Universiteit Leiden

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GLASS Roundtable | Dislocation of the West

Friday 4 May 2018
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

A plurality of peoples inhabits the world, and frequently the world is imagined as a common space where differences among people are displayed. It is generally believed that the dichotomy of the-West-and-the-Rest is one of the most significant ways of ordering differences among peoples by geographic locations.

In order to distinguish the plurality of peoples from the plurality of human individuals, we often rely upon categories for collective identities, such as family, kin, race, nation, ethnos, religion, and culture. The West is one such category, and it is often used as if it were a trope for a unified collectivity like a language fixed in a geographic area. Habitually, it is believed that the West is one of these collective identities and furthermore cartographically determinable. Yet, on what grounds is it possible to claim that the West can be figured out cartographically?

This roundtable aims  to understand the world in which the West is distinguished from the Rest as a schema. The schema ‘world’ enables us to make different social relations comprehensible, as if they were constituted in a coherent configuration. The schematism of the world, which gives sense to our experiences with things and people we encounter, allows us to imagine heterogeneous social relations – races, social classes, genders, nationalities – to form a coherence along with a certain cartographic representation of the world as well as the narratives of World History. This modern schema of the world allows us to comprehend a wide variety of power relations in an imaginary configuration of hierarchies in which the West is supposed as the center. Therefore, the modern world is structured spatially as well as temporally by the opposition of the West and the Rest. The West is a figure rendered sensible through the schematism of the world, and is always a putative unity. It is putative, first, in the sense that the world is imagined as a putative coherence, but also in the sense of a project towards an actualization in the future. Hence the West is a teleological order that is not only spatial but also temporal. Also this teleological intensity of the West has been perceptibly eclipsed in the last century or so, so that it is increasingly dislocated, not only in the cartographic representation of the world, but also in the chronological order of World History.


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