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Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital [Paperback]

Vivek Chibber

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Book Description

18 Mar 2013
In recent years, postcolonial theory has emerged as the most influential scholarly explanation for the historical trajectory and social anatomy of the Global South. Its leading proponents - many of whom have become academic superstars - not only reject Enlightenment political and economic theories, especially Marxism, but accuse them of complicity in Europe's imperial project. In this devastating critique, Vivek Chibber offers the most comprehensive response yet to postcolonial theory mounted on behalf of the radical Enlightenment tradition. Focusing on the hugely popular Subaltern Studies project, Chibber carefully examines this project's core arguments about the specificity of the Global South and the deficiencies of Western thought. He shows that their foundational arguments are based on a series of analytical and historical errors, chief among which is a flawed understanding of capitalism's 'universalizing' tendency. Once the real history of capital's universalization is reconstructed, aspects of modernity that appear to be unique to the South turn out to be shared with the North - and the history of the Global South can be explained by the very theories that postcolonial theorists urge us to reject. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital promises to be a turning point in contemporary social theory.

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In this scrupulous and perceptive analysis, Vivek Chibber successfully shows that the 'universalizing categories of Enlightenment thought' emerge unscathed from the criticisms of postcolonial theorists. Chibber's analysis provides a very valuable account of the actual historical sociology of modern European development, of Indian peasant mobilization and activism, and much else. It is a very significant contribution. --Noam Chomsky

Vivek Chibber has written a stunning critique of postcolonial theory as represented by the Subaltern Studies school. This is a bravura performance that cannot help but shake up our intellectual and political landscape. --Robert Brenner

In this must-read book for students of comparative politics and social theory, Vivek Chibber presents a forceful challenge to the Subaltern Studies school and to postcolonial theory more broadly. This is a major contribution that is bound to reshape debate on these important issues. --Joshua Cohen

About the Author

Vivek Chibber is Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University. He has contributed to, among others, the Socialist Register, American Journal of Sociology, Boston Review and New Left Review. His book Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India won the 2005 Barrington Moore Book Award and was one of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles of 2004.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read 17 April 2013
By PSBarrett - Published on
Vivek Chibber's Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital is a superb and devastating critique of postcolonial studies (postmodernism applied to the global south) and an equally brilliant defense of the radical enlightenment tradition. A model of rigorous reasoning, Chibber slogs through the obscurantism of the subaltern school, distilling its core propositions and in the process systematically exposing the weak and ultimately unsustainable foundations - both logical and historical - on which it has been constructed. If the book were only a critique of postcolonial studies, on that basis alone it should be considered must reading. But it also offers a highly lucid, and indeed far more promising, approach to the study of capitalist social and economic development - one that is both universally applicable and yet attentive to the distinct experiences of the global north and the global south. For anyone interested in understanding the demise of radical thought in the academy and hoping to see it resurrected, I highly recommend this book. It is truly a tour de force.
16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply a masterpiece 19 Mar 2013
By elrod enchilada - Published on
I am familiar with Chibber's work so I have been anticipating this book for some time. It did not disappoint. It is a brilliant demonstration of critical and materialist reasoning by one of the sharpest minds of our times. The argument is airtight; the evidence is conclusive. The writing is crystal clear, much like the thinking. The demolition of postcolonial or subaltern theory was well and good, but since I have little interest in those areas it was not the reason I read the book. Instead, for me, the value in the book was laying out an understanding of class, politics and history that is applicable to our times. And it may well be the most devastating demolition of evidence-light academic fads I have ever seen.

This is a book that will stand the test of time and be the benchmark for a good generation. For social theorists it is going to be mandatory reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 13 Oct 2014
By Ella Wind - Published on
Engaging, clearly written and argued critique of post-colonial theory.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subaltern-speak 8 Jan 2014
By James R Newlin - Published on
Bruce Robbins has a review on n+1:

The target of Chibber's polemic is not postcolonial theory as a whole, about which he says almost nothing. (Verso should have asked him to drop the portentously inaccurate title.) His target is Subaltern Studies, the field created by a group of left-wing historians of South Asia who began publishing in the early 1980s. The Subalterns--represented in Chibber's book by Ranajit Guha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Partha Chatterjee, and who also include David Arnold, Gyanendra Pandey, and Shahid Amin, among others (Gayatri Spivak is a sort of fellow traveler)--wrote from within Marxism but against what Chakrabarty called the "deep-seated, crude materialism of the `matter over mind' variety" implicitly attributed to orthodox Marxism. Crude materialism, these historians argued, did not give enough credit to the culture, consciousness, or experience of India's poorest. There was also an immediate political context that spurred the historiographic question. In the late 1960s and '70s, India's most oppressed had risen up in what came to be known as the Naxalite insurgency, and received less than full-throated support from the established Marxist parties. When Guha and Chatterjee researched peasant revolts against colonial officials and landlords or strikes in Calcutta's jute mills, they were calling attention to a resistant agency for which even the anticolonial left seemed unable or unwilling to find a proper place.

read the whole thing here.......

11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Devastating Critique of the Subaltern School 2 April 2013
By Joseph - Published on
In the film Avengers there is a scene where the villan, Loki, faces the Hulk and does not come out well in the encounter. In irritation he puffs up his chest and shouts, "Enough! I am a God!" Hulk picks up Loki by his feet and smashes him all over the place like a rag doll and leaves him lying helpless in a pile of rubble and sniffs, "Puny God!"
Vivek Chibber does a Hulk on the Subaltern School (SS). I was a little ambivalent to the SS as I viewed it as part of the History From Below project. I liked the agenda spelt out by Ranajit Guha in the first volume and for long harbored under the illusion that this was a school that had gone astray from its own manifesto. Vivek's book exposed for me that the SS scholars actually shared the Stalinist concept of bourgeois democracy.The book has a lot more to offer, but for me this is what made the SS irrelevant in terms of having any theoretical insight to offer. I would continue to read select articles for their reportage and descriptions but nothing else.
The only danger I see is that votaries of the SS may try to dismiss and ignore this critique without engaging with it.
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