In Transition Leture by Stephen Morton (Southampton)

 Allegories of the World System

Stephen Morton

Thursday, 12 December|6-8 pm |IG 411

This paper presents research from my current book project, Allegories of the World System. Against the histories of dispossession and extraction which have shaped the development of the modern world economy, the book considers how postcolonial art and literature variously draws on the resources of allegory to project a powerful dialectical image of a decolonising world. Extending Fredric Jameson’s claim that all allegories are utopian, the book traces the utopian expression of the global commons in the allegorical form of postcolonial literature and visual culture. Since utopian thought has always been concerned to counter the rule of property, it is particularly well placed to articulate the collective work of ‘commoning’, which Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval (2019) see as crucial to addressing the political, economic, and ecological crises of the twenty-first century. Moreover, the utopian impulse of postcolonial allegory has sought to imagine alternatives to the histories of colonial dispossession, extraction, ecological devastation, social reproduction, and labour exploitation, which have shaped and determined the development of the modern world–system. Through original comparative readings of a wide range of literary texts by Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Zakes Mda, Helon Habila, Tomson Highway, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Maryse Condé, and visual artworks by Sondra Perry, William Kentridge, Steve McQueen, Nadia Myre, and Brian Jungen, this book argues that the allegorical codes of postcolonial world literature and art engage readers in the collective work of reimagining the planet as commons.


Stephen Morton is a Professor of English at the University of Southampton. He recent books include  States of emergency: colonialism, literature and law (Liverpool University Press), co-edited collections, Terror and the postcolonial: a concise companion (Wiley-Blackwell) and Foucault in an age of terror: essays on biopolitics and the defence of society (Palgrave).