have accelerated in the last decade or so, in an uncanny replication of the timeline of postcolonial theory itself.

  • 97  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 5, makes this point vis-à-vis the postmodernists but this is also true (...)

39Such historical accounts run the risk of being dubbed by postcolonial theorists as historicist metanarratives that naturalise the “bourgeois economy”. Far better to argue that the capital system is either a mere convention (quite as arbitrary as any ascriptive category, say race or caste) or a natural economy (i.e. it has no history). For then there is only the exertion of the biological will to live or a renaming of the reality in order to escape its oppression. This is probably a very appropriate position for former Maoists who have repudiated their youthful indiscretions and turned to poststructuralist and postmodernist thought for inspiration. Some at least of the earlier postcolonial theorists, no doubt, come from those ranks97.

  • 98  Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 235.

40In the end, one wonders what anxiety lies behind these theoretical positions? Might it be that what is being banished is any sign of a future beyond capital? This may seem ironical, considering that postcolonial theory has more than its share of people from the countries of the global South. Perhaps this speaks to the moment when postcolonial theory emerges: both as a register of abandoned hopes and as a strategy of containment and redirection. Hence, perhaps, the invitation to make oneself at home in the world of capital, to succumb to the seduction of the commodity. Perhaps this combination of political defeat and institutionalised naturalisation of the world order of capital might help explain the continuing popularity of postcolonial studies among new generations of graduate students and academics who are perfectly willing to see all sorts of utopian possibilities in piecemeal and scattered resistance, without asking when resistance to becomes a struggle against98, and in this regard postcolonial theory is no help at all.

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Notes

1  Parts II and III of this paper were presented at the Colloque Cultures Impériales, Université Paris X Nanterre, 17-18 November 2005. I am grateful to Pierre Guerlain, Andrew Ives and Chris Newberry for their comments. Parts IV and V were presented at a conference, Mapping Difference: Structures and Categories of Knowledge Production, May 20, 2006. I wish to thank Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas, Roland Lardinois, Daniel Little, Afshin Matin-Asgari and David Pizzo for their comments. Special thanks are also due to Thierry Labica, Sucheta Mazumdar, Firat Oruc, Matt Perry, Willie Thompson and Dale Tomich for reading various versions of this paper and for sharing their insights with me. The usual disclaimers apply.  

2  Fredric Jameson, “Actually Existing Marxism”, Polygraph 6/7 (1993), 172.

3 In the interests of clarity and to limit my consideration of a sprawling literature, postcolonial theory in this essay refers primarily to post-1989 developments in the Indian subaltern studies field, originally founded in the early 1980s by a collective under the leadership of Ranajit Guha. These tendencies have become clearer as some of its principal practitioners have relocated to the US. The historical reverberations of this are unmissable. This article tries to describe and understand the key developments and their political implications as a way of clearing the ground, so to speak, for a full-scale study to follow. As such this essay is more indicative than exhaustive.

4  See, for example, the following statement, “[T]he intellectual traditions once unbroken and alive in Sanskrit or Persian or Arabic are now only matters of historical research for most […] They treat these traditions as dead, as history.” Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000, 5-6. Ranajit Guha (History at the Limits of World History, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) has excoriated history for being a Western way of looking at the world and calls for a return to a poetic mode drawing on nostalgist themes, a tendency that was still held in some check in his earlier, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997, though even there the tendency to see history as the prose of the state was in evidence (73ff.).  Partha Chatterjee, in introducing postcolonial studies to the readers of Le Monde Diplomatique, blasts those who try to fit the “unruly facts of subaltern politics into the rationalist grid” of some Enlightenment-derived “elite consciousness” [read history]. Partha Chatterjee, “India’s History from Below”, Le Monde Diplomatique, (March 2006): 12-13.

5 See Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism: What’s in a Name?”, in Roman de la Campa, E. Ann Kaplan, Michael Sprinker (eds.), Late Imperial Culture, London: Verso, 1995, 14.

6 Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism”, Critical Inquiry 20 (Winter 1994): 328-56.

7 A far more adequate understanding of historicism would, of course, be the notion of a wholly exotic past, in the Foucauldian sense, encapsulated in the notion of the past as a foreign country. See Matt Perry, Marxism and History, New York: Palgrave, 2002, 164. In this sense, postcolonial theory is itself a form of historicism since, despite denials, the consciousness of the subalterns which expresses the lost traditions is so completely exotic to the modern world. This, I would characterise, as a kind of anti-historicist historicism, for those who like Sartrean paradoxes.

8 As an example of this impulse, influenced by Marxist thinking, to theorise the specificities of colonial capitalism, see Hamza Alavi, “India and the Colonial Mode of Production”, Economic and Political Weekly, X:33-35 (1975): 1235-62; and “Structure of Colonial Social Formations”, Economic and Political Weekly, XVI: 10-12 (1981): 475-86.  

9 The title of a book by Gyan Prakash, ed., The World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992.  See, also Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working-Class History, Bengal 1880-1940, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989, especially, 217-8 and the conclusion, which makes all sorts of weighty claims about the “consciousness” of Bengali jute workers, based on rich, if misleading, descriptions on what separates Bengali working-class consciousness from its ideal-typical metropolitan “bourgeois” counterpart, as if this is a meaningful comparison!

10  A phrase used by Fredric Jameson in his discussion of Althusser’s notion of “determination by structural totality”.  Difference, Jameson notes, is [to be] understood as a “relational concept” rather than as a “mere inert inventory of unrelated diversity”. See F. Jameson, The Political Unconscious, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981,41.

11 The final section of this article attempts a preliminary analysis of this in relation to the concept of labour in colonial political economy. I have developed the argument about categorial exoticism in detail in both “Towards Orientalism and Nativism: The Impasse of Subaltern Studies”, Historical Materialism 12, 4 (2004): 496-555; and “Silences in Postcolonial Thought: The case of Provincializing Europe”, Economic and Political Weekly, XL, 34, (August, 2005): 3732-8.  Note in this regard, Shahid Amin, Event, Metaphor, Memory. Chauri-Chaura: 1922-92, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995, which begins with a preliminary “Narrative of the Event” in which the socio-economic coordinates of the nationalist movement are mentioned and therefore, too, a hint of the class anxieties that lay behind the early attempts at a cross-class mobilization. But, the potentialities of this line of thinking for revealing the specificities of colonial capitalism, Gandhian strategies of containment and redirection of popular rebellion, and the relationship of subaltern groups to the overall construction of a propertied-class bloc that Gandhi was instrumental in constructing—are quickly replaced by standard postcolonial invocation of colonial difference, a multiplication of exotic details including spectres and visions, rumours about Gandhi, and so on from which we are expected to extract an understanding of peasant rebellion and “peasant nationalism”!  For such insights we have to go to old-fashioned “good” history, as in Jacques Pouchepadass, Champaran and Gandhi: Planters, Peasants and Gandhian Politics, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

12 Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopolitics and Geoculture, Essays on the Changing World-System, Cambridge and Paris: Cambridge University Press / Édition de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1991, 173.

13  Laura Chrisman, “The Imperial Unconscious? Representations of Imperial Discourse”, in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, eds., Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 500.

14 These phrases occur in Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 67.  

15 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, London/New York: Verso, 2000.

16  Laura Chrisman, “The Imperial Unconscious?”, op. cit., 499-500.

17 Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982, p.380; Andrew Barnes, “Aryanizing Projects, African ‘Collaborators’, and Colonial Transcripts”, in Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar (eds.), Antinomies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003, 62-97.

18 This is exemplified very well in, for example, Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô, [trans. with intro. by A.J. Krailsheimer, London: Penguin Books, 1977]. Written after a visit to Carthage in 1858, and ostensibly set in the third century BCE, it was, as Martin Bernal says, a novel about the “horrors of racial mixing”, and [Oriental] “vice and cruelty” of his day. Bernal sums up very well the reasons for Salammbô’s success: “When Flaubert had tried to portray French bourgeois life realistically in Madame Bovary, his book had been mutilated by the publisher and he was put on trial for ‘outraging public morals’. Salammbô was far more scabrous in every respect, but this time it made Flaubert the lion of Parisian high society […] Flaubert had hit a literary jackpot; his ‘realism’ applied to the ‘Orient’ allowed readers to get their sexual and sadistic thrills, while maintaining their sense of innate and categoric superiority as white Christians. It also increased the urgency of France’s mission civilisatrice to save the peoples of other continents from their own cruelty and wickedness.” Martin Bernal, Black Athena, I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 358. On the fascination of colonial anthropology for colonial subjects”fasting, feasting, hook-swinging, abluting, burning, bleeding”, see Arjun Appadurai, “Number in the Colonial Imagination”, in Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer (eds.), Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, 334.

19 Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar, “The Coordinates of Orientalism”, presented at a Roundtable at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 21 November 2005. A later version of the same paper was presented at the conference, “Mapping Difference: Structures and Categories of Knowledge Production”, Duke University, May 19, 2006.

20  The ascriptive component is well analysed by Appadurai, “Number in the Colonial Imagination”,op. cit., 334-5.

21  Laura Chrisman, op. cit., 500.

22 The founding principles of subaltern studies are stated by Ranajit Guha in the following essays, “On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India”, and “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency”, reprinted in Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (eds.), Selected Subaltern Studies, with a foreword by Edward W. Said, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, 37-44, and 45-86, respectively.

23  Jacques Pouchepadass, “Pluralising Reason [a review of Provincializing Europe]”, History and Theory, 41, 3 (September 2002); Sugata Bose, “Postcolonial Histories of South Asia: Some Reflections”, Journal of Contemporary History, 31, 1 (January 2003), 139, in his critique of subaltern studies. Both quoted in Willie Thompson, Postmodernism and History, New York: Palgrave, 2004, 104-5 respectively.

24  This is noted by Sadik Al-Azm, “Orientalism and Orientalism-in-Reverse”, Khamsin, Journal of the Revolutionary Socialists of the Middle East, 8 (1981), 20, a critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism but also of tendencies towards self-exoticisation in Arab world.

25 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 112-13. [Henceforth all references to Chakrabarty will be to Provincializing Europe].

26 Ibid., 67. This argument is quite consistent with American modernisation theories that de-emphasise altogether class contradictions in the realm of production in favour of a convergence of interests as consumers. This would, of course, seem to be a paradoxical result for postcolonial theory.

27  The phrase is used by David Harvey in his discussion of postmodernism’s debt to Heidegger.  See David Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, 315.

28  Ibid., 360.  

29 Ibid., 433.

30  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 15.

31  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious,op. cit., 102.

32 Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 70-1; see also Willie Thompson, op. cit., 25, for similar concerns in postmodernism.

33  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 41.

34 Ibid., 56-7.

35  See Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 229-35, for an extended discussion of this.

36  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 66.

37  I’m paraphrasing freely from a particularly significant passage in Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn, London: Verso, 1998, 105. Jameson is characterising the radical Third Worldism of Fanon, et al., and in art magical realism and surrealism as the moment in which the Third World, “seen as Caliban by the First, assumes and chooses that identity for itself […]”. Yet, as Jameson insists, this aggressive affirmation of visibility necessarily remains reactive: it cannot overcome the contradiction betrayed by the fact that the identity chosen in Sartrean “shame and pride” is still that conferred on Caliban by Prospero and by the First World colonizer, by European culture itself.  I believe this is of considerable significance to a understanding of postcolonialism.

38  Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, 11.

39  Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991, 342-3.

40 I’m drawing on a fine clarification of both the plausibility and the limitations of postmodernism’s objections to systemic-causal explanations in postmodern theories discussed in Willie Thompson’s Postmodernism and History, cited above. There are considerable overlaps, in this regard, between postmodernism and postcolonialism. Willie Thompson, op. cit., 40ff.

41 Ibidem, 40.

42 As Immanuel Wallerstein notes, the post-Einsteinian rethinking (or crisis) in the Baconian-Newtonian concept of scientific methodology and objects of inquiry may signal complex ways in which “modernity” and the capitalist system may have entered into a systemic crisis.  But a consideration of those themes will have to await a fuller treatment elsewhere. Immanuel Wallerstein, op. cit., 115, 119-20.

43  A point admitted by Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity, London: Verso, 1998, 25.

44 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Free Press, 1992, 128.

45  See Willie Thompson, 110, for a summary of the charges postmodernists make against the Enlightenment. A similar, completely derivative, set of charges is also advanced by Chatterjee, “India’s History from Below”, op. cit., 12; see also Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 70-1; Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, in Prakash (ed.), The World of the Rural Labourer, op. cit., 19ff.

46  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 113-18.

47  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 114-15.

48  A classic example of the first mechanism is Karl Marx’s 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977. G. A. Cohen’s defence of this has been both influential and the subject of numerous implicit and explicit challenges (see his Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978). An overview of class-struggle-based explanations of historical change is Neil Davidson, “How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions?”, Historical Materialism, 13,3 (2005): 3-33. Marx also identified exceptions, such as the Asiatic mode of production, where neither mechanism seems to work.  Karl Marx, Pre-capitalist Economic Formations, trans. Jack Cohen (ed.) and intro. Eric Hobsbawm, New York: International Publishers, 1965.  

49 Of course, both in the Communist Manifesto and in part VIII of Capital, Vol. I, Marx does deal with the issue of “original” (or “primitive”) accumulation-by-dispossession of immediate producers but these accounts of mechanisms of the transfer of wealth are rather different from causal explanations of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

50 See the discussion in Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, with an introduction by Eric Hobsbawm, London: Verso, 1998.

51 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has apparently said that she is not defending widow-burning, but Thompson wryly notes: “The fact that she feels she has to make such a declaration surely speaks for itself” (104). For a critique of the light hand with which Chakrabarty slides over patriarchy and the treatment of Hindu widows in Provincializing Europe, see my “Silences in Postcolonial Thought”, 373-4. See, by contrast, Deepa Mehta’s film, Water, and Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel of the same name—both of which take a far more critical view of the same subject (Sidhwa, Water, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2006).

52  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 40.

53 There is more than a sense of this in Guha, Dominance without Hegemony. This work is much overlaid with stock postcolonial themes but frequently escapes their grasp. This is evident to a smaller extent in Chatterjee’s and Chakrabarty’s work [cited above] and even in Gyan Prakash’s earlier work that I shall examine below.  

54  This is analysed in Vasant Kaiwar, “Des Subaltern Studies comme nouvel orientalisme”, ContreTemps, no.12 (2005), 136-50.

55  Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonial Theory and the “Post”-Condition”, Socialist Register (1997), 346.

56  Ranajit Guha, History at the Limits of World History, especially chapter 5, “The Poverty of Historiography”.

57  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 206-80 (“Romance and Reification: Plot Construction and Ideological Closure in Joseph Conrad”).

58 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London: Routledge, 1994, 174.

59  Terry Eagleton, op. cit., 9-10.

60 Gyan Prakash, “Postcolonial Criticism and Indian Historiography”, Social Text, Nos. 31-32 (1992): 8-20.

61  Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism”, op. cit., 31.

62 Ibidem, 30.

63  Anne McClintock, “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Post-colonialism’ ”, in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, eds., Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, op. cit., 297.

64  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 39.

65 Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonial Theory”, op. cit., 366.

66 Aijaz Ahmad, “Postcolonialism”, op. cit., 31.

67  Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 222-23.

68  Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura”, 346; Fernando Coronil, “Can Postcoloniality be Decolonized? Imperial Banality and Postcolonial Power”, Public Culture, 5 (1992), 99-100.

69 Ibid., 347.

70  James Schmidt, What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-century Answers and Twentieth-century Questions, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1996, 471.

71  Who would doubt the reality of barbarities visited on the colonized populations—in the so-called Congo Free State, Algeria or India, leaving aside the remorseless extinction of indigenous Americans in the centuries following the Columbian voyages?  However, in order to make the link between the barbarism of imperialism and instrumental reason, one needs precisely an understanding of the dynamics of capitalism, which is as true of the present moment of history as of the late Victorian age or earlier. Perhaps a useful starting point for postcolonial theorists, or more so for their myriad of graduate students, would be to start with a reading of Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital,trans. Agnes Schwarzschild, with a new introduction by Tadeusz Kowalik. London, New York: Routledge, 2003, and follow that up by reading some of the numerous works on capital: e.g., David Harvey, The Limits to Capital, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982; Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, London, New York: Verso, 1994; Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism, London, New York: Verso, 1995; Samir Amin, Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World, London: Zed Books, 1985 and Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder, London: Zed Books, 2003. As for capitalism’s violence towards nature, again, Marxist studies of capitalism and the environment that have come to the fore in recent years highlight the intrinsic relationship between systemic tendencies within capitalism, including crises of accumulation, and environmental degradation, see Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature, A red and green perspective, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999; John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.  

72  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 5-6. This sense of loss can be traced back to certain tendencies in the Oriental Renaissance.  See, for example, Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the Far East, trans. Gene Patterson-Black and Victor Reinking (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984). The French original appeared in 1950 as La Renaissance orientale (Paris: Éditions Payot).

73  In effect, a combination of narodnik and fascist ideas. See, V D Savarkar, Hindutva, Who is a Hindu? (orig. publ. 1923; Bombay: Veer Savarkar Prakashan, Fifth Edition, 1969); M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined,Nagpur: Bharat Prakashan, 1939. These ideas are explored in Vasant Kaiwar, “The Aryan Model of History and the Oriental Renaissance”, in Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar (eds.), Antinomies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003, 42-51. The progenitor of this school of nationalism was Bal Gangadhar Tilak whose research into Indian “antiquity” provided a pseudo-scholarly background for the fantasies of Savarkar and company. See, for example, B. G. Tilak, The Orion, or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas, Poona: Tilak Bros. 1893/1955.

74  M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, edited by Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 69.

75 Chakrabarty’s ‘seduction of the commodity’ draws, it seems, explicitly on Lyotard. Perry Anderson notes this as one of the characteristics of postmodernism, op. cit., 81.

76 Frank Rich, One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy, New York: Anchor Books, 2000, 68-78.

77  Sudipto Kaviraj: “Transition narratives create the increasingly untenable illusion that given all the right conditions, Calcutta would turn into London […]”. (“Filth and the Public Sphere: Concepts and Practices about Space in Calcutta”, Public Culture, 10-1, Fall, 1997: 113).

78  Simon Bromley, “The Politics of Postmodernism”, Capital and Class, 45 (Autumn 1991), 128.

79  Terry Eagleton, op. cit., 11. This is more than borne out by a reading of Chatterjee, 13, when after objecting fairly violently to “Western” secular modernism (a favourite target of postcolonial theorists) usually a code for anything to do with systemic socio-economic injustices, he more or less endorses the feminist critique of the Indian state developed by Nivedita Menon and Flavia Agnes, for instance. Menon and Agnes focus their critique on the Indian state’s passage of laws protecting women while patriarchal practices continue unchecked in rural and urban civil societies, as if the former somehow precludes a struggle against the latter.  This is a rather unfortunate but fairly typical of postcolonial theory. See Nivedita Menon, Gender and Politics in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001; Flavia Agnes, Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics of Women's Rights in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.

80  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 96, 112-13.

81  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, in Prakash (ed.), The World of the Rural Labourer, op. cit., 1-46.

82  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 68-9.

83  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 2.

84  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 9-10. Prakash cites a number of works that apparently followed from this sociological discourse of colonialism, most notably the works of H. H. Mann: Land and Labour in a Deccan Village, Bombay: University of Bombay Economic Series No. 1, 1917; Land and Labour in a Deccan Village, Study No. 2 (Bombay; University of Bombay Economic Series No. 3, 1921).  Mann, an official in the Agricultural Department of the Bombay Presidency, reveals through his studies the worsening plight of tenants, agricultural labourers and even the peasantry under colonialism, a valuable internal critique of colonial capitalism.

85  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 19.

86 See Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopolitics and Geoculture, op. cit., 193-5, for a discussion of organized and planned resistance using cultural symbols familiar to the people using them.  

87 Prakash himself, in more sensible moments, discusses the ever-changing field of the spirit world in responseto transformations in the social-property relations under colonial rule. But, so intent is he on underlining some sort of intact subaltern world that he is unwilling to follow through on the ways in which capitalist social-property relations effectively subsume that world to new order of colonial capitalism. This should not be surprising, as, after all, in his view, capital and labour are merely colonial sociological conventions, alien to the real symbolic and material world of rural Indians.  Gyan Prakash, “Reproducing Inequality: Spirit Cults and Labour Relations in Colonial Eastern India”, in Prakash (ed.), The World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India, op. cit., 282-304.

88 See, for example, Jameson’s discussion of “the place of quality in an increasingly quantified world, the place of the archaic and of feeling amid the desacralisation of the market system”.  Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, op. cit., 236-7.

89  Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, Vol. 2: Syntax of History, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 164.

90  For the notion of labour as the essential mediation of value-determined relations of production, see Moishe Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 364-5.

91  On the question of historically specific forms of labour, see Jairus Banaji, “Modes of Production in a Materialist Conception of History”, Capital and Class, 3 (1977): 1-44; idem., “Capitalist Domination and the Small Peasantry in the Deccan Districts”, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, Lahore: Progress Publishers, 1978, 351-428.

92  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 76-7.

93  Gyan Prakash, “Introduction”, op. cit., 9-10.

94  Dipesh Chakrabarty, op. cit., 60-1.

95 Prakash’s discussion of colonial capitalism seems purely formal. Its development seems not to affect the consciousness of the actors who become incorporated into colonial circuits of capital and labour. Also, by speaking of colonial capitalism in purely market terms, Prakash reinforces the familiar tendency to think of it as a market economy in which consumers encounter commodities rather than unequal relations of production mediated by global markets controlled by imperial powers. See his “Introduction”, 19ff., for examples of this mode of thought.

96  Anne McClintock, op. cit., 300-01.  For a devastating study of the impact of these policies, including their ability to spread desolation and famine to many parts of the recently decolonised world, see Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty, London: Zed Books, 1998, an eerie replay in some ways of the late-Victorian period, as Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, describes it.

97  Willie Thompson, op. cit., 5, makes this point vis-à-vis the postmodernists but this is also true of the Indian subaltern studies practitioners, turned postcolonial theorists.  Whether this is coincidence or whether Maoism lends itself to this kind of voluntarism is an interesting question that cannot be pursued here.

98  Vasant Kaiwar, “Towards Orientalism and Nativism”, op. cit., 235.

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Vasant Kaiwar, « Colonialism, Difference and Exoticism in the Formation of a Postcolonial Metanarrative », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. V - n°3 | 2007, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2009, consulté le 20 septembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/1537 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.1537

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Vasant Kaiwar

Prof. (Duke University, Etats-Unis)µ
Vasant Kaiwar a étudié l’histoire moderne à Balliol College, Oxford, avant d’obtenir un doctorat de UCLA (États-Unis). Il enseigne l’histoire mondiale et l’histoire moderne du sous-continent asiatique à l’université de Duke (Caroline du nord). Il est le co-fondateur, avec Sucheta Mazumdar, en 1981, de la revue South Asia Bulletin, devenue, en 1993, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Il a également co-dirigé l’ouvrage intitulé : Antinomies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation (Duke University Press, 2003) et plus récemment, a publié l’article intitulé : “Towards Orientalism and Nativism: The Impasse of Subaltern Studies”, dans la revue Historical Materialism (2004). Il travaille, en ce moment, avec Sucheta Mazumdar et Thierry Labica, à la publication d’un recueil intitulé : Mapping Differences: Coordinates of Knowledge Production and Identity Politics, 18-20th Centuries.

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