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The Territories of Critique: Decentering Philosophy in Postcolonial Times

Applicant Mercier Lucie
Number 183813
Funding scheme Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution The Program in Critical Theory University of California
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.09.2019 - 31.08.2022
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All Disciplines (2)

German and English languages and literature

Keywords (10)

historical epistemology; postcolonial theory; critical race philosophy; Caribbean Philosophy; African philosophy; critique; territory; decentering; structuralism; politics of discourse

Lay Summary (French)

Depuis les années 1960, la pensée anticoloniale, postcoloniale et les théories critiques de la race ont contribué à mettre en lumière les déterminations territoriales, historiques, géopolitiques de la philosophie européenne. Mais au-delà d'une idée quelque peu générique d'un décentrement ou d'une décolonisation de la pensée, les opérations de type philosophique qui ont été mise à l’œuvre dans ces « révolutions épistémologiques » locales sont restées relativement peu étudiées.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectif du travail de recherche

Comment l’énonciation philosophique se situe-t-elle dans un territoire marqué par la violence coloniale ou l’hégémonie néocoloniale ou impériale, et dans une histoire de la philosophie structurée par l’eurocentrisme ? Quels sont les rapports entre critique et « décentrement » ? Ce projet se penchera sur ces questions à partir de deux moments philosophiques distincts: (1) le moment ‘structuraliste’ des années 1960 en philosophie française (Serres, Foucault, Derrida) qui consacre, contre la phénoménologie Husserlienne, le ‘décentrement’ de la philosophie (comme forme dominante) dans un discours plus large; (2)  la réinvention « philosophie africaine » et « antillaise » des années 1970-1980s (Eboussi-Boulaga, Mudimbe, Glissant), et ses réélaborations de l’énonciation philosophique au sein d’une réflexion sur le territoire de la philosophie, à la fois réel et imaginaire. Plutôt que de lire ces deux moments dans un prisme comparatif ou en termes d’ « influences », ce projet cherchera plutôt à mesurer l’écart entre ces différentes reprises du thème du ‘décentrement’ et à en faire l’analyse. 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 03.02.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Name Institute


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Historiography of Philosophy Working Group Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Séminaire "Race et Culture: Questionnements philosophiques" Individual talk Réponse à Hourya Bentouhami, "Phénoménologie du Passing" 02.04.2021 Paris (en ligne), France Mercier Lucie;
Maître et esclave (ou Hegel en mode mineur) Individual talk Les versions du mythe hégélien : une autre histoire de la philosophie ? Traduction, structuralisme, décentrement 24.03.2021 Paris (online) , France Mercier Lucie;
The Geography of Truths: Nations, Territories and the History of Philosophy Talk given at a conference Warding Off the Ghosts of Race in the Historiography of Philosophy 12.03.2020 London , Great Britain and Northern Ireland Mercier Lucie;


Title Date Place
Individuation as Problem for the History of Philosophy 17.08.2021 St Erme-Outre-et-Ramercourt , France


From the 1960s onwards, a large part of anticolonial, postcolonial and critical philosophy of race has been devoted to shedding light on the territorial, historical and geopolitical determinations of both philosophy and critique. The claim of anticolonialism on philosophy has taken two main forms: (i) a historical inquiry into the European canon, which sought to re-inscribe the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers within their historical and scientific context in order to determine the role of eurocentrism and racism in their works; (ii) an inquiry into the discursive conditions surrounding critical thought and the production of knowledge in areas and for subjects marked by Western colonialism or imperialism. While these approaches have addressed the mutually constitutive links between the Western philosophical canon, modernity and Eurocentrism in depth, the ‘epistemological revolution’ contained in the project of decolonisation, the operations of ‘decentering’, ‘translation’ or ‘territorialization’ brought into the service of defusing or counteracting Eurocentrism as an epistemological and world-historical structure of referentiality has, comparatively, remained little explored. What tends to predominate instead is a debate structured around oppositions between exogneity and endogeneity, philosophical universalism and cultural particularism (Hallward 2001; Chibber 2013). In response to this absence, this project thematizes several conceptualisations of epistemological decentering at play in French-language philosophy between the 1960s and the 1980s, which circulate across metropolitan and African-Caribbean contexts. In a time of growing concern around the so-called ‘decolonization of the philosophy curriculum’, this project examines earlier versions of this debate by looking at the way in which the tension between the overwhelming reference to Europe in knowledge, and the ‘non-place’ (Diouf 1999) of its universalist impulse was both understood and strategically overcome. Drawing on the distinctions between the epistemological, cosmological, ontological and political connotations of the concept of ‘decentering’ in post-Kantian philosophy, my analysis will take its point of departure in two distinct ‘philosophical moments’ : (a) 1960s French structuralism, and its ambition to radicalise the Copernican revolution by devising a philosophy without centre, or without transcendental subject (Serres 1968, 1968b, 1972; Foucault 1966, 1969; Derrida 1967, 1979) and (b) the 1970s-1980s moment of epistemo-political re-elaboration of ‘African’ and ‘Caribbean’ philosophies, with specific focus on the epistemological revolution against eurocentrism, and the related redefinition of the relationships between critique and territoriality. (Eboussi-Boulaga 1977, Glissant 1981, Mudimbe 1988). The research addresses the way in which the postcolonial reevaluation of philosophy engaged African and Caribbean philosophers to a thorough rethinking of the relationships between philosophy and territoriality. Adopting a methodology that interprets these ‘metropolitan’ and ‘postcolonial’ corpus in light of one another instead of confining them to a history of influences or ‘area studies’, the objective of this dual reading is not only to offer an in-depth analysis of what we might call a postcolonial ‘epistemology of territoriality’, but also to account for the effect of the anti- and post-colonial rupture wthin the twentieth-century mutations of the concept of ‘critique’.