Gendering Modernity: Postcolonial and Decolonial Perspectives

The Making of the Modern World - Lecture 5

Lecturer: Prof Anne Phillips, London School of Economics

8 Feb 2021

From (at least) the eighteenth century onwards, European philosophers and historians have represented the status of women as a crucial marker of a society’s level of civilisation, and have seen modernity as the era when women came to be accepted as individuals in their own right. In this framing of distinctions between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, it became one of the justifications for colonialism that it supposedly rescued women from precolonial abuses. The contrast is however highly contentious, and particularly so when ‘modernity’ so often maintained and intensified gender difference. Ideas about the superior treatment of women in modern societies continue to shape political discourse today.




  • In what ways does the status of women figure in notions of modernity?
  • How have these contributed to justifications of colonialism?
  • How do contrasts between ’modern’ and ‘traditional’, and ideas about the superior treatment of women in modern societies, continue to play out in political discourse in contemporary Europe?