Conference convenor Hussein Omar (University College Dublin) answers a few questions in order to introduce the conference ‘Anti-colonial political thought‘ which will take place on 1 & 2 July 2022.

Q: Hussein, what is your conference about?

This conference will focus on anti-colonial political thought in the twentieth century. Between the first World War and the end of the 1960s, the project of European empire was steadily undone. The reasons behind this decline are various, but one crucial contributing factor was the process of ideological transformation which steadily undermined the legitimacy of imperial rule. While there’s been a spate of work on well-known metropolitan thinkers from Hobson to Sartre that contributed to this revolution in ideas, a great deal less attention has been paid to some undoubtedly crucial thinkers in the colonies themselves, ranging from Patrick Pearse to Leopold Senghor. The conference aims to rectify this situation by placing these anticolonial thinkers at the forefront of its purview.

Q: What are the big questions addressed by this conference?

Anti-colonial political thought has in addition received some attention within area and postcolonial studies, yet it has—for the most part— been conducted within academic silos without reference to wider developments or systematic interconnections. What happens when we examine anticolonial thinkers, hitherto assumed to be separated by time and space, collectively? What happens when we move beyond the canon of Western political thought to examine the colonies as places that generated ideas of their own? As such, the conference will also challenge prevailing models of intellectual dissemination which presuppose that leading ideas are passively ‘received’. By doing so, it will contribute to the ongoing debates about what ‘global intellectual history’ is, can and should be.

Q: Who will it be of interest to?

The conference should appeal to a very wide range of scholars—from area studies, postcolonial studies, intellectual historians and political theorists.

Q: How did this conference come about?

In the last few years, there’s been a revival of interest in empire, its defenders and critics. So many of the broader sociocultural discussions around the Eurocentricity of the curriculum and ‘decolonisation’ have relied on caricatures of anticolonial thinkers and anticolonial thought. These more recent controversies surrounding the process of imperial resistance and retrenchment has led to the ideas of anticolonial activists to be alternately demonised or sanctified. One thing is certain: their individual and cumulative impact on politics is too important to be left to a purely ideological assessment. Consequently, the organisers of this conference thought it timely to dedicate such an event to the rigorous analysis of those ideas by means of careful historical reconstruction. The contributors to this conference are committed to retrieving anti-imperial arguments as they were originally formulated by analysing them in relation to their relevant contexts, outside their instrumentalisation in the contemporary ‘culture wars’.

Q: Who are the speakers and what can delegates expect from the conference?

A younger generation of scholars, at various career-stages – for the most part embracing researchers in their 30s, 40s and 50s– has over the past decade been turning in increasing numbers to ‘global intellectual history’. The purpose here has been to extend the field of intellectual history to include territories beyond Europe and America. This event will lend support to that wider tendency, albeit with its own particular focus on political thought directed against the legitimacy of empire. This will in turn serve to extend the remit of the history of political thought, and place the discipline in dialogue with other subject-areas sharing its concerns.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the conference?

This aspect of the project has four salient dimensions: (i) the conference will give serious consideration to neglected figures on the basis of their intellectual achievement rather than the ideological colouration of their interventions; (ii) it will place the thought of ‘global’ figures at the centre of debate in intellectual history; (iii) it will profile an international cohort of rising and established talent in the field; and (iv) it will open academic discussion to issues of wider public concern in the era of post-imperial cultural reaction. At a time when the humanities and social sciences are being accused of Western-centrism, and when curricula are sometimes charged with servicing cultural bias, this conference will attract new constituencies into academic debate by highlighting without politicising themes of ramifying significance.

Q: How can people find out more? 

They can find out more by visiting the events page on the CRASSH website and the conference page on the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought website.



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