Creating a Distance from the Western-Centric Political Imagination
Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Hlavajova, Maria and Sheikh, Simon (orgs.) FORMER WEST: Art and the Contemporary After 1989. Utrecht: BAK, basis actuele kunst; MA, London: MIT Press, 353-368.

The global north is getting smaller and smaller in economic as well political and cultural terms, yet it cannot make sense of the world at large other than through general theories and universal ideas.

Such a habitus can be viewed as an expression of a somewhat anachronistic of western exceptionalism, even if t remains very destructive when translated into imperial politics. From this perspective, the global North seems to have little to teach the world. Would not the historical opportunity for the global North to learn from the experiences from the global South lie precisely here? After five centuries of “teaching” the world, the global North seems to have lost the capacity to learn from the experiences of the world. In other words, it looks as if colonialism has disabled the global North from learning in non-colonial terms, that is, in terms that allow for the existence of histories other than the universal history of the West.

This condition is reflected in all the intellectual work produced by the global North and, most specifically, in western, Eurocentric critical theory. A sense of exhaustion haunts this tradition. It manifests itself in a peculiar and diffuse uneasiness expressed in multiple ways: irrelevance, inadequacy, impotence, stagnation, paralysis. Such uneasiness is all the more disquieting because we are living in a world in which there is so much to be criticized, and in which an ever-growing number of people live in critical conditions. If there is so much to criticize, why has it become so difficult to build convincing, widely shared, and powerful critical theories – theories that give rise to effective and transformative practices?

For the past thirty years, growing difficulties – often presented as perplexities in the face of unintelligible political repertoires, unpredicted mobilizations and solutions, impasses attributed to a supposed lack of alternatives, and a variety of more or less sophisticated protocols of surrendering  - have beset western critical thinking both in its Marxist and libertarian streams. A number of dilemmas occur at the level of the very political imagination that sustains both critical theory and emancipatory politics. >READ FULL CHAPTER