Tag Archives: Walter Mignolo

On the dangers of ‘reverse essentialism’

While Southern Theory continues to grow, there is a danger that it develops insulated from critique. There is the risk that its political mission focuses exclusively on distinguishing a separate form of knowledge from the dominant north, repeating the kind of denial of southern roots prevalent in the North.  

A recent article by Gregor McLennan from University of Bristol offers a critical appreciation of Southern Theory:

Sociology is often pitched as the social science discipline most obviously in need of postcolonial deconstruction, owing to its ostensibly more transparent Eurocentrism as a formation. For this reason, even postcolonial scholars working within the ambit of sociology are reluctant to play up its analytical strengths in addition to exposing its ideological deficits. Without underestimating the profound impact of the growing body of postcolonial theorizing and research on self-reflexivity within sociology, this paper points up some key ways in which the structure of comprehension within postcolonial critique itself is characteristically sociological. Alternatively, if that latter conclusion is to remain in dispute, a number of core epistemological and socio-theoretical problems must be accepted as being, still, radically unresolved. Consequently, a more dialectical grasp of sociology’s role within this domain of enquiry and style of intellectual politics is needed. I develop these considerations by critically engaging with three recent currents of postcolonial critique – Raewyn Connell’s advocacy of “Southern Theory”; the project of “reinventing social emancipation” articulated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos; and the “de-colonial option” fronted by Walter D. Mignolo.

He cites Santos’ caution against a simplistic North-South binary:

[Santos’] accepts that the register of South versus North, East versus West is a metaphorical one that, while effective as a ‘‘defamiliarizing’’ tactic, runs the risk of a sloppy reverse essentialism in which Europe and its traditions are treated as a ‘‘monolithic entity’’.

We are left with a challenging question. If we accept that the North-South division is indeed a generalisation, then what is its remaining meaning? It is possible to lay a similar charge with many oppositions, such as male-female, human-nature and capital-labour. The criticism doesn’t invalidate the opposition, but does caution against an essentialist reading of geopolitics. The opposition needs to be understood as a ongoing construction that is critically relevant to cultural trajectories, rather than something that occurs automatically when we cross the equator.

Reference

Gregor McLennan (2013), Postcolonial Critique: The Necessity of Sociology, in Julian Go (ed.) Postcolonial Sociology (Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 24), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.119-144

Our Williams–Ross Gibson and Tony Birch

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

The recent dialogue between Ross Gibson and Tony Birch demonstrated the kind of thinking that might be revealed through a southern perspective.

At the opening of the series, Raewyn Connell laid down the challenge to broaden our theoretical references beyond the metropolitan centres. In the discussion that followed, there was a sense of concern in abandoning the reassuring authorities, particularly European theoretical figures. Would this be to forgo critical thought – to drift away from the main action in transatlantic universities? Connell countered with a democratic image of a thousand boats that would criss-cross the south-south axis.

Gibson and Birch pointed in an alternative direction. They both looked back to iconic figures in the early history of European colonisation. Gibson considered the life of William Dawes, a scientist who explored different ways of engaging with Indigenous hosts in Port Jackson at the time of the First Fleet. And Birch looked from the Victorian end at the biography of William Barak, a Wurundjeri leader who traversed the Indigenous and settler worlds. While Dawes and Barak would not be considered theoretical sources, their actions in their time provided models for ways of thinking today.

Gibson looked at Dawes’ attempts to understand the local language. His notebooks reveal that he moved away from a nominalist approach to an increasingly contextualised grasp of their language. This is in part thanks to his intimacy with a local woman, Patyegarang, who helped him appreciate the profoundly relational nature of Indigenous language. Gibson talked about Dawes as a ‘littoral’ person, a marine adept at working in the space between land and sea. His notebooks show a man navigating a shifting world, ‘always in conversation with oneself and other people.’

For Birch, Barak also negotiated between the white man (namatje) and Wurundjeri. Rather than a passive figure, Barak was always navigating a path as a political strategist. An important component of that was his relationship to the first manager of the Aboriginal mission in Coranderrk, John Green. Birch could see echoes here of his own collaborations with namatje such as the artist Tom Nicholson.

Other Australian writers have also recently depicted the first encounters between white and black worlds, such as Inge Clendenin and Kate Grenville. But it is not only in Australia that this interest has emerged. The Argentinean writer Walter Mignolo has written about the Inca historian Guaman Poma, who tried to tell his people’s side of the story in a book The First New Chronicle and Good Government (1615). Poma tried to identify how the best of European and Inca cultures might be combined. In doing this, he used a map dividing the world into four quarters, rich and poor, moral and barbaric.

In modern terminology, civilization and barbarism distinguished the inhabitants or the two upper quarters; while riches and poverty characterized the people living in the lower quarters. On the other hand, the poor but virtuous and the civilized are opposed to the rich and the barbarians. In a world divided in four parts, subdivided in two, binary oppositions arc replaced by a combinatorial game that organizes the cosmos and the society.
Walter Mignolo The Darker Side Of The Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, And Colonization Anne Arbor: University of Michegan Press, 2003, p. 252

The next step would be to gather together scenes of first encounter as they are currently being rehearsed across the South. In these tentative experiences of contact, there is sometimes a brief flicker of dialogue before the full force of colonisation is finally applied. A glimpse of these proto-colonial scenes can speak to those countries where the tide of colonisation is now ebbing in the other direction.

Planet Bollywood

The Indian Ocean and South Asia Research Network invites you to its third seminar in 2009:
Anjali Roy (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India):
“PLANET BOLLYWOOD”

DATE: Thursday, 28th May
TIME: 12.00 pm
VENUE: TfC Bagel, UTS, Building 3 (Bon Marche), Level 4, Room 4.02
Please RSVP: [email protected]

Abstract
Walter Mignolo has defined cosmopolitanism as a counter movement to globalisation on the homogenisation of the world from above – political, economic and cultural but differentiated it from globalisation from below. But Mignolo’s working definition of globalisation as a set of designs to manage the world and cosmopolitanism as a project towards planetary conviviality has been complicated and critiqued since he first reflected on the relationship between globalisation and cosmopolitanism. Arguing that cosmopolitan narratives have been performed from the perspectives of modernity, Caro Breckenbridge has underlined the need to reconceive cosmopolitanism from the perspective of coloniality that she calls critical cosmopolitanism. Making a distinction between cosmopolitan projects from the perspective of modernity and critical cosmopolitanism from the exteriority of modernity, she conceives the latter as a project for an increasingly transnational and postnational world.

Bollywood, a derogatory term coined by the English language media to refer to Hindi popular cinema, signals a phase shift in the production, distribution and consumption of Indian cinema. Despite their implication in nationalist ideology and the construction of the citizen subject, Indian films had leaked across national borders and were appropriated in diasporic nostalgia narratives in the past. However, Indian Cinema’s global flows at the end of the twentieth century, driven by the new dynamics of transnationalisation of production, marketing, circulation and reception, challenge traditional notions of language, genre, national and culture. Reinscribed as Bollywood, Indian Cinema has been disengaged from its specific location and become part of global popular culture constructing new transnational identities that recall prenational imaginings of home, belonging and community. This paper aims to compare the transnational flows of Hindi cinema in the present and the past to unpack the meaning of global culture and to examine it as an instance of critical cosmopolitanism.