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  • Author or Editor: Arif Dirlik x

Arif Dirlik

This essay offers a historically based critique of the idea of “alternative modernities” that has acquired popularity in scholarly discussions over the last two decades. While significant in challenging Euro/American-centered conceptualizations of modernity, the idea of “alternative modernities” (or its twin, “multiple modernities”) is open to criticism in the sense in which it has acquired currency in academic and political circles. The historical experience of Asian societies suggests that the search for “alternatives” long has been a feature of responses to the challenges of Euromodernity. But whereas “alternative” was conceived earlier in systemic terms, in its most recent version since the 1980s cultural difference has become its most important marker. Adding the adjective “alternative” to modernity has important counter-hegemonic cultural implications, calling for a new understanding of modernity. It also obscures in its fetishization of difference the entrapment of most of the “alternatives” claimed--products of the reconfigurations of global power--within the hegemonic spatial, temporal and developmentalist limits of the modernity they aspire to transcend. Culturally conceived notions of alternatives ignore the common structural context of a globalized capitalism which generates but also sets limits to difference. The seeming obsession with cultural difference, a defining feature of contemporary global modernity, distracts attention from urgent structural questions of social inequality and political injustice that have been globalized with the globalization of the regime of neoliberal capitalism. Interestingly, “the cultural turn” in the problematic of modernity since the 1980s has accompanied this turn in the global political economy during the same period. To be convincing in their claims to “alterity,” arguments for “alternative modernities” need to re-articulate issues of cultural difference to their structural context of global capitalism. The goal of the discussion is to work out the implications of these political issues for “revisioning” the history and historiography of modernity.

Arif Dirlik

The article discusses possibilities offered by a regional perspective for a more comprehensive understanding of the rise and fall of socialism in Eastern Asia. It suggests that a regional perspective brings into view interactions among radicals that are absent from or marginal to nationally based accounts. A regional approach requires attention to region-formation itself as a problem. Regions are not just physical entities that are given but are themselves subject to ongoing construction and reconstruction. The discussion elaborates on this question by way of conclusion, and suggests that the anthropological concept of “ecumene” may serve to articulate a conception of the region that recognizes cultural commonalities while also allowing recognition of differences. Radical interactions in Eastern Asia were part of the modern constructions of an Eastern Asian region, which in the usage here encompasses both the East and Southeast Asian regions of post-World War ii geopolitical conceptions of the area, that also have served as the basis for area studies divisions of labor since then. (This article is in English.)


Edited by Arif Dirlik and Keping Yu

Issues in Contemporary Chinese Thought and Culture is intended to acquaint readers outside of the People’s Republic of China with Chinese thinkers’ and scholars’ writings on contemporary problems of China and the world.
Except among specialists, little is known outside of China of the ways in which Chinese intellectuals view similar issues. This series is intended to overcome at least some of the gap that separates the world outside from the world of thought in China.
The series will include edited volumes, organized around issues of debate among Chinese intellectuals and scholars.
At times the series will also feature works of theoretical importance by Chinese intellectuals and scholars, as well as edited volumes that bring together Chinese and non-Chinese scholars and intellectuals in the discussion of issues of concern, mostly around the themes outlined above.
The series will be a joint effort of two publishing houses, Brill in the Netherlands, and Chongqing Publishing Group from the PRC. It is supported institutionally by the Center for Comparative Politics and Economics in Beijing.

The series published an average of one volume per year over the last 5 years.