Postcolonial Reconstructions of Europe

Sep 1, 2015

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The cosmopolitan cultural diversity of Europe tends to be counter-posed to that constituted by and through multicultural others. The latter are seen to import their diversity into (and against) the cultural plurality already present in Europe. Counter-posing cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism in this way demonstrates a Eurocentred particularism at the heart of the cosmopolitan European project. Habermas’s association of multiculturalism with what he calls ‘postcolonial immigrant societies’, for example, demonstrates a parochial understanding that limits the ‘postcolonial’ to those ‘others’ who migrate to Europe, and renders invisible the long- standing histories that connect those migrants with Europe. In this way, issues that refer to the ‘postcolonial’ are seen as beginning with immigration and carried by the non-European ‘other’. These multicultural others are not seen as constitutive of Europe’s own self-understanding andas part of its history of colonialism (a history both of individual nation-states and the common European project). In this plenary, I take issue with the parochial historiography that underpins such accounts. In particular, I argue that insofar as the cosmopolitan project of Europe does not come to terms with its colonial past and postcolonial present, it establishes and legitimizes neocolonial policies both within and outwith Europe. Supposed ‘multicultural others’ are not seen as legitimate beneficiaries of a postwar social settlement, but as obstacles to its continuation and increasingly as targets of punitive policies. This is an outcome that subverts the very promise of cosmopolitanism and calls urgent attention to the necessary postcolonial reconstruction of (understandings of) Europe.

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The next ESA Conference will be held in Prague on 25-28 August 2015. The theme will be "Differences, Inequalities and the Sociological Imagination".

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