Personal Collections

Mary Louise Pratt

New York, US

Mary Louise Pratt (1948)– is a Silver Professor and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures at New York University.

Glossary definitions from Mary Louise Pratt

Contact zones

‘I suggest the fruitfulness of conceiving indigeneity, coloniality, modernity, or decolonization in this way, as forces rather than systems or structures. This perspective enables thinking across massively varying scales and ranges, another postmillennial imperative.’

‘Ideas have lives of their own: their inventors don’t own them. There is one common use of the contact zone concept that I find misguided. Sometimes, in liberal thought, the contact zone gets articulated not as a device for imagining situations of heterogeneity, inequality, and conflict but as the name of a solution for these challenges. It becomes an ideal to be aspired to – an Edenic, harmonious place where people separated by deep historical differences successfully collaborate, cooperate, and resolve their differences, each side responsive to the others’ needs and interests. Often this vision is offered as a predefined future, a programmatic agenda. Contact becomes the alternative to conflict. Such a normative use of the contact zone is ideologically coherent; that is, it makes sense. But it denies the concepts critical force, jumps over the necessary step of thinking through the chaotic, uncontrollable energies that are in play. Such an acritical use of the concept cannot explain, for example, how, as in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, peaceful contact zones can erupt into genocidal violence with the strike of a match. Human mobility is the great creator of contact zones, but idealizing them ignores the geopolitical variety of the contact zone’s forms: tourism, migration in all its forms, trafficking, expulsion, exploration, flight. These cannot simply be folded together in an idealized scenario.’


Planetary Longings (Duke University Press, 2022): 7, 130

Citations by Mary Louise Pratt