Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction: A Convivial Critical Democracy - Post-Colonial Studies in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction: A Convivial Critical Democracy - Post-Colonial Studies in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO, THE EMPIRE WRITES BACK WAS WRITTEN to bring together the textual attentiveness of Commonwealth literature and sophisticated approaches to contemporary theory that could evolve a way of reading the continuing cultural engagements of colonial societies. Looking back, it's hard to imagine a more frenetic or argumentative field of literary study than this one subsequently became over the next twenty years. Indeed, it often seemed as though to enter the field you had to critique the very idea of the post-colonial, while its demise was trumpeted by a jostling succession of Cassandras. Yet post-colonial studies has not only flourished, but has embraced its critics, channelling even their objections into the broad collective agenda of the creative cultural engagement with imperialism in all its forms. The question this volume addresses is: What is the field of post-colonial studies beginning to look like in the twenty-first century? We might also ask: What exactly are post-colonial studies? Does this field remain within observable or even beatable boundaries?

This volume continues the radical reflexivity of the field, the term 'postcolonial' hardly ever regarded as unproblematical by its exponents. Post-colonial theory may be defined as that branch of contemporary theory that investigates, and develops propositions about, the cultural and political impact of European conquest upon colonized societies, and the nature of those societies' responses. We might add some caveats to this: that the term refers to postcolonization and not post-independence, that it identifies neither a chronology nor a specific ontology - it is not 'after colonialism' nor is it a way of being. Post-colonial is a way of reading. But its sudden and remarkable rise beyond its original conception was partly due to the fact that by the late 1980s the world was hungry for a language to describe the diversity of cultures and the intersecting global range of cultural production. Post-colonial theory provided that language, a way of talking about the engagement of the global by the local, particularly local cultures, and, most importantly, provided a greatly nuanced view of globalization that developed from its understanding of the complexities of imperial relationships.

The language of post-colonialism drove the cultural turn in globalization studies in the 1990s for three reasons. First, the systematization of post-colonial theory occurred at about the same time as the rise to prominence of globalization studies in the late 1980s. Second, it was around this time that literary and cultural theorists realized that debates on globalization had become bogged down in the classical narrative of modernity. Third, it became clear, particularly after Appadurai, that there were many globalizations, and that far from the homogenizing downward pressure of economic globalization and the Washington Consensus, a circulation of local alternatives could be seen to affect the nature of the global. It was through cultural practices that difference and hybridity, diffusion and the imaginary, concepts that undermined the eurocentric narrative of modernity, were most evident.

Indeed, a major feature of post-colonial studies has been its ability to analyse a vast array of cultural developments: race and racism; expressions of anticolonial nationalism; the paradoxical dissolution of the idea of nation along with the continuous persistence of national concerns; the question of language and appropriation; of the transformation of literary genres; the question of ethnicity and its relation to the state; the growing mobility of formerly colonized populations. But in this volume we get a clear sense of the wide range of contemporary post-colonial concerns. While the sections conform generally to existing areas of interest, we can detect within each one a pushing of disciplinary boundaries and a pushing into ever more expansive intellectual territory. Despite the multiple attempts at definition and the plethora of critics sounding its death-knell, this remarkable field has experienced more than its share of boundary-marking, boundaries inscribed, ironically, more often by its critics and doomsayers. …

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