‘Decolonizing’ Social Theory

04-05-2022 from 19:30 to 21:00
Academieraadzaal - Campus Aula - Voldersstraat 9, 9000 Ghent
Dr. Itamar Shachar

On Decolonizing Social Theory

The consolidation of modern social theory, in the writings of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, coincided with the height of European empires and global war between them. Yet, empire lay outside the purview of mainstream social theory except as a phenomenon associated with earlier historical periods and civilisations. Even in the work of Du Bois – a theorist excluded from the canon until recently – the issue of colonialism was not immediately evident, but something worked towards from an initial address of the seeming particularities of race relations in the US. As social theory developed into sociology in the mid-twentieth century, most European countries were confronted by anti-colonial movements and challenges to their global dominance. However, these challenges to the political structures of European modernity, similarly, seemed not to impinge on what sociology came to see as its ‘jurisdiction’ – namely, issues of class, gender, and sexuality. The issue now is not simply to add colonialism to sociology’s repertoire of topics, but to show how that repertoire must change and the concepts and methodologies with which it is associated be transformed. What does it mean to ‘decolonize’ a curriculum of sociology in which colonialism has been unrecognised?       


Gurminder K Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the Department of International Relations, University of Sussex. She is President of the British Sociological Association (2022-25), a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS).

Prof. Bhambra specializes in global historical sociology and is interested in the intersection of the social sciences more generally with recent work in postcolonial and decolonial studies. Her latest book, Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (Polity, 2021) is written with John Holmwood and makes an argument for rethinking the canon of social theory in the context of colonial histories. She is also author of the award-winning Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (Palgrave, 2007) and Connected Sociologies (Bloomsbury, 2014). She has co-edited six collections, including Decolonising the University (with Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nisancioglu, Pluto Press, 2018).

She set up the Global Social Theory website and the Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project, both making resources available to students and teachers for rethinking sociology and social theory from a global perspective.


Prof. Bhambra’s lecture is the 2022 annual public lecture of the Department of Sociology at Ghent University, and forms part of the public lecture and workshop series How to decolonize the university? Reflections and practices at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.    

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