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#PoTW: It takes two to tango. Rethinking enlightenment and decolonisation

Enlightenment and decolonisation

‘Decolonisation’ has become a buzzword. However, few of those who deploy the term know much about its history, and perhaps more surprisingly, the same is true for ‘enlightenment’. This blissful tandem of historical ignorance is not as innocent as it appears. For many of today’s ‘postcolonial’ and ‘decolonial’ critical theorists and activists, the Enlightenment is the very antonym of decolonisation, if not its declared enemy. Indeed, for these theorists the Enlightenment is to blame for just about everything wrong with modernity, from colonialism to racism to sexism and museums.

In striking contrast to this critical consensus, many of the pioneers of what is now termed ‘the first wave of decolonisation’ – (1770s–1830s) – manifested the opposite view. For them, popular enlightenment was the sure means to global decolonisation and the end of European dominance. What gives?

In his inaugural lecture, ‘It takes two to tango: rethinking enlightenment and decolonisation’, Professor Thurner will argue that the yawning gap between the enlightened hope of early decolonisation movements and today’s critical theory betrays much more than a disenchantment with ‘the empire of reason’ and the mixed legacies of revolution. It points instead to a pernicious failure to come to terms with the connected or entangled histories of enlightenment and decolonisation beyond Europe.

He will also outline the pioneering case of the Hispanic American world, where notions and practices of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘decolonisation’ have long danced together. This unheralded case, Professor Turner will argue, forces us to rethink the global history and possible meanings of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘decolonisation’ past and present.

Professor Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, will moderate the event, and Professor Rick Rylance, the School of Advanced Study’s dean, will provide the closing words.

Date: 4 July, 6–7.30pm
Who: Institute of Latin American Studies
Where: The Senate Room, first floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Book now

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