Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference


"The idea of provincializing Europe has been around for some time, but mostly as an insight waiting for elaboration. In this book, Dipesh Chakrabarty develops the idea into a project informed massively by fact and brilliantly by theory. A work of exemplary scholarship, it is a call to raise the level of current debates about modernity and the colonial experience and reexamine our approach to histories and cultures on both sides of the colonial divide. A formidable challenge."--Ranajit Guha

"Chakrabarty offers a fundamental rethinking of the most important and misunderstood of all historical categories--time itself. Never facile, always willing to confront the most intractable dilemmas, Chakrabarty forces us to reconsider our deepest historicizing impulses. His work is must reading for anyone with an interest in the future of historical studies."--Lynn Hunt, University of California, Los Angeles


In truth, the historian can never get away from the question of time in history: time sticks to his thinking like soil to a gardener's spade.

(Fernand Braudel)

The vulgar representation of time as a precise and homogeneous continuum has… diluted the Marxist concept of history.

(Giorgio Agamben)

A SECULAR SUBJECT like history faces certain problems in handling practices in which gods, spirits, or the supernatural have agency in the world. My central examples concern the history of work in South Asia. Labor, the activity of producing, is seldom a completely secular activity in India; it often entails, through rituals big and small, the invocation of divine or superhuman presence. Secular histories are usually produced by ignoring the signs of these presences. Such histories represent a meeting of two systems of thought, one in which the world is ultimately, that is, in the final analysis, disenchanted, and the other in which humans are not the only meaningful agents. For the purpose of writing history, the first system, the secular one, translates the second into itself. It is this translation—its methods and problems—that interests me here as part of a broader effort to situate the question of subaltern history within a postcolonial critique of modernity and of history itself.

This critique has to issue from within a dilemma: writing subaltern history, that is, documenting resistance to oppression and exploitation, must be part of a larger effort to make the world more socially just. To wrench subaltern studies away from the keen sense of social justice that gave rise to the project would violate the spirit that gives this project its sense of commitment and intellectual energy. Indeed, it may be said that it would violate the history of realist prose in India, for it may legitimately be argued that the administration of justice by modern institutions requires us to imagine the world through the languages of the social sciences, that is, as disenchanted.

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