Social relations in the colonized Americas, Asia, and Africa were the condition of possibility for Western liberalism to think the universality of human freedom, however much freedoms for slaves, colonized, and indigenous peoples were precisely exempted by that philosophy. Modern history and social science pronounce the universality of liberal categories of development yet omit the global relations on which they depended. Indeed, it is the pronounced asymmetry of the colonial divisions of humanity that is the signature feature of liberal modes of distinction that privilege particular subjects and societies as rational, civilized, and human, and treat others as the laboring, replaceable, or disposable contexts that constitute that humanity. What some have represented as a linear temporal progression from colonial abjection to liberal freedom actually elides what might be more properly conceived as a spatial dynamic, in which forms of both liberal subject and society in the imperial center are possible only in relation to laboring lives in the colonized geographies or “zones of exception” with which they coexist, however disavowed.
— Lisa Lowe