مدرسة دراسات التابع ومسألة الحداثة / Subaltern Studies School and the Question of Modernity



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ميتشل, تيموثي; Mitchell, Timothy; السباعي, بشير; El-Sibaʿi, Bashir

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Publication Date





[Can one write the history of the non-West in a way that breaks free from a European model of history? This is the question asked by the body of writing known as postcolonial theory, and especially by the group of South Asian scholars associated with the journal Subaltern Studies, whose work moves beyond older nationalist and Marxist paradigms. Nationalist historians of the Third World, while critical of Orientalist approaches, frame their histories as the story of a nation that comes to self-awareness. This reproduces a Western view of history as a universal process of modernization in which the principle of reason and self- identity is realized. Marxist approaches bring out the negative aspects of modernity, but still understand non-Western history as the expansion of European historical experience. The non-West has no history except its role in the global history of the West. Postcolnial theory does not challenge the hegemony of the West by imagining pure non-Western identities independent of the West. Influenced by theorists such as Foucault and Derrida, as well as Said's Orientalism, it acknowledges that critical thinking exists "after being worked over by colonialism." The post in postcolonial refers not to the period after colonialism, but to a critique that accepts that it comes after, and still inhabits, the history of Western experience that it contests. Modernization was traditionally understood as a process begun in Europe and then exported to the non-West. Critics of modernization theory argued that capitalist modernity was from its origin a global process, but these questions about the location of modernity were overlooked by the influential postmodernist critics of European modernity such as Foucault. Postcolonial theorists have now shown that many practices associated with modernity - forms of social organization, race and gender identity, and nationalism, for example - often began not in Europe but in the encounter between Europeans and non-Europeans in other parts of the world. Relocating the idea of modernity beyond the limits of the West brings the risk that instead of questioning the certainties of modernity one might produce a more expansive and homogenous account of the genealogy of modernity. Is there a way to reloctate the question of modernity within a global context and at the same time enable that context to complicate, rather than simply reverse, the Western narrative of modernization? The article examines answers to this question proposed by scholars such as Homi Bhabha, Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Spivak, Talal Asad, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Gyan Prakash. It also draws on the author's own argument in Colonising Egypt, that a characteristic of modernity is the way in which the world is produced as representation - as a set of images to be seen, commodities to be consumed, or narratives to be staged. Modernity is staged as that which is new, original, and authoritative. This staging does not occur only in the West, to be imitated later in the non-West. As Bhabha points out, its authority and presence can be produced only across the space of colonial differences. If colonial modernities often prefigure the emergence of modern forms and programs in the West, their significance is not in enabling us to provide an alternative history of the West's origins. It is to show that the West has no simple origin, despite its claims to uniqueness, and its histories cannot adequately be gathered into a single narrative. Each staging of the modern must be arranged to produce the unified, global history of modernity, yet each requires those forms of non-Western difference that undermine its unity and identity. Modernity is the improper name for all these discrepant histories.]

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