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“For the Third World Intellectual, who exactly is Marx?” asked  Abdallah Laroui, four decades ago, as he mulled over the relationship of thought to political practice. Taking my cue from Laroui, and drawing on my research with prominent public intellectuals who were militant revolutionaries in the 1960’s before exiting from Marxism both as an analytic space and a political practice, my talk will touch on the following questions: What and how does one read, and to what end in a graduate seminar and in a party cell? What does the work of translation enable and disable? How are theoretical texts put to work in authorizing political practices and cultivating intellectual sensibilities? What I am partly after in taking theory as an anthropological object is gaining a greater purchase on the social life of concepts and the performative labors of theory as well as moving beyond the hegemonic critique of the epistemological assumptions of discourses that seek to unmask a Eurocentric particular parading as a universal.

Fadi A. Bardawil, an anthropologist by training, is associate professor of contemporary Arab cultures in the Department of Asian Studies and Middle East Studies at Duke University. His research investigates the international circulation of critical theory, the genealogies of post-colonial critique, and the traditions of intellectual inquiry and modalities of political engagement of contemporary Arab thinkers. Prior to Duke, he served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill, was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Society of Fellows and was a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of Revolution and Disenchantment: Arab Marxism and the Binds of Emancipation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020).

 

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