Dialectics and Difference: Against the 'Decolonial Turn'

Wolfe, Ross

Publisher:  Insurgent Notes
Date Written:  03/08/2017
Year Published:  2017  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21677

"Decolonial" criticism is an example of vogue academic approach, which can be grafted onto preexisting disciplines and practices with relative ease. Still further, in so doing, it offers the semblance of radicalism, because it appears to challenge the tacit erasures and hidden presuppositions of prior revolutionary perspectives.



Irreconcilable differences

"Ours is a newly dialectical age," announces George Ciccariello-Maher at the outset of his book Decolonizing Dialectics (2017). By this he means "the much-touted teleological 'end of history' has collapsed like the myth it always was into fragmentation, disunities, and dynamic oppositions." He immediately calls attention to the contentious character of the term, since many who heralded this historical denouement a quarter century ago did so on the basis of arguments invoking the dialectic. "For too long," Ciccariello-Maher continues, "dialectics has not served to denote the moments of combative division that give its name but instead the opposite: a harmonious closure." Against this conservative conception, he hopes to restore its critical, revolutionary valence.

The book's title might give rise to some confusion. Decolonizing Dialectics does not aim to deploy dialectical methodology in ongoing projects of decolonization. Indeed, colonialism in the narrow sense of direct territorial occupation and administration scarcely exists today, having been replaced by more indirect "colonialism by remote control." Rather, Ciccariello-Maher aims to "decolonize" the methodology itself: i.e., remove the accidental features that mark its geographic origins and add any essentials it may be lacking. Whereas the two classic forms of dialectic, idealist and materialist alike, proceed by means of internal contradictions and move toward determinate ends, "decolonizing dialectics underscores how the Hegelian and Marxian conceptions of history emerge from a particular location (Europe) and assume dialectical resolutions specific to it (Sittlichkeit through civil society for Hegel, the abolition of class by proletarian revolution for Marx)."
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