Postcolonialism encompasses a range of artistic movements, political projects and research agendas developed in reference to the end of the European colonial system. It refers not only to a temporal marker, signaling a shift in mentalities and metaphilosophical questioning, but also to a decolonizing movement and to a theoretical and philosophical methodology.
There is no strict consensus definition of the postcolonial situation because there are many cases in which neocolonial and dependency relations have survived the former colonies' transition to political independence. In addition, most postcolonial problems have roots in the colonial era. There is also a debate about the question of whether people can draw productive generalizations across the borders of nation, race and imperial context.
On the one hand, postcolonialism refers to the alleged end of colonialism as well as the beginning of a new historical period. On the other hand, postcolonialism centers on the exploration of the enduring legacy of colonialism, called the postcolonial present. However, among the basic goals of postcolonialism is to bring to the foreground the decolonization movements that began at the end of World War II (1939-1945), peaking during the 1950s and 1960s and continuing into the twenty-first century. As a result, many theorists argue that postcolonialism is more a series of philosophical issues emerging from the ongoing decolonization and less of a theory that describes a past movement.
Many of the philosophical sources of postcolonial theory can be found in the discourse of Marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, structuralism, semiotics and postmodernism. Most of postcolonial thinking involves the demystification of canonical figures of Western philosophy. Postcolonialism investigates closely both the production and effects of all cultural artifacts, including novels, philosophical texts and sociological treaties. Such investigation shows how these texts and their effects reflect the dialectical tension between colonialism and anticolonialism.
The so-called postcolonial criticism has developed this type of double reading. On the one hand, it traces the impact of colonialism on colonial consciousness and culture and on the other it unearths and names the gaze and voice of the colonial other. This term is used by some critics to differentiate it from the work that theory or philosophy produces. However, the attempt to differentiate between postcolonial theory and criticism represents one of the disciplinary divisions that postcolonialism aims to challenge.
Postcolonialism can be described as a phenomenology of the social world, analyzing both the mutually conditioning effects of the objective on the subjective and vice versa. Postcolonialism is also a type of critical epistemology and historical ontology, studying the sources and effects of modes of representations as well as ways in which social being is historically conditioned. It is different from other forms of phenomenology, epistemology and ontology because it deliberately seeks to disclose the world of colonialism from the standpoint of the subaltern or the colonized.
According to postcolonial theorists, the analysis of the world from the perspective of the colonizer would distort or even conceal the ways in which the colonized have been disempowered, rendered silent and invisible. Postcolonialism criticizes both the Western domination and the imposition of a global economic system of structural inequality. Thus, postcolonial theory shares many important methods and insights with standpoint feminist epistemological critique.
Postcolonialism intersects with the study of the nation-state and emergent nationalism. Psychologist Franz Fanon is perhaps the most influential theorist of decolonization and revolution. According to Fanon, nationalism was a necessary vehicle of collective mobilization and liberation. Later, criticism addressed the persistence of structural inequality within postcolonial societies. It examined the relationship between the colonial past, national projects as well as the reproduction of traditional forms of ethnic, gender and caste discrimination.
Postcolonialism has become an institutionalized field of study in Western universities since the 1960s. It remains highly diverse and intersects with cultural studies and feminism as well as more traditional areas of the social sciences, history and literary studies. One of the consequences of this position of distance and relative privilege is that there is a strong tradition of inquiry into the intellectuals' role in speaking for and addressing postcolonial situations. Concern with the power and limits of colonial discourse remains a big segment of postcolonial scholarship.
Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak have drawn heavily on Michel Foucalt and Jacques Derrida, respectively, and their scholarship indicates how postcolonial studies integrate a wide range of poststructural, neo-Marxist, and psychoanalytic paradigms. Others, especially the subaltern studies group in India as well as political analysts, such as James Scott, placed a greater emphasis on social history.