The West or the Rest? Latin America's Global Embeddedness in Historical Perspective

The West or the Rest? Latin America's Global Embeddedness in Historical Perspective

Cecilia Tossounian / Stefan Rinke / Michael Goebel, Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin
Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin
Vom - Bis
14.06.2012 - 16.06.2012
Cecilia Tossounian

Ever since the penetration of postcolonial studies in the social sciences and humanities since the 1990s, a widespread uneasiness or outright confusion has reigned as to how to insert (or not) the historical experience of Latin America into postcolonial paradigms. The issue that is at stake can be illustrated best along the lines of one of the classic dichotomies of postcolonial studies, drawn upon even by scholars intent on deconstructing such binaries, namely that between ‘the West’ and ‘the rest’. Does Latin America belong to ‘the rest’, as other ‘third-world’ countries have been conceptualized by mainstream postcolonial approaches to the subject? Or does Latin America’s historical specificity foreclose the possibility of thinking about Latin America with the same categories that have been used to study Asia and Africa? These are some of the questions that this workshop aims to address.

In an older strand of historiography, Latin America was occasionally cast as “the extreme West” (Alain Rouquié), alluding to attempts to create a perfected overseas version of idealized blueprints of Iberian societies, which in the long run inflated and exacerbated, as through a magnifying lens, the inbuilt structural imbalances of “Western modernity”. This older literature, however, had been largely forgotten by the time postcolonial theory began to make inroads into the historical discipline from the 1990s. Sitting uncomfortably with the dichotomy between the West and the rest, Latin America has been largely ignored, or at best relegated to a few uneasy footnotes, by historians of other world regions indebted to postcolonial paradigms. Historians – perhaps more so than scholars of other disciplines – of Latin America, meanwhile, have for the most part remained reluctant to engage with what they identified as postcolonialism’s unwarranted universalizing impulse, which in their view was ill-suited to explain the historical specificities of “their” region.

The starting point of this conference, by contrast, is that Latin America can provide an instructive testing ground for challenging the West/rest dichotomy, which many historians identified with postcolonial theory, after all, have themselves sought to question. Our aim, therefore, is neither to point an accusatorial finger at postcolonial studies for their lack of attention to Latin America nor to ‘rescue’ a specifically Latin American tradition. Instead, we seek to create a bridge between postcolonial studies and Latin American historical trajectories. For this purpose, we aim at bringing together historians of Latin America who have critically appraised the challenges that postcolonial studies have posed for their work. More specifically, we seek scholars working on topics including, among others, alternative/multiple modernities and globalization, the condition of coloniality, hybridity/mestizaje, anticolonial nationalisms, empire and postcolonial histories, postcoloniality and gender.

Confirmed keynote speakers include:
Peter Burke (Cambridge University)
Ricardo Salvatore (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella)
Mark Thurner (University of Florida)
Barbara Weinstein (New York University)

To propose a paper, please send a 250-word abstract to <> by October 31, 2011. Abstracts should be accompanied by a two-page curriculum vitae and relevant contact details.

The working language of the conference is English.

Travel and accommodation funding for participants will be provided conditional upon success in fund raising.

Selected applicants will be informed by e-mail by 28 February.

For more information please contact Cecilia Tossounian at <>.



Cecilia Tossounian

Rüdesheimer Str. 54-56
D-14197 Berlin

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