Troubled crossings: Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic twenty years on

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Articulating the Black Atlantic, then, was in and of itself nothing short of an act of resistance, a contribution to radical thinking at a time when the forces of political reaction appeared to have got the definitive upper hand. The particularity of Gilroy’s argument, however, lay of course in the emphasis on the race/culture debate which lay at its heart. The factor of racial difference, and of a common culture deriving from a shared racial appartenance and experience as an oppressed people, could not be reduced or assimilated to Eurocentric discourses of political emancipation. In this paper I propose to re-examine the concept of the Black Atlantic as constitutive of a counterculture of modernity both in the light of Gilroy’s more recent work and in relation to the contemporary politico-cultural conjuncture. If his book was a powerful and effective contribution to the theoretical debates of the early 1990s, what is its intrinsic value and relevance to the debates of today? What are we to make of Gilroy’s apparent jettisoning of the idea of race in the name of a ‘planetary humanism’ in more recent publications (see Against Race (2001) and Between Camps (2001))? Does such a move inevitably mean diluting the demands of progressive and contestatory politics whilst throwing out the bogeyman of essentialist race-based discourse? What are the implications of such a ‘planetary humanism’ for those communities, both living within and outside of Western nations, for whom the legacy of colonialism, and indeed vestiges of racist attitudes, remain real and unavoidable even today? And finally, to what extent can the developments in Gilroy’s thinking be said to reflect broader changes in contemporary thinking about race, culture and politics over the course of the last ten to twenty years? Whilst seeking to reaffirm the value of Gilroy’s contribution, both past and present, to contemporary theory, be it cultural, sociological or political, in this paper I shall conduct a critical reassessment of his oeuvre since and in the light of The Black Atlantic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-197
JournalCultures of the Commonwealth
Issue number19/20/21
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016


  • Black Atlantic
  • identity


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