Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Limits of the Universal: The Promises and Pitfalls of Postcolonial Theory and Its Critique

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

This article seeks to reassess the potential merits and weaknesses of the Subaltern Studies project through the prism of Vivek Chibber’s much-publicised and controversial book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. By critically examining Chibber’s work, the article aims to better pinpoint exactly what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with the Subaltern Studies project, while drawing out some productive points of engagement between Marxism and postcolonial theory more generally. In particular, we argue that an understanding of the origins of capitalist modernity remains a relatively unexplored omission within postcolonial thought that problematises their broader project of ‘provincialising Europe’. Against this backdrop, the article explores the affinities between Leon Trotsky’s notion of uneven and combined development and postcolonialism, demonstrating how the former can provide a theoretical solution to the problem of Eurocentrism that the Subaltern Studies project correctly identifies but inadequately conceptualises.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut ; 2: Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

1. Acharya Amitav 2011"‘Dialogue and Discovery: In Search of International Relations Theories beyond the West’" Millennium – Journal of International StudiesVol 39 3 619 637 [Crossref]
2. Ahmad Aijaz 1992 Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures London Verso.
3. Ahmed Talat 2014"‘Theories of Difference: The Subaltern Project Examined’" International SocialismVol II 144 available at: <>
4. Alcoff Linda, Fraser Nancy 2005 Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self Oxford Oxford University Press.
5. Anderson Perry 1992 English Questions London Verso.
6. Anievas Alexander, Nişancıoğlu Kerem 2015 How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism London Pluto Press [Crossref]
7. Anievas Alexander, Nişancıoğlu Kerem 2016"‘Why Europe? Anti-Eurocentric Theory, History, and the Rise of Capitalism’" Spectrum: Journal of Global StudiesVol 8 1 70 98
8. Banaji Jairus 2010 Theory as History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation, Historical Materialism Book Series Leiden Brill. [Crossref]
9. Bandyopadhyay Sekhar 2004 Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal New Delhi Sage Publications
10. Bartolovich Crystal, Lazarus Neil 2002 Marxism, Modernity, and Postcolonial Studies Cambridge Cambridge University Press
11. Bhabha Homi K. 2012 The Location of Culture London Routledge.
12. Bhambra Gurminder K. 2007 Rethinking Modernity and the Sociological Imagination London Routledge. [Crossref]
13. Bhambra Gurminder K. 2011"‘Talking among Themselves? Weberian and Marxist Historical Sociologies as Dialogues without “Others” ’" MillenniumVol 39 3 667 681 [Crossref]
14. Blaney David, Inayatullah Naeem 2010 Savage Economics: Wealth, Poverty, and the Temporal Walls of Capitalism New York Routledge.
15. Brennan Timothy 2014 Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel, and the Colonies Stanford Stanford University Press.
16. Bryce Derek 2013"‘The Absence of Ottoman, Islamic Europe in Edward W. Said’s Orientalism’" Theory, Culture & SocietyVol 30 1 99 121 [Crossref]
17. Chakrabarty Dipesh 2000 Re-Writing Working Class History: Bengal 1890–1940 Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press.
18. Chakrabarty Dipesh 2005"‘Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial Historiography’" Nepantla: Views from SouthVol 1 1 9 32
19. Chakrabarty Dipesh 2008 Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference Second Edition Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press.
20. Chatterjee Partha 1983"‘Peasants, Politics and Historiography: A Response’" Social ScientistVol 11 5 64 65 [Crossref]
21. Chatterjee Partha 1993 The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press.
22. Chatterjee Partha 2010"‘A Brief History of Subaltern Studies’" Empire and Nation: Selected Essays New York Columbia University Press [Crossref]
23. Chatterjee Partha 2013"‘Subaltern Studies and Capital’" Economic & Political WeeklyVol 48 37 69 75
24. Chattopadhyaya Utathya 2014"‘Time to Move On? A Response to Vivek Chibber’" Kritik Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory University of Illinois, available at: <>
25. Chibber Vivek 2011"‘What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Marxist Theory of History?’" Historical Materialism,Vol 19 2 60 91 [Crossref]
26. Chibber Vivek 2013 Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital London Verso.
27. Chibber Vivek 2014a"‘Revisiting Subaltern Studies’" Economic & Political WeeklyVol 49 9 82 85
28. Chibber Vivek 2014b"‘Making Sense of Postcolonial Theory: A Response to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’" Cambridge Review of International AffairsVol 27 3 617 624 [Crossref]
29. Cooper Frederick 2005 Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History Berkeley University of California Press.
30. Coronil Fernando 1996"‘Beyond Occidentalism: Toward Nonimperial Geohistorical Categories’" Cultural AnthropologyVol 11 1 51 87 [Crossref]
31. Davidson Neil 2012 How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Chicago Haymarket Books
32. Delphy Christine, Leonard Diana 1984 Close to Home: A Materialist Analysis of Women’s Oppression Leonard Diana London Hutchinson in association with the Explorations in Feminism Collective
33. Dirlik Arif 1997 The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism Oxford Westview Press
34. Fanon Frantz 1963 The Wretched of the Earth Farrington Constance New York Grove Press
35. Federici Silvia 2012 Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle Oakland, CA PM Press
36. Goswami Manu 2004 Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space Chicago University of Chicago Press [Crossref]
37. Guha Ranajit 1982"‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’" Subaltern StudiesVol 1 1 8
38. Guha Ranajit 1997 Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press
39. Halperin Sandra 2006"‘International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity’" Decolonizing International Relations Jones Branwen Gruffydd Lanham, MD Rowman and Littlefield
40. Inayatullah Naeem, Blaney David L. 2004 International Relations and the Problem of Difference New York Routledge.
41. Jani Pranav 2014"‘Marxism and the Future of Postcolonial Theory’" International Socialist ReviewVol 92 2 available at: <>
42. Journal of World-Systems Research 2014"‘Book Review Symposium on Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber’" Ho-fung HungVol 22 1 281 317
43. Kaiwar Vasant 2004"‘Towards Orientalism and Nativism: The Impasse of Subaltern Studies. Review of Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference by Dipesh Chakrabarty and Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India by Ranajit Guha’" Historical MaterialismVol 12 2 189 247 [Crossref]
44. Kaiwar Vasant 2014 The Postcolonial Orient: The Politics of Difference and the Project of Provincialising Europe, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden Brill.
45. Larsen Neil 2001 Determinations: Essays on Theory, Narrative and Nation in the Americas London Verso.
46. Lazarus Neil 2002"‘The Fetish of “The West” in Postcolonial Theory’" Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies Bartolovich Crystal, Lazarus Neil Cambridge Cambridge University Press [Crossref]
47. Lazarus Neil 2011 The Postcolonial Unconscious Cambridge Cambridge University Press [Crossref]
48. Lazarus Neil 2016"‘Vivek Chibber and the Specter of Postcolonial Theory’" Race & ClassVol 57 3 88 106 [Crossref]
49. Lazarus Neil, Varma Rashmi"‘Marxism and Postcolonial Studies’" Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism Bidet Jacques, Kouvelakis Stathis Historical Materialism Book Series Leiden Brill.
50. Levien Michael 2013"‘Subalternists Scrutinized. Review of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber’" European Journal of SociologyVol 54 3 485 497 [Crossref]
51. Löwy Michael 1981 The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution London Verso.
52. Marx Karl 1973 Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy Nicolaus Martin Harmondsworth Penguin
53. Matin Kamran 2013"‘Redeeming the Universal: Postcolonialism and the Inner Life of Eurocentrism’" European Journal of International RelationsVol 19 2 353 377 [Crossref]
54. Mills Charles W. 1997 The Racial Contract Ithaca, NY Cornell University Press
55. Murphet Julian 2014"‘No Alternative’" The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary InquiryVol 1 1 157 163 [Crossref]
56. Nilsen Alf Gunvald 2015"‘Passages from Marxism to Postcolonialism: A Comment on Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital’" Critical Sociology OnlineFirst, <>
57. Parry Benita 2004 Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique London Routledge.
58. Parry Benita 2017"‘The Constraints of Chibber’s Criticism’" Historical MaterialismVol 25 1 185 206 [Crossref]
59. Rosenberg Justin 2006"‘Why Is There No International Historical Sociology?’" European Journal of International RelationsVol 12 3 307 340 [Crossref]
60. Rosenberg Justin 2013"‘The Philosophical Premises of Uneven and Combined Development’" Review of International StudiesVol 39 3 569 597 [Crossref]
61. Roy Ananya 2015"‘Who Is Afraid of Postcolonial Theory?’" International Journal of Urban and Regional Research OnlineFirst, <>
62. Said Edward 1978 Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient London Routledge and Kegan Paul
63. Schwartz Michael 2014"‘Capitalist Development, Structural Constraint and Human Agency in the Global South’" Journal of World-Systems ResearchVol 20 2 294 299 [Crossref]
64. Seth Sanjay 2014"‘Review of Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital by Vivek Chibber’" American Historical ReviewVol 119 4 1218 1220 [Crossref]
65. Shilliam Robbie 2009"‘The Atlantic as a Vector of Uneven and Combined Development’" Cambridge Review of International AffairsVol 22 1 69 88 [Crossref]
66. Spivak Gayatri Chakravorty 2014"‘Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital’" Cambridge Review of International AffairsVol 27 1 184 198 [Crossref]
67. Taylor Marcus 2010"‘Histories of World Capitalism, Methodologies of World Labour: Rethinking Uneven Development’" paper presented at the ECPR Standing Group on International Relations Stockholm 15 July
68. Tenbruck Friedrich 1994"‘Internal History of Society or Universal History’" Theory, Culture & SocietyVol 11 75 93 [Crossref]
69. Trotsky Leon D. 1962 [1931/1906] The Permanent Revolution and Results & Prospects London New Park Publications.
70. Trotsky Leon D. 1969 [1907] 1905 Paris Les Éditions de Minuit
71. Trotsky Leon D. 1972 [1933]"‘Uneven and Combined Development and the Role of American Imperialism: Minutes of a Discussion’" Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1932–33 Breitman George, Lovell Sarah New York Pathfinder
72. Trotsky Leon D. 2008 [1930–1932] The History of the Russian Revolution Eastman Max Chicago Haymarket Books
73. Vanaik Achin 2013"‘Powerful Critique of Postcolonial Theory’" Economic & Political WeeklyVol 48 28 27 31
74. Washbrook David 1990"‘South Asia, the World System, and World Capitalism’" The Journal of Asian StudiesVol 49 3 479 482 [Crossref]
75. Watson Matthew C. 2013"‘The Poverty of Postcolonial Theory?’" Postcolonial StudiesVol 16 2 230 232 [Crossref]
76. Young Robert J.C. 2001 Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction Oxford Blackwell

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Historical Materialism — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation