Historicize, spatialize, always: on the comparative recomposition of the colonial relation

Authors: Stefan Kipfer*, York University
Topics: Europe, Canada, Political Geography
Keywords: Relational comparison, the colonial relation, urban research
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Internationalist traditions have always faced the need to do strategically what Gillian Hart suggests we do analytically: compare relationally. They must find ways of understanding the relationship between particular and universal aspects of reality dialectically to avoid one-sided alternatives: (abstract) particularism and (false) universalism. A good anti-colonial example is Frantz Fanon, whose partisan-universalism (to quote Ato Sekyi-Otu) dovetails with an incipient relational comparativism: his analyses of uneven racialization and neocolonial historic blocs in the (former) French empire. Debates about the legacy of Fanon’s work help us push further these comparative analyses, which the Martinican could not pursue due to his early death. This paper discusses three such debates, all of which have definite implications for comparative urban research even though they do not all share Fanon’s internationalism: intellectual debates about creolization (and creole urbanism) in the Antilles, political anti-racist debates about the colonial counterrevolution in France (and the role of urban strategies therein), and debates about indigenous resurgence in Canada (which have also yielded important arguments about city and non-city in (de-)colonization). In their different ways, these debates have put on the agenda, once again, the importance of understanding the colonial relation as a historically and geographically malleable reality, an enduring, potentially even hegemonic, but shifting terrain of struggle that is related in complex ways to aspects of life that are not reducible to colonial pasts or presents. In a certain sense, they seem to indicate a need to ‘stretch’ anti-colonial traditions in and through comparative context.

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