Humanism after Colonialism

Alvares, Maria Claudia. 2001. Humanism after Colonialism. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

I will argue that the modern can be viewed as a stage of apprenticeship in an ethics of responsibility. The debates on racial slavery in the Americas reveal a fractured modernity, where a counter-discourse of domination coexists with a totalising impulse. The complicity of humanism and oppression marks the consolidation of a racialized, autonomous and rational modern subject defined against its ‘others’. However, I suggest that Derridean critiques of humanism, such as those presented in Robert Young’s White Mythologies, perpetuate the links between humanism and colonialism. The ‘game with Hegel’ is kept in play through a rigid dichotomy between modernity and post modernity. By reducing modern discourse to a synthesis between thesis and antithesis, they do not allow for the possibility of non-coincidence between two contraries.

Fanon’s emphasis on lived experience, Arendt’s enlarged mentality, and Levinas’s non-ontological transcendence provide a break with the complicity between humanism and colonialism. While Fanon articulates the perplexities inherent in finding a path from the universal to the particular, Arendt and Levinas give two solutions, one political and the other ethical, to this problematisation. Arendt privileges the safeguarding of a space of plurality through law. Levinas emphasises the ethical relationship between same and Other, where the latter is transcendent and therefore unassailable by the former. This thesis aims to open and reveal gaps, by pointing to ways of thinking humanism that problematise the common reduction of the humanist legacy to a totalising outlook.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Humanism, Colonialism’, racial slavery, space of plurality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies



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Date Deposited:

22 May 2020 08:32

Last Modified:

22 May 2020 08:33


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