The burgeoning field of Indian Ocean studies has emerged as a repository of universalist political aspirations, often inspired by the Non-Aligned imagination of the Third World era. In particular, the notion of Indian Ocean “cosmopolitanism,” as both an object of desire and critique, looms large in the field as a figure of decolonial solidarities outside the epistemological confines of modern coloniality. This essay contends that the racial politics of Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism, itself an inheritance of the Afro-Asian hierarchies of mid-century Third Worldism, deserves more attention. It also explores the Afro-Asian antinomies of Indian Ocean studies as a reflection of broader critical ambivalences about questions of colonial humanism and anticolonial liberation.

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