Decolonizing Europe

Monday, November 16, 2015, 7pm

Décoloniser l’Europe (Decolonizing Europe)

Talk by Françoise Vergès (in French) with response by the participants of the Political Studies seminar

HEAD, Boulevard Helvétique 9, 1205 Geneva, seminar room CCC, salle 27, 2nd floor

Brookes, slave ship, first published in Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Plymouth, 1788.
Brookes, slave ship, first published in Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Plymouth, 1788.

“First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence race hatred and moral relativism.”

Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (2000:35)

In this presentation, Françoise Vergès wishes to explore the “boomerang effect” of modern slavery, colonialism, and imperialism that Aimé Césaire summarized with the term “decivilize.” If, as Frantz Fanon would later wrote “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World,” then it is important to understand how slavery and colonialism have undermined everyone and benefited no-one. In the first part of her talk, Vergès will show why and how modern slavery cannot be separated from the history of democracy and democratic thought and the ways in which Europe and the West constructed their identities as the site of progress, freedom and whiteness. She will show how its products – tobacco, sugar, coffee, cotton – affected social mores, the ways in which masculinity and femininity were conceived, the distinction between producer and consumer, or the ways in which “Nature” was perceived. In the second part, she will examine the current cartography of Europe and argue the urgent necessity of developing a politics and poetics of second wave decolonization, and what decolonizing Europe may mean today. She will address the consequences of racial capitalism, predatory politics, growing inequalities, politics of dispossession and relegation in Europe.

Françoise Vergès’ presentation will be responded by the participants of Pierre Hazan’s seminar of Political Studies of the research-based study program CCC-in-transition. The seminar addresses the question of “taking position” in a moment when crisis is linked to the deaths of refugees and migrants, the financial crisis, rising xenophobic populist movements and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. Europe today goes through severe challenges on its centers and peripheries. What is the role of artists and intellectuals in this moment of heavy dangers? How to think, create and act in front of the increasing dangers while facing the tempting forces of impotence?