Challenging Liberal Belief: Edward Said and the Critical Practice of History

Jeannie Morefield

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter turns to Edward Said’s work to develop a critique of both liberal theories of global justice and of liberal internationalism in the field of IR. I argue that the lack of attention paid to imperial history by scholars in both fields makes it hard for them to recognize how they might unwittingly replicate imperial ideologies. In particular, I argue, their amnesia regarding the historical and ongoing relationship between liberalism and imperial politics obscures alternative understandings of justice that might bubble up from sites of former and current colonial occupation and violence rather than trickle down from the heights of a perennially well intentioned liberal theory. There are more productive options available. Said’s recurrent interest in who is granted ‘permission to narrate’, when joined to his acute sensitivity to languages of domination and exclusion, enabled a counterpuntal readings of history that insistently dragged empire and exclusion back into our accounts of the present. Scholars interested in global justice would do well to think in a more Saidian fashion about the counternarratives of colonial violence and racial exclusion rendered invisible by the institutions of the liberal international order that theorists often privilege as agents for implementing global justice. Ultimately, an approach indebted to Said requires intellectuals to slow down and actively reflect on history even as it demands sustained political and scholarly engagement with the most pressing forms of injustice in the world today.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmpire, Race, and Global Justice
EditorsDuncan Bell
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781108576307
ISBN (Print)9781108427791
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • 'Global justice,' imperialism, race, liberalism, 'Edward Said'


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