Monday, 15 December 2014

The -ism Series (18): Postcolonialism

Postcolonialism is "one of the most interesting interventions in cultural theory" (via) and emerged through discussions of representation, identity and power (Barnett, 2006) that arise from the process of decolonisation and the resulting search for alternative cultural identities. The term refers to the consciousness after colonisation, the subversive and resistant politics aiming to preserve differences rather than assimilationg to the dominant cultural patterns. It implies reversing roles and transforming from object to subject (via). "As the underdogs, the people in colonized countries try to establish their difference from colonizers." (Nejat & Baradaran Jamili, 2014).

Post-colonial refers to a period after colonialism; that is a commonsense understanding of the term. Childs and Patrick (1997) state, however, that our common understanding could be "unacceptably Anglocentric or Eurocentric" since we tend to concentrate on British and French empires. The question arises: After whose colonialism? Quoting Ahmaz, the authors argue that colonialism "becomes a trans-historical thing, always present and always in process of dissolution in one part of the world or another, so that everyone gets the privilege, sooner or later, at one time or another, of being coloniser, colonised and post-colonial - sometimes all at once, in the case of Australia, for example."

The term "postcolonial" is also criticised for marking history as a series of stages ranging from "precolonial", "colonial" to "postcolonial". This approach implies that time is linear and that there is a sort of development. "Post" sets the time and turns colonialism into a marker of history in relation to European time (McClintock, 1992). Aymara-speaking people in the Bolivian Andes, for instance, do not emphasise the arrival of the Spanish to their region the same way Europeans do (Bair, 2011).
"One way in which European colonial and imperial expansion was legitimized was through a claim that European culture was the prime mover of historical progress itself. Non-European cultures were denigrated as being either historically backward, or worse, as being wholly outside of history. This same pattern of thought persists in central categories of twentieth-century social science, including ideas of modernization, of development, and of developed and less developed. All of these ideas presume one particular set of cultural values and practices as the benchmark against which to judge all others. In so far as they presume an idealized model of European history as the single model for other societies to emulate, these notions are often described as Eurocentric." (Barnett, 2006)
According to postcolonial critics, gender differences also need to be considered when discussing postcolonialism as otherwise it "will, like marginalization, be a male-centered and ultimately patriarchal discourse in which women's voice are marginalized and silenced." Since women tend to be subjected to colonial domination of empire and male domination of patriarchy, a "double colonisation" takes place (Nejat & Baradaran Jamili, 2014).

Postcolonial studies are, without doubt, highly interesting and complex. The tendency to emphasise European colonialism, however, can obscure other power relations that deserve attention and enhance Eurocentric views (Baird, 2011).

- Baird, I. G. (2011) Questioning the Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial in the Context of the Brao of Southern Laos and Northeastern Cambodia. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 10(1), 48-57
- Barnett, C. (2006). Postcolonialism: space, textuality and power. In: Aitken, Stuart and Valentine, Gill eds. Approaches to Human Geography. London,  147–159
- Childs, P. & Williams, R. J. P. (1997) An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. London et al.: Prentice Hall Harvester Wheatsheaf
- McClintock, A. (1992) The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism". Social Text, 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues, 84-98
- Nejat, J. & Baradaran Jamili, L. (2014) Double Colonization in John Maxwell Coetzee's Disgrace. Journal of Novel Applied Sciences, 3(1), 40-44
- photographs by Louise Emma Augusta Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1889) via and via and via