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

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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


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