What does it mean to theorize from a location, i.e., the global south, and to hold back from the universalistic ambitions of a theory located in Euro America? What does it mean to engage with concept-making from particular worlds and taking seriously traditions of intellection that have been in existence before the colonial encounter and its paradigm of modernity? Central to this is the question of beginning (as theorized by Edward Said), which is also about beginning again – which raises questions of amnesia, tradition, and geneaologies. Does concept-making have to situate itself within established traditions of enquiry in the Indic, Islamic and Chinese civilizations or can we think of a more demotic theorizing located in the everyday, the contingent, and the contextual; as Benjamin observed, thinking with the “anecdote” rather than the narrative. This talk builds upon the volume that I edited, Changing Theory: Concepts from the Global South (Routledge, 2022), and an ongoing ERC funded project with 19 interlocutors on India’s Politics in its Vernaculars that attempts to think with the idea of the demotic through the theory and practice of politics in 19 Indian languages.
Dilip M Menon is a historian of ideas who engages with South Asian history, oceanic histories and epistemologies of the global south. He is currently Professor of History and International Relations and Director, Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, University of Witwatersrand. His recent works include the edited volumes Capitalisms: Towards a Global History (Oxford, 2020); Changing Theory: Concepts from the Global South (Routledge, 2022), and Ocean as Method: Thinking with the Maritime (Routledge, 2023), and the forthcoming Cinemas of the Global South: Towards a Southern Aesthetics (Routledge, 2024). He was the recipient of the Falling Walls Foundation Award for the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2021.