This book is an original, systematic, and radical attempt at decolonizing critical theory. Drawing on linguistic concepts from 16 languages from Asia, Africa, the Arab world, and South America, the essays in the volume explore the entailments of words while discussing their conceptual implications for the humanities and the social sciences everywhere. The essays engage in the work of thinking through words to generate a conceptual vocabulary that will allow for a global conversation on social theory which will be necessarily multilingual.
With essays by scholars, across generations, and from a variety of disciplines – history, anthropology, and philosophy to literature and political theory – this book will be essential reading for scholars, researchers, and students of critical theory and the social sciences.
Table of Contents
1. Changing Theory: Thinking Concepts from the Global South
Dilip M. Menon
Part I: Relation
Part II: Commensuration
John Wright and Cynthia Kros
Part III: The Political
Edgar C. Taylor
10. Rajo guṇa
William R. Pinch
Part IV: The Social
Part V: Words in Motion
Part VI: Rooted Words
Part VII: Indeterminacy
Caio Simões de Araújo
Shalinee Kumari and David Szanton
Part VIII: Insurrection
Dilip M. Menon is the Mellon Chair in Indian Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, and Director, Centre for Indian Studies in Africa. He is a historian of South Asia and has recently been working with oceanic histories and questions of epistemology from the Global South. His recent publications include the co-edited volumes Capitalisms: Towards a Global History (2020) and the forthcoming Ocean as Method: Thinking with the Maritime (Routledge, 2022).
Professor Menon was recently awarded the 2021 Falling Walls Foundation Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities.
“Changing Theory aims, with intelligence and energy, to engage in the remaking of our conceptual instrumentarium by recovering, through key-word analyses in sixteen languages, what capitalism, colonialism, and the rest sought to destroy. The contributors constitute a galaxy of today’s most innovative and critical thinkers from the Global South, and make this book an unprecedented—and never more needed—resource for theoretical renovation.”
Sheldon Pollock, Arvind Raghunathan Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies, Columbia University
“…an impressive array of essays evidencing what today is indisputable: the irreversible shift of knowledge, understanding, and sensing away from 500 years of the consolidation of Western knowledge, regulations of knowing, and vocabulary. The book has stellar reconstitutions of hitherto marginalized praxes of living and knowing…a signal contribution to the explosion of the North Atlantic Universal and the rise of the Planetary Pluriversal.”
Walter D. Mignolo, William Hane Wannamaker Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies, Duke University, and author of The Politics of Decolonial Investigations (2021)
“…takes aim at the unconcern for linguistic difference in critical vocabularies of the global public sphere, and introduces a rich selection of keywords…that critique colonial modes of measurement, logical argument, and physical orientation in the world. The juxtaposition of terms, each examined from the perspective of the specific language in which its theory speaks, advances the project of constituting non-universalist epistemologies. A bold experiment in critical world-building from the Global South, this volume is an indispensable tool for reimagining concept-geography [and] cultural translation… Changing Theory changes ‘theory’ as we know it.”
Emily Apter, Silver Professor of French and Comparative Literature, New York University
“Changing Theory forces us to think about the world differently by ‘doing things with words.’ This brilliant set of reflections by major contemporary theorists on key concepts from the languages of the Global South is a rich provocation to change the world by changing the tools we think with.”
Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emeritus, Jadavpur University
"By focalizing the central problem of conceptualization through the prism of multilingualism, this book provides a many-sided looking glass to the vexed question of theory and its assumed universalism…once we think through languages beyond the Europhone, theory becomes more vital and closer to home."
Ato Quayson, Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Stanford University
"This work is a milestone, marking the Global South both as a field and as an epistemological revolution that is happening around the world. It is not only limited to criticism and deconstruction of colonial knowledge, Eurocentrism, or the North as intellectual lens, as most post-colonial theory has done, but re-discovers the contemporary nature of Southern concepts, and in their singularities and mutually associated global context, reconstructs the world's picture and the universe of our knowledge…This book will be remembered as a classic."
Wang Hui, Professor, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Tsinghua University