Cite as: Nikita Dhawan, Errant Enlightenment: The Dilemma of Postcolonial Critique, lecture, ICI Berlin, 9 February 2015, video recording, mp4, 41:02 <>
9 Feb 2015

Errant Enlightenment

The Dilemma of Postcolonial Critique
By Nikita Dhawan
The intellectual and political legacies of the Enlightenment endure in our times, whether we aspire to orient ourselves by them or contest their claims. In the face of feudality and subservience to authority, the Enlightenment intellectuals enunciate ideals of equality and rights as a way out of domination towards freedom. However, as has been pointed out by scholars of postcolonial and Holocaust studies, the Enlightenment’s promise of attaining freedom through the exercise of reason has ironically resulted in domination by reason itself. Instead of progress and emancipation, it has brought colonialism, slavery, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Against this background, Dhawan’s talk engaged with the challenging question ‘What went wrong with the Enlightenment?’ and traced the ambivalent consequences of the European Enlightenment for the postcolonial world. The postcolonial critique of the Enlightenment is caught in a performative contradiction in that the vocabulary of critique is inherited from the target of its critique. Her talk addressed this double bind and the challenge it sets up for politics in the postcolonial world.

Nikita Dhawan is professor of political science at the Leopold-Franzen University Innsbruck and Director of the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies, Cluster of Excellence ‘The Formation of Normative Orders’, Goethe University Frankfurt. She has held visiting fellowships at Universidad de Costa Rica (2013); Institute for International Law and the Humanities, The University of Melbourne, Australia (2013); Program of Critical Theory, University of California, Berkeley, USA (2012); University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain (2011); Pusan National University, South Korea (2011); Columbia University, New York, USA (2008). Her publications include: Impossible Speech: On the Politics of Silence and Violence (2007), Decolonizing Enlightenment: Transnational Justice, Human Rights and Democracy in a Postcolonial World (ed., 2014), Postkoloniale Theorie: Eine kritische Einführung (2014; with Maria do Mar Castro Varela).


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Format: mp4
Length: 00:41:02
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