Postcolonial Modernities


  • Bill Ashcroft University of New South Wales, School of the Arts and Media, Australia



Postcolonial, modernities, Western modernity, transformation, India, China, Afro modernity


A major feature of post-colonial theory has been its ability to analyse historical developments of culture: expressions of anti-colonial nationalism; the paradoxical dissolution of the idea of nation along with the continuous persistence of national concerns; the question of language and appropriation; of the transformation of literary genres; the question of ethnicity and its relation to the state. But the broader question for this century concerns the way in which postcolonial theory is positioned to approach the continuing issues of global power, global interaction and cultural difference in the coming century. One answer to this has been a growing, and now well-established, interest in cultural and ethnic mobility, of diaspora, of transnational and cosmopolitan interactions. This article goes beyond this to analyse modernity using the tools of postcolonial theory to argue for the multiplicity of modernities. Modernities proceed in various ways, but the process of transformation demonstrated by the literary model can be adapted to examine the proliferation of alternative and multiple modernities. Special attention shall be given to India and China as alternative modernities to help to re-think the nature of modernity itself.


Ang, Ien. On Not Speaking Chinese: Living Between Asia and the West. London: Routledge, 2001.

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Arnason, Johann P. “Communism and Modernity.” Daedalus 129.1 (2000): 61–90.

Berger, Peter L. “Introduction: The Cultural Dynamics of Globalization.” In Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World, edited by Peter L. Berger and Samuel P. Huntington, 1–16. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Berger, Peter L. and Huntington, Samuel P., eds. Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Berman, Marshal. All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. London: Verso, 1982.

Bose, Mihir. Bollywood: A History. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2006.

Cao, Tian Yu, ed. The Chinese Model of Modern Development. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley; University of California Press, 2005.

Crummell, Alexander. Africa and America: Addresses and Discourses. Miami: Mnemosyne, 1969.

Eisenstadt, S. N. “Multiple Modernities.” Daedalus 129.1 (2000): 1–29.

Eisenstadt, S. N. Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities. Leiden: Boston Brill Academic Publishers, 2003.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

Feenberg, Andrew. Alternative Modernity: The Technical Turn in Philosophy and Social Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar, ed. Alternative Modernities. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar. “On Alternative Modernities.” In Alternative Modernities, edited by Dilip P. Gaonkar, 1–16. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Gikandi, Simon. “Globalization and the Claims of Postcoloniality.” South Atlantic Quarterly 100.3 (2001): 627–58.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity vs. Postmodernity.” New German Critique 22 (1981): 3–14.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, 1987.

Hanchard, Michael. “Afro-Modernity: Temporality, Politics and the African Diaspora.” In Alternative Modernities, edited by Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, 272–98. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Kirkland, Frank M. “Modernity and Intellectual Life in Black.” In African-American Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions, edited by John Pittman, 136–65. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.

Kothari Rajni. “The Yawning Vacuum: A World without Alternatives.” Economic and Political Weekly, May 29, 1993.

Mbembe, Achille. “On the Power of the False.” Public Culture 14 (2002): 629–41.

Mishra, Vijay. “The Diasporic Imaginary: Theorizing the Indian Diaspora.” Textual Practice 10.3 (1996): 421–47.

Said, Edward. “The Clash of Definitions.” In Reflections of Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays, 569–90. London: Penguin, 2001.

Schultz-Engler, Frank. “Border Patrols: Postcolonialism and the Topography of Modernity.” In Postcolonial (Dis)Affections, edited by Walter Göbel and Saskia Schabio, 37–53. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2007.

Santos, Bonaventure de Sousa. “Between Prospero and Caliban: Colonialism, Postcolonialism and Inter-identity.” Luso-Brazilian Review 39.2 (2002): 9–43.

Sen, Amartya Kumar. The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edited by Edwin Cannan. New York: Modern Library, 1776 (1994).

Taylor, Charles. “Two Theories of Modernity.” In Alternative Modernities, edited by Dilip P. Gaonkar, 172–96. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts For Comparative Analysis.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 16.3 (1974): 387–415.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origin of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic, 1976.

Wittrock, Bjorn. “Modernity: One, None, or Many? European Origins and Modernity as a Global Condition.” Daedelus 129.1 (2000): 31–60.

Yunxiang, Yan. “Managed Globalization: State Power and Cultural Transition in China.” In Many Globalizations: Cultural Diversity in the Contemporary World, edited by L. P. Berger and S. Huntington, 19–47. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.