CERS Masterclass: Decolonial Conceptual Methodologies

Professor Barnor Hesse, Northwestern University, USA

Date: Tuesday 3rd November, 2015, 17:00 – 18:30
Location: Room 12.25, Social Sciences Building

Barnor will speak for 45 minutes and then Q&A for 45 minutes. Pre-reading of his text is required:

Abstract

This essay places Isaiah Berlin’s famous “Two Concepts of Liberty” in conversation with perspectives defined as black fugitive thought. The latter is used to refer principally to Aimé Césaire, W. E. B. Du Bois and David
Walker. It argues that the trope of liberty in Western liberal political theory, exemplified in a lineage that connects Berlin, John Stuart Mill and Benjamin Constant, has maintained its universal meaning and coherence
by excluding and silencing any representations of its modernity gestations, affiliations and entanglements with Atlantic slavery and European empires.

This particular incarnation of theory is characterized as the Western discursive and hegemonic effects of colonial-racial foreclosure. Foreclosure describes the discursive contexts in which particular terms or references become impossible to formulate because the means by which they could be formulated have been excluded from the discursive context. Through an examination of the action of foreclosure, based largely on unraveling the liberal-colonial convergences of Two Concepts the essay reflects on the political and theoretical problems posed for black political thought by the hegemony of Western formulations of liberty that deny their indebtedness to Western colonialism. Drawing upon juxtapositions between white liberal/ republican thinkers and black fugitivity thinkers, it argues a particular lineage of black political thought is compelled to conceive of itself as an escape from the colonial and racial hegemony of Western liberty.