Postcolonial Europe

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Previous events: the idea of Europe

Occidentalism, Orientalism, and the idea of a Postcolonial Europe
Utrecht University, 30 October 2009
Report: Sandra Ponzanesi

A highly successful workshop was held on the idea of Europe from a postcolonial perspective on October 30th at Utrecht University. The event was sponsored by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK) research network 'Postcolonial Europe', and was hosted by the Centre for the Humanities in collaboration with the Institute for History and Culture and the Graduate Gender Programme, at Utrecht University, NL.

The event gathered prominent international figures in the field of European memories, postcolonial theory and philosophy such as Jewish philosopher Prof. Avishai Margalit (Princeton University, USA), postcolonial scholar Prof. Paul Gilroy (LSE, UK), cultural historian Prof. Luisa Passerini (University of Turin, It) and continental philosopher Dr. Simon Glendinning (LSE, UK) who discussed from different intellectual traditions and perspectives the idea of Europe as an imagined and actual space.

The workshop explored in particular the relationship between ‘Occidentalism, Orientalism, and the idea of a postcolonial Europe' from both a cultural and political perspective by going beyond the reactionary notion of a threatened Europe, a notion on which some, unduly inflexible concepts of Occidentalism (e.g. as a ‘war on the West') depend. Margalit investigated the conjunction between colonialism as exploitation and colonialism as humiliation as linked to loss of national sovereignty, theories of racial inferiority and lack of collective agency. He analyzed the kind of memory that humiliation produces and how to deal with trauma. Paul Gilroy addressed the issue of “Shameful History: postimperial melancholia and contested cosmopolitanism” by returning to the vexed issue of where colonial history and memory fit in the larger project of postcolonial Europe. For Europe’s postcolonial and multicultural polities, the key to producing a sustainable and just ethical re-orientation resides in reckoning with the forgotten and distorted history of the colonial period. Gilroy pointed also out that Europe’s postcolonial transition sees commercial and governmental power ebbing from the north Atlantic and finding new networks and centres and questions whether there will be a universalisation of US sourced categories and assumptions about race and ethnicity. In the afternoon historian Luisa Passerini engaged in a dialogue with philosopher Simon Glendinning. Passerini provided the historical depth and intellectual rigour to trace the multiplicities and discontinuities of European memories and idea of self by also adding the politics of feeling as a subject of European history. Memories connected with emotion not only allows to make the private public and correct many forms of silencing, among which that of women and minorities, but also to offer a new sense of belonging and representation. In her account of the Cahiers du Sud, a journal founded in Marseille in the 20s, Passerini proposed a critique of Eurocentrism from within.

The speakers were coupled with responses by renowned postcolonial scholars such as Max Silverman, John McLeod, Graham Huggan (all from the University of Leeds) and Tobias Doering (University of Munich) who pointed out different possible postcolonial perspectives in understanding Europe both as a legacy and as a project. In the late afternoon speakers for the network (Cordula Lemke, Free University, Berlin) and other invited postgraduate students (Margret Fetzer and Koen Leurs) presented their own vision on the suggested theme in the form of short papers and responses to the keynote addresses.

Additional information:
Link to video recordings of the Idea of Europe event
Video recordings of the presentations can be accessed here.
Pictures of the event can be found here.
An overview of the programme with links to abstracts can be found here.


University of UtrechtMunichUniversity of Leeds

Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies

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