Recent calls to decolonize the curriculum of a variety of disciplines have rightly focused on the impact of European imperialism on what can be said and thought in the modern academy. But is this critique sufficient, even in its own terms, to fully capture the range of historically possible modes of thinking and being that should inform our contemporary politics? In this talk I argue that a more radical kind of curricular diversity is required to take account of premodern traditions of thought–to include not only those that exhibit continuity with contemporary forms of knowledge and experience, but also those that may have been marginalized and truncated by non-European practices of imperialism or forms of knowledge. I focus in particular on premodern Chinese thought, a multidisciplinary, internally self-referential intellectual ecosystem, with pervasive connections to questions of philosophy. Yet these connections are not readily visible within its corpus of texts spanning more than 2000 years, whose sheer abundance and linguistic distance from living languages inhibits easy navigation or comprehension. Being less subject to reorganization by modern European imperial power, its categories continue to animate certain forms of present-day knowledge, making its inclusion in curricula all the more urgent—even as its very breadth and complexity demand wide-ranging transformations in what we take philosophical knowledge to be. How are these challenges to be met, particularly if we recognize that this body of thought has sustained normative enquiry for centuries, in terms unrelated to more familiar commitments to freedom and justice? How, moreover, can we comprehend the exclusions this body of thought has enacted over centuries, including the subjugation of non-Han Chinese and non-textual forms of knowledge and experience?
Leigh is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics’ Department of Government. Before joining the LSE in 2012, Leigh taught and researched at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan; the Department of History, National Taiwan University; and the University of Heidelberg. She obtained her PhD from the University of Chicago.
Leigh’s scholarship is focused on Chinese political thought, Taiwan studies, global intellectual history, comparative political theory, epistemology, and metahistory. One of her current research projects focuses on articulations of otherness and equality within late Ming neo-Confucian scholars including Jiao Hong and Chen Di.
Leigh is the author of Making the Political: Founding and Action in the Political Theory of Zhang Shizhao (2010) and Changing Referents: Learning Across Space and Time in China and the West (2015). Leigh also co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Political Theory which compiles a series of articles paving the way towards establishing comparative political theory’s guiding principles and methodologies.