Whoever Are Histories for? Pluralization, Border Thinking, and Potential Histories

How are contemporary philosophies of history articulated in resistance to the long legacies of colonial rule and practice that continue to shape presuppositions of knowledge? By foregrounding the performative dimension of modes of historical narration, this article considers how practices of engagement with alterity can be conceptualized as constituting new spaces of encounter. The “whoever” invoked in this article's title is presented as a site of indeterminate identity, the futural antidote to an epistemic regime, and the addressee of a question that is as much about what we might become as what we have been. Exploring versions of this figure in the work of Walter Mignolo, Ariella Azoulay, and Judith Butler, the article demonstrates how these theorists all problematize the presumptive universality of the West, and the historically established status quo that underpins it, without adopting in its stead a naive or merely fragmented account of difference. Each approach to the politics of knowledge considered here suggests a way of capturing the significance of the performative and mediated space of separation and relatedness between “same” and “other” as potential sites for decolonizing history, and each seeks to activate the interference and disturbance of the “exteriorities” at once produced and repressed as aspects of the institution of a “center” or “origin.” The theorists I discuss variably describe such exteriorities via the resources of “border thinking” (Mignolo), “potential history” (Azoulay), and the “exilic” (Butler) and provide means not only to acknowledge histories of oppression but to imagine a transformative politics premised on these vital interventions.