Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation introduces an academic
field of inquiry that never existed because it was extinguished at
birth. Its brief life was no accident. Third World studies began
in 1968 at San Francisco State College as a revolutionary student
movement led by the Third World Liberation Front (twlf). For
democracy’s sake, the twlf declared, US higher education must
address the masses as well as the ruling elites who predominate in
the textbooks and courses peddled by the academy. As a corrective,
the twlf proposed a “Third World curriculum.” Instead college
administrators and faculty granted the students “ethnic studies,”
which is a deception but is the term widely recognized today. This
textbook revisits the scene of that crime, tracks where the gene-
alogies of Third World and ethnic studies converge and depart,
and posits theories and methods that might constitute the field of
Third World studies, which is yet to emerge. This, then, is a work
of imagination.
To clear the deck, Third World studies is not identity politics,
multiculturalism, or intellectual affirmative action. Third World
studies is not a gift of white liberals to benighted colored folk to
right past wrongs; Third World studies is not a minor note in a
grand symphony of US history. Within the United States diversity
and pluralist versions of the nation trivialize the intellectual and
political claims of Third World studies, reducing power relations
and their interventions to cultural celebrations, difference, and
competence. Moreover Third World studies is not about teaching
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