Essays /

1369801 X 2 E2014 2 E959371 Essay

Essay preview

This article was downloaded by: [Australian National University] On: 01 May 2015, At: 22:05
Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Interventions: International Journal of
Postcolonial Studies
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

Sandro Mezzadra



University of Bologna, Italy
Published online: 17 Sep 2014.

Click for updates
To cite this article: Sandro Mezzadra (2014) Essay, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 16:6, 916-925, DOI: 10.1080/1369801X.2014.959371
To link to this article:

Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

Downloaded by [Australian National University] at 22:05 01 May 2015


Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. By Vivek Chibber. London: Verso, 2013. Pp. 306. ISBN 9781844679768. £19.99 (pbk).

A Death Knell?
Readers of Interventions will be by now familiar with the lively and highly polemical discussions raised by the publication of Vivek Chibber’s book. These included a panel organized with great fanfare at the Delhi conference of Historical Materialism last April and a conversation between the author and Partha Chatterjee at the HM conference held in New York City a couple of weeks later, widely circulated on the Internet and commented upon in social media. Although this latter debate did not precisely turn out to be a triumph for Chibber, his book continues to be celebrated by many as a ‘death knell to Subaltern Studies and postcolonial theory’, as a liberation from the obscurity of its ‘jargon’, imbued with poststructuralism and postmodernism, and most notably as a long awaited reinstatement of the crystal-clear substantiveness of the Enlightenment and Marxism (Nigam 2013). The endorsements of no less than Robert Brenner, Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek provide an authoritative seal in this regard. In this review essay I am not particularly interested in discussing the accuracy of Chibber’s critical reconstruction of the subaltern studies project (for different views, see Chatterjee 2013; Herrnaphta 2013; Levien 2013). Nor will I directly take issue with Chibber’s conflation of subaltern studies and postcolonial theory, a question that definitely deserves critical scrutiny. What interests me more is the general topic announced by the title of the book, which means the ways in which capital has been (or has not been)

interventions, 2014
Vol. 16, No. 6, 916–925, © 2014 Taylor & Francis


Downloaded by [Australian National University] at 22:05 01 May 2015

S an d r o M e zz a dr a


addressed within the heterogeneous and in a way elusive field of postcolonial theory over the last few decades. On a more personal note, I take Chibber’s book as an occasion to take stock of the ways in which my own engagement with postcolonial criticism has contributed to challenge (in a positive and productive sense, as I tend to think) and further elaborate a view of capital and capitalism forged within a specific tradition of Marxist theory, i.e. ‘workerism’ or ‘autonomist Marxism’.

I will try to take seriously many of the theoretical points made by Chibber, leaving aside a certain irritation (I have to confess) for the style of his argument, which often oscillates between arrogance and (needless to say, enlightened) patronizing tones; for instance, when he repeatedly dismisses as part of a nebulous jargon and ‘conceptual inflation’ (3) such a word as ‘narrative’ but endorses (I guess as scientific) Hebert Simon’s definition of ‘actors as satisficers’ (199). Having stressed the need to ‘bring capital back’ into postcolonial debates and to challenge a widespread tendency to take capitalism for granted, to assume it as a ‘neutral background’ of a basically culture-oriented research and theorization (Mezzadra 2011a), I share some of the concerns at stake in Chibber’s book. I also agree that there is a need to tackle again such an important question as the one regarding ‘how the entry of capitalism into the colonial world affected the evolution of its cultural and political institutions’ (25), which, according to Chibber, was indeed raised but not answered by subalternist theorists.

The topics connected with this question and discussed by Chibber throughout his book, basically revolving around the assessment of ‘capital’s universalizing tendency’, are indeed crucial insofar as they invest the very concept of capital and therefore interpellate any critical theory of capitalism. What remains to be critically investigated is whether the ‘universalizing categories of Enlightenment thought’ and their ‘Marxist’ elaborations really ‘emerge unscathed from the criticisms of postcolonial theorists’ (Chomsky’s words in his endorsement) and continue to provide a solid foundation for the cri...

Read more


-41 -925 /10.1080/1369801x.2014.959371 /1369801x.2014.959371 /2013/05/07/partha-chatterjee-on-subalternstudies-marxism-and-vivek-chhibber /loi/riij20 /page/terms-and-conditions 01 05 1 10 10.1080 1072954 12 125 128 130 133 136 1369801 139 14 143 151 153 154 155 16 161 166 17 176 179 187 19.99 194 1960s 1968 197 1970s 1974 1977 1978 1985 1986 1987 199 1990 2 200 2000 2001 2007 2008 2011a 2011b 2012 2013 2014 2015 22 238 24 25 26 27 29 290 3 306 330 34 37 38 3jh 4 436 48 485 5 54 57 6 63 64 69 7 70 72 73 75 91 916 917 918 919 920 921 922 923 924 925 97 9781844679768 abandon absolut abstract academ access accommod accord account accumul accur accuraci achiev acknowledg across act action activ actor actual ad adam add address aditya advis affect affirm aforement africa agenc agent agre air alfr allow alon also altern although ambigu american among analysi announc anoth answer anticip anticoloni antonio anyon anyth anywher appar apprehens april archiv argu argument aris aroma around arrighi arrog articl asia asian asid ask aspect assess associ assum athlon atmospher attempt augment australian author authorit autonomi autonomist avoid await awar axiomat back background backward bari base basi basic becam begin beij believ belong ben bengal bengali benjamin best bewilder beyond bit black blackwel blind blow bologna book border borghes boundari bourgeoi bourgeoisi brenner brett brian briefli brilliant bring bringer budg built burst butt c call cannot cantieri capabl capit capitalist carri case cast caste-bas categori caught caus caution cautious ceas celebr centuri certain ch chakrabarti chakravorti challeng chapter charact character charg chatterje chauvin chibber chomski circul circumscrib cite citi citizenship claim class clear clearcut clichéd click coercion coincid collect coloni colonialist combin come comment commod common communal communic communiti compel complet compuls conced concept conceptu concern concetto concret condit condizion confer confess conflat confront confus conjunctur connect conscienc conscious consensus consid consider consist constanc constant constitut construct contact contain contemporari content contest context continu contradict contrari contribut controversi convers cort cost could counselor countri coupl cours crisscross criterion critic critica critiqu crucial crystal crystal-clear cultur culture-ori d damag david de deal death debat decad decentr decept decid declar deconstruct deem deep deepli defend defin definit del deleuz delhi demand democraci deni denounc depend deploy derrida describ descript deserv detail detect develop di differ differenti difficult dimens dipesh direct discours discuss dismiss dispel displac dispos distinct distribut divers divis doesn dogma doi domin donato doubt download dr draw drive duke durham e e2014 e959371 earli earth easi easili east eat econom economi ed effect effici effort elabor els elus embed emerg emphas emphasi empir encount end endors endow engag england english enlighten enorm enough ensu ensur entri epistemolog essay essenti essentialist establish ethnic europ european even everi everyday everywher evid evolut exampl except exchang excori exotic expand expans expect expens experi exploit express expressli f face fair familiar famous fan fanfar fanon far farrington featur feel felt feuerbach field figur first five flaw focus follow forbidden forc forg form format forti forward found foundat fowk frame franci frantz free french frequent fresh fundament félix gap gayatri general generic geograph geometri geopolit get ghost gill giovanni give global go goe govern government grain gramsci gramscian grant grappl grasp great group grove guattari guess guha habit hall hand happen hard hark haunt head hebert hegemon hegemoni held help henc herrnaphta heterogen hide high highlight histor histori historian historic historicist historiographi hm hole home homogen hous howev howsoev human i.e idea ideal ident ideolog ideologia idologia il illumin imag imagin imaginari imbu immedi imperi implic import imposs inasmuch incit includ incorpor inde independ india indian indirect individu induc infer inflat influenc influenti inform informa inhibit inquiri insist insofar instanc instanti institut instruct integr intellectu intens inter inter-asia interest intermediari intern internet interpel interpret intertwin intervent intrigu introduct invest investig involv iron irrit isbn isn isomorphi issu itali italian jacqu jargon journal juli juvenil kalyan karl kind knell know knowledg known la labor labour lack land languag larg last late later latter law lead learn least leav led left legitim len length less lesson let level levien liabil liabl liber licens licensor lie life light lighten line lineag link lisa live loan london long loss low ltd m macmillan made maintain make man mani manifattura manifestolibri manual market marx marxian marxiani marxism marxist mass massumi match materi materialist matter may mayb mean media mediat mention mere method metropolitan mezzadra michael million mind mistaken mix mobil mode modern modest money moral mortim motiv movement much multipl multitud mystic n name napalm narrat nation nation-st national-chauvin nativ natur nc nebul necessari necessarili need needless negri nei neilson nel neutral nevertheless new nigam noam non non-problem norm normal notabl note notwithstand nt number o object obscur observ obvious occas offic often ombr one onlin oper opinion oppos opposit oppress organ orient orientalist origin oscil outsid owe oxford p pace panel parcel part partha particular passag past patriarch patron pattern pbk peac peasant peculiar peopl per perform persist person perspect phantomlik phenomena phrase physic pick place plateaus platform play pleas point poland polem policeman polici polit politica pose posit post post-coloni postcoloni postcolonial postmodern poststructur power pp practic prais preced precis predic predica predisposit prerog presenc present press pressur prevail previous primari primit princeton principl privat privileg problem proceed process produc product produzion project proletarian promin promot propos provid provinci pseudo pseudo-rad psycholog public publish pure puriti purpos push put question quit quot r race racial racism radic rais ranajit rather read reader real realiti realli reason rebel rebellion recent recognit reconstruct redistribut reduc refer reflect refram regard regim regist reinforc reinstat relat relev reli religi relinquish remain remak remind ren repeat repres represent reproduct research resel resist reson result rethel rethink reveal review revisit revolut revolv rhetor rifl right rivoluzion road robert roberto roedig role romant rome root routledg rule ruptur rural salienc sandro sanyal satisfi satisfic savelli say scale schiera schizophrenia scholar scientif scroll scrutin scrutini seal section sector secular see seek seem sens sensuous sep separ serious set seventh sever shaken shall shape share shed sheer shift shorthand show shown similar simon simpl simpli sinc sincer singl situat sketch skill slavoj smith so-cal social societi società sociolog soggetto sohn sohn-rethel sohnrethel soldier solid solidar someth sourc south sovereign space span spatial speak specif spectacular specter spectr spivak stabl stake stale start state steer stock stori storia straight street stress structur struggl stuart studi style sua sub sub-licens subaltern subalternist subject submiss subscript substant substanti suffic suggest suitabl superfici suppli sure surround systemat tabl tackl take taken tangibl target taylor teach teacher tell tempor tend tendenc tension term terminolog theoret theori theorist theoriz therefor these thing think third thorough though thought thousand throughout thus tie time titl told tone topic total toward tradit tran treat tri triumph trope turn twenti twentieth twenty-first two uk unabl under understand undifferenti uniqu unit univers unscath updat uphold upon us use util v vagu valu various verifi verona version verso view vintag violenc vivek vol w1t wake wale walter want warranti way weapon week well well-b well-known west whatsoev whenev whether whiff whole whose wide widespread within without word work worker workerist world would wretch write wrote www x year yet york young zapperi zz žižek