The Constraints of Chibber’s Criticism

A Review of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber

in Historical Materialism
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A position joining critical theory with the Marxist critique of imperialism informs the following discussion on the perceived shortcomings of Chibber’s study in its avowed claim to disavow postcolonial theory. Chibber’s insistence on reading Subaltern Studies as postcolonial theory is unsustainable in that it fails to address the epistemological premises of a theory adopted and not initiated by the project. Whereas Chibber does ably contest assertions made by Subaltern Studies concerning the special conditions of India halting capitalism’s universalising drive, his concentrated but narrowly-focused and repetitive criticism disregards prior work contiguous to his own specialism as well as disciplines other than the social sciences. Thus the explanatory power of Uneven and Combined Development in understanding the internal conditions of societies conscripted into capitalism is cast aside, as are the resources of Marxist cultural criticism in writing a metanarrative of these consequences in all of their aspects: economic, social, cultural and experiential – omissions that paradoxically are to the fore in postcolonial theory.

The Constraints of Chibber’s Criticism

A Review of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber

in Historical Materialism


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    Gopal 2004pp. 139–61 141 142. In his all-too-short introduction to Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial Vinayak Chaturvedi has condensed the dynamics of the project: after fending off the accusation made by Indian Marxists of failing to engage with the long tradition of Marxist scholarship on peasant rebellion prominent participants under the influence of Foucault during the mid-1980s became disenchanted with the search ‘for an essential structure to peasant consciousness’ and aspired to confront ‘subaltern critiques of all traditions which appeared to adhere uncritically to the “Enlightenment project” ’; later in the decade there was ‘a shift towards critical theories of discourse which challenged Enlightenment thought’. Chaturvedi (ed.) 2000 pp. xi xiii.

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    Chakrabarty 2012p. 4.

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    Spivak 1999. Such work offered propositions written in syntactically knotted prose and calculated to shock the unreconstructed left while a daring stance of assaulting both conservatives and radicals attracted a wide circle of epigones and captivated untold numbers of students prone to imitating their cryptic styles. As an example Spivak wrote of her intention to transcend the humanist limitations of Said’s Orientalism through executing ‘a Derridian move on Said’s Foucauldian reading of colonialism as a discursive practice’ proposing instead that ‘the abstract textualist notion of deconstruction’ be equated ‘with a principle of anticolonialist/antimperialist subversion’ (cited in Larsen 2001b p. 64). For a taste of transcendent-post-postcolonial style see Bhabha 2014.

  • 31

    Larsen 2001app. 64–5 and 2001b pp. 28–9.

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    See Arnold 2000.

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    Gopal 2004p. 157.

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    Schwarz 1992pp. 3 29 41; Schwarz 2001.

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    Horkheimer and Adorno 1979p. 93. Jürgen Habermas has posited it as an unfinished project requiring the reconstruction of a public sphere in which the critical reason that represents the best of the ‘democratic tradition’ might prevail and not the instrumental reason of much modern practice. See Habermas 1997.

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