Academic journal article ARIEL

What Is the Postcolonial?

Academic journal article ARIEL

What Is the Postcolonial?

Article excerpt

The postcolonial seems to have become ubiquitous. Today postcolonial theory has been taken up in almost every discipline in the humanities and social sciences, from anthropology to medieval studies to theology. It is not only about migration: intellectually it has taken the form of transdisciplinary migration. It knows no boundaries, whether of discipline, nation, or peoples. After the disciplinary dispersion of the post-colonial, what if anything, we might ask, remains of the postcolonial as such? Has it scattered itself so widely and so successfully that it no longer exists as a separate intellectual field with a distinct political identity? In order to answer this question, we might start by asking what we mean by the postcolonial or postcoloniality. People define and use these words in many different ways: even what might seem to be the obvious core meaning for postcolonial, that is, coming after the colonial, cannot be taken for granted. For some writers have tried to redefine the postcolonial anachronistically to mean resistance to the colonial at any time--literally in the case of decolonized societies, and ideologically for still colonized societies. Although the term postcolonial will certainly always involve the idea of resistance, I prefer to preserve the historical specificity of the term, and to think of the postcolonial as involving what we might simply refer to as the aftermath of the colonial. The situations and problems that have followed decolonization--whether in the formerly colonizing or colonized country--are then encompassed in the term postcoloniality. What, then, would the term postcoionialism mean? Whereas postcoloniality describes the condition of the postcolonial, postcolonialism describes its politics--a radical tricontinental politics of transformation. What does this involve?

At its simplest level, the postcolonial is simply the product of human, experience, but human experience of the kind that has not typically been registered or represented at any institutional level. More particularly, itis the result of different cultural and national origins, the ways in which the colour of your skin or your place and circumstance of birth define the kind of life, privileged and pleasurable, or oppressed and exploited, that you will have in this world. Postcolonialism's concerns are centred on geographic zones of intensity that have remained largely invisible, but which prompt or involve questions of history, ethnicity, complex cultural identities and questions of representation, of refugees, emigration and immigration, of poverty and wealth--but also, importantly, the energy, vibrancy and creative cultural dynamics that emerge in very positive ways from such demanding circumstances. Postcolonialism offers a language of and for those who have no place, who seem not to belong, of those whose knowledges and histories are not allowed to count. It is above all this preoccupation with the oppressed, with the subaltern classes, with minorities in any society, with the concerns of those who live or come from elsewhere, that constitutes the basis of postcolonial politics and remains the core that generates its continuing power.

Where did the postcolonial come from? My argument has been that postcolonial theory has been created from the political insights and experience that were developed in the course of colonial resistance to western rule and cultural dominance, primarily during the course of the anti-colonial struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When I was working on the history of these struggles I was particularly moved by the extraordinary power of the intellectual work that was produced at this time. Instead of theoretical rigidity and dogmatism, I found creativity, a spirit of innovation and a desire to combine universal ideas of social justice with the realities of local cultures and their particular conditions. Postcolonial studies as a discipline marks the intrusion of these radically different perspectives into the academy, hitherto dominated by the criteria and knowledge formations of the West. …

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