Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Uday Mehta

Subject Categories

Political Theory


colonialism, decolonization, postcolonial, universality, modernity, difference, Ambedkar, India, caste


In this thesis, we seek to take steps towards problematizing postcolonial theory and its frequent anti-universalism. Towards this end, my initial focus will be some of the productive and problematic aspects of what Getachew and Mantena term the “decolonization of political theory”. Here, we highlight how some comparative political theory scholars have methodologically overemphasized ‘difference’ in their studies of non-western political thought as an overcorrection to Eurocentrism. In supporting this claim, we review literature in comparative political theory, postcolonial theory, and modern South Asian history and historiography in order to demonstrate that a more philosophically robust, but still historically informed, conception of universality is needed for more sensitivity to how Europe was already provincialized by “reason and history, rather than by any vague appeal to popular authenticity” as the “colonized already participated in universality and agency, even if on unequal terms”. After doing this, we draw on Massimiliano Tomba’s concept of “insurgent universality” as a theoretical lens for an analysis that outlines how universality functions in Ambedkar’s critique of the Indian Political-Social distinction, Gandhi, and Gandhism on caste. Ultimately, I contend that comparative political theorists must be careful in centering difference as they risk missing the histories of the colonized which demonstrate that resistance came not only from a position of particularity that rejected hegemonic forms of modernity in total, but also manifested itself in the very universalist categories that elites framed their own politics in. As an alternative, I argue that an emphasis on insurgent universality rather than ‘fragmentary resistances’ or difference is helpful as a conceptual anchor in bringing out how the colonized participated in universality, even if unequally.