Interdisciplinary Measures: Literature and the Future of Postcolonial Studies

By Graham Huggan | Go to book overview

Though produced for the most part from departments of literature and
cultural studies, postcolonial academic scholarship has also been significantly
dependent on history, anthropology, political science and psychoanalysis, to
name only the most prominent of the disciplines in social science and humani-
ties upon which it draws. Essays appearing in Interventions will reflect these
numerous and varied disciplinary affiliations. At the same time, the journal
will direct attention to, draw from, as well as interrogate other fields such
as international relations, developmental economics and area studies which,
despite their disciplinary proximity, for a variety of reasons have not made
‘interventions’ in postcolonial studies [to date]. (Young, ‘Introducing’ 1–2)


Postcolonialism and the Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity

What are we to make of this newfound disciplinary permissiveness, this temperate climate in which postcolonial scholars feel justified in drawing on fields well outside the range of their expertise? To some extent, the opening up of postcolonial studies to multidisciplinary perspectives is merely the practical implementation of a politico-theoretical insight already central to the field. After all, exponents of earlier alternatives to the latest paradigm of choice, postcolonial studies, had already liberally drawn on a number of different disciplines – notably history, geography, sociology and political science – in their efforts to unravel the complex asymmetries, and no less subtle complicities, of imperial rule. What is new is a sense, sharpened no doubt by the institutional successes of cultural studies, that the postcolonial field is rapidly transforming itself into a prime location for the experimental deployment of cutting-edge interdisciplinary methods in the humanities and social sciences as a whole.

Recent postcolonial research has also brought with it the heady perception, also drawn from cultural studies, that self-consciously ‘progressive’ interdisciplinary work is mounting a challenge to dominant ideologies of disciplinary expertise. This partly self-mythologizing view is well captured in Lawrence Grossberg, Paula Treichler and Cary Nelson’s characteristically generous definition of cultural studies as ‘an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and sometimes counter-discursive field that operates in the tension between its tendencies to embrace both a broad, anthropological and a more narrowly humanistic conception of culture’ (Grossberg et al. 4).

This definition begs several questions that seem equally relevant to postcolonial cultural studies. What, for example, is the relationship between ‘anthropological’ and ‘humanistic’ conceptions of culture, and how do the tensions between these conceptions reflect on methodological choices for analysis (e.g. qualitative versus quantitative research methods, empirical versus textual or discursive concerns)? And what, for that matter, are the connections between ‘interdisciplinary’, ‘transdisciplinary’ and ‘counter-discursive’ research models; does the term ‘interdisciplinarity’ already imply some at least covert form of resistance to established academic practices and intellectual norms? It is as

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