Dhr. A. (Andries) Beeckman
13 June 2019

Redressing Colonial Alienation

LECTURE | 13 June 2019 | 14:00 - 16:30 | Tropenmuseum Studio

Our Research Fellow Catherine Lu will be giving a lecture on her ongoing research. In this lecture she will address the role of material culture in practices of disalienation and nonalienation.

Colonial injustice involves practices of assimilating the colonized into the worldviews of the colonizers, entailing the destruction, subordination, or marginalization of the languages, cultures and histories of the colonized. Modern museums of civilization contributed to such injustices in collecting, organizing, and presenting material culture into a narrative based on stages of human culture that constitute the march of civilization. What is the contemporary responsibility of such museums with respect to their imperial origins, and to their continued role in reproducing colonial alienation? In previous work, Lu has argued for three strategies of redress of colonial injustice: decolonization, decentering, and disalienation.

In this talk, Lu focusses on the problem of existential alienation experienced by the colonized, consisting in the loss of an agent’s appropriative powers that is precipitated by the collapse of social frames of meaning that structure her conceptions and pursuit of authentic and meaningful forms of flourishing. Such existential alienation was produced through unjust domination, but redressing such alienation requires more than decolonization, in the historic form of colonizers returning self-determination rights to the colonized. Museums can redress persisting colonial alienation in a variety of ways, including by supporting indigenous nonalienation, and by stimulating the disalienation of its audience from colonial constructions of the self and the social world.

Image: Dhr. A. (Andries) Beeckman (Hasselt 1628 - Amsterdam 1664), View of Batavia  Oil on canvas, ca. 1662. TM-118-167.


Catherine Lu is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, and Coordinator of the Research Group on Global Justice of the Yan P. Lin Centre for the Study of Freedom and Global Orders in the Ancient and Modern Worlds at McGill. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto in 2000. Her research interests intersect political theory and international relations, focusing on critical and normative studies in international political theory on cosmopolitanism, global justice, human rights, intervention, colonial international order, structural injustice, and alienation, and reconciliation. Her doctoral work was published as a book, Just and Unjust Interventions in World Politics: Public and Private (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). She has received research fellowships from the School of Philosophy, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University (2013), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2010-11), and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University (2004-5). In 2018, she received the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel research award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Her second book, Justice and Reconciliation in World Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2017), won the 2018 Robert L. Jervis and Paul W. Schroeder Best Book Award from the International History and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association, the 2018 Yale H. Ferguson Prize from the International Studies Association - Northeast Region, the 2019 Best Book award from the International Ethics Section of the International Studies Association, and was co-winner of the 2018 Sussex International Theory Prize (UK), as well as shortlisted for the C.B. Macpherson Prize of the Canadian Political Science Association. Justice and Reconciliation in World Politics is a study in normative and critical theory of how to conceptualize practices of justice and reconciliation that aim to respond to colonial injustices in international and transnational contexts. Examining cases of colonial war, genocide, forced sexual labour, forcible incorporation, and dispossession, the book highlights the structural injustices involved in colonialism, based on race, class, and gender, and shows that interactional practices of justice and reconciliation have been inadequate in redressing these structural injustices. The book argues that contemporary moral/political projects of justice and reconciliation in response to the persistent structural injustices of a colonial international order entail strategies of decolonization, decentering, and disalienation that go beyond interactional practices of accountability and reparation, beyond victims and perpetrators, and beyond a statist world order.