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Department of Sociology


What does it mean to ‘decolonise’ a curriculum of sociology and social theory in which colonialism has been unrecognised?

Prof Gurminder Bhambra (Sussex University) and Prof John Holmwood (University of Nottingham)

This event took place on Tue 2 Nov 2021, 12:30-2pm (UK).


The consolidation of modern social theory in the writings of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim coincided with the height of European empires and global war between them. Yet, empire lay outside the purview of mainstream social theory except as a phenomenon associated with earlier historical periods and civilisations. As social theory developed into sociology in the mid-twentieth century, most European countries were confronted by anti-colonial movements and challenges to their global dominance.

However, these challenges to the political structures of European modernity, similarly, seemed not to impinge on what sociology came to see as its ‘jurisdiction’ – namely, issues of class, gender, and sexuality. The issue now is not simply to add colonialism to sociology’s repertoire of topics, but to show how that repertoire must change and the concepts and methodologies with which it is associated be transformed. What does it mean to ‘decolonise’ a curriculum of sociology and social theory in which colonialism has been unrecognised?


Gurminder K Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the Department of International Relations in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. She is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), elected 2020. Her publications include Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (Palgrave, 2007), Connected Sociologies (Bloomsbury, 2014: open access) and Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (Polity, 2021). She is the founder of the Global Social Theory archive and the Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project, both of which provide free resources for students and teachers for rethinking sociology.

John Holmwood is Professor Emeritus in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham and Senior Researcher in the Centre for Science Technology and Society Studies of the Institute for Philosophy at the Czech Academy of Science. He is co-founder (in 2013) and joint managing editor of Discover Society, a free online monthly magazine of social research, criticism and policy analysis. He was co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University (2010-2017). He was President of the British Sociological Association, 2012/2014.

Recommended Readings

Allen, Danielle. "Invisible Citizens: Political Exclusion and Domination In Arendt and Ellison." Nomos 46 (2005): 28-76.

Allen, Danielle. Talking to Strangers. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2004.

Durkheim, Emile, and Fields, Karen E. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: 1995.

Fields, Karen E. “Individuality and the Intellectuals: An Imaginary Conversation between W. E. B. Du Bois and Emile Durkheim.” Theory and Society, vol. 31, no. 4, Springer, 2002, pp. 435–62.

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