Critical Theory from the Global South

The Singular, Particular, and Universal

Spring 2019

This colloquium will critically revisit the question of universality as it has been articulated in local contexts since the spread of global capitalism. This inquiry transpires in the wake of postcolonial theory and the more recent move to decolonize knowledge production in favor of a global form of consciousness that assumes that sites of conflict lie between particular cultures. Hegel’s specification of the singular, the universal, and the particular has been rearticulated within a number of critical theoretical models, including the work of Marx, Lukács, Adorno, Badiou, and Zizek, and has set the stage for an exploration of the relationship between modernity and capitalism, and more specifically, the notion of a capitalist modernity. The singular logic of capital presents the market as that which is immediate, immanent, and having no criteria beyond itself: the logic of the market spuriously creates its own logic and mode of production. However, we cannot uncritically assume that the logic of the market defines the universalist promises of modernity, for there are different ideological deployments of universality. Most importantly, we assume that universality cannot be taken as a pre-established substantive condition that is pre-determined for particular social formations. In this respect, capitalist modernity is neither totalizable nor homogeneous. It is permeated and interrupted by non-capitalist strands of modernity, and there are even “anti-modern modern” practices of capitalism. Thus, the question of whether there are multiple (alter-) modernities can only be posed from the historically specific perspective of capitalist modernity. Within this framework, the workshop may be structured around the following themes:

1) What is the fundamental, ontological node of contestation between the universal and the particular, which underlies the question of capitalist modernity in the Global South? What do counter capitalist modernities look like? How is the relationship between the particular and the universal to be articulated? How does one move from the position of the singular to the universal?

2) What is the relationship between historical time (concrete time) and the abstract time of capital (homogenous empty time)? Is there a peculiar “southern time,” a transnational dynamic that determinately negates abstract time?

3) What are the trajectories of Marx’s method of critique in its local instantiations? What kind of concept formation did local Marxists in the Global South undertake in their social struggles, and how does the provincializing of Marxism reverberate in political discourses? Is there a colonial mode of production, and how have critical theorists from the south considered it?