Postcolonial Reconstructions of Europe


August 2015, Prague


In a recent discussion of European cosmopolitanism, Jürgen Habermas – one of the most prominent and respected commentators on the question of Europe – has stated that “the universalist project of the political Enlightenment in no way contradicts the particularist sensibilities of multiculturalism, provided that the latter is understood in the correct way” (2009, 68). Of course, the proviso is precisely what is at issue: who defines what is the correct way? And, if its correctness is challenged, are those who do so placed in contradiction to the universalism of a European Enlightenment?

Locating Brexit



March 2017, Paris 


The UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union, which produced a victory for the ‘Leave’ campaign, was less a debate on the pros and cons of membership than a proxy for discussions about race and migration; specifically, who belonged and had rights (or should have rights) and who didn’t (and shouldn’t). One of the key slogans of those arguing for exit from the EU was: ‘we want our country back’. The racialized discourses at work here were not only present explicitly in the politics of the event; they are implicit in much social scientific analysis. Populist political claims are mirrored by an equivalent social scientific ‘presentism’ that elides proper historical context. In this presentation, I discuss the importance of understanding Brexit in the context of an historical sociological understanding that would enable us to make better sense of the politics of the present.

Colonial Histories / Postcolonial Societies


November 2018, Warsaw


The financial collapse in 2008 and the related politics of austerity over the last decade have thrown Europe into crisis. This has been compounded by the crisis for refugees and more recently the British vote to leave the European Union. The ensuing turn to the far-right across Europe is not a new phenomenon, but can be seen to be an intensified one. The intensification is due, in part at least, to the hysteria generated in response to the crisis for refugees. Yet what exactly constitutes this crisis? Since 2015, the increase in the estimated population of the European Union, in terms of the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers granted protection within its borders, is 0.31%. Could there be an empirical crisis of the magnitude claimed on the basis of such a marginal increase? How do we explain the nature of the response? In this talk, I suggest that it derives from a long history in which colonial Europe and its sociologies failed to recognise the populations of its wider political communities as equals. Following decolonization and the formal end of empires, European states have purified their histories as national histories and imagined their political communities as composed of ‘kith and kin’. In this context, there is a refusal to share obligations with those who were previously dominated within their broader imperial political communities. This is the politics of selective memory that is currently playing out in Europe. Now, perhaps more than ever, the question of ‘who is Europe?’ and the related question of what Europe might stand for requires address.