Prasenjit Duara: "Circulatory and Competitive Histories: Temporal Foundations for Cosmopolitanism"

Wednesday, May 21, 4:00 pm
Humanities 1, Room 520

Stories – narratives of the past – are necessary in all collectivities that seek to constitute and maintain themselves. In modern times, competitive states have sought to mobilize all resources and bio-power in their territory by adopting singular, linear histories of the state, nation and civilization. But, ironically, just as these singular stories were becoming dominant, the world was globalizing more actively than ever. The stories themselves have come to be shaped by global forces.

While the historical enterprise of collective formation – in which distinctive stories are developed within the framework of single states – remains important for the building of local, national or regional communities, these enterprises can no longer deny the cosmopolitan circulations that condition them. This is especially so now that planetary sustainability is at stake. And indeed, the most significant Eurasian historical developments have tended to be circulatory and shared. The early modern era is a particularly fruitful period to consider, because the distinction between the local and the universal was less pronounced; state territoriality and culture were not conflated. Can we recapture those kinds of stories? How might social and political theory look if our histories were not linear, exclusive accounts of nations and civilizations, but rather dispersed, cross-referenced, mutually shaping and shared histories?

Prasenjit Duara is Raffles Professor of Humanities and Director of Asia Research Institute and of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, where he has taught since 2008. Prior to that, he was professor and chairman of the History Department at the University of Chicago. Among his books are Rescuing History from the Nation (1995), Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (2003), and Culture, Power and the State: Rural North China, 1900-1942(1988), which won the Fairbank Prize of the AHA and the Levenson Prize of the AAS. His most recent work is The Global and the Regional in China’s Nation-Formation (Routledge, 2009). His work has been widely translated into Chinese, Japanese and Korean. He will speak from forthcoming book The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future (Cambridge, 2014).

Sponsored by the Department of History and the East Asian Studies Program.