Overcoming the Impasse? Postcolonialism and Globalisation Studies

By Bose, Anuja | Borderlands, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Overcoming the Impasse? Postcolonialism and Globalisation Studies


Bose, Anuja, Borderlands


Revathi Krishnaswamy and John C. Hawley, eds. The Post-Colonial and the Global, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

More than a decade ago, Stuart Hall remarked that the "two halves of the current debate on modernity--the postcolonial and the analysis of the new developments in global capitalism- have largely proceeded in relative isolation from one another and to their mutual cost"(Hall, 1996). It is only now that a collection of essays, edited by Revathi Krishnaswamy and John Hawley, seeks to rectify this damaging and disabling impasse between postcolonial studies and globalization theory.

Krishnaswamy begins this collection by pointing out that postcolonial studies has primarily been focused on Eurocentrism and subaltern practices of resistance to Western domination. Meanwhile, globalization theory has sought to develop an analysis of how neocolonialism operates in the world through contemporary Western practices and productions. Certainly, it is already clear from these respective definitions that there is much common ground between the two fields of study. Indeed, Krishnaswamy argues that earlier theoretical divisions between postcolonialism and postmodernism have "given way to a much cozier fit between the postcolonial and the global" such that "the two seem to have become one and the same"(Krishnaswamy, 3). This volume sets out to articulate what the historical and ideological convergence between these two academic fields might entail by drawing on essays from thinkers across the humanities and the social sciences. Broadly, the essays address questions related to globalized capital, imperialism, the politics of identity and culture, and the possibility of resisting capitalist imperialism.

Three essays in this volume directly tackle the question of how global capitalism operates today. Ramon Grosfoguel's essay calls for a critical dialogue between the world-system approach and postcolonial critique. His essay is one of the few in this volume that bring into relief the central tensions between globalization theory and postcolonial studies, which he succinctly summarizes as the "culture versus economy dilemma"(100). Importantly, he argues that this is in fact a 'false dilemma' and highlights the possibilities for a convergence between the two fields. His essay is certainly worth engaging with to get a sense of what the central points of divergence are between these two fields and how a dialogue between them can unfold. The other two essays on global capital by Anouar Majid and Leslie Sklair do not explicitly stimulate a dialogue between globalization theory and postcolonial studies. Majid's article is nevertheless representative of the increasing concern within postcolonial studies of the effects of capitalism on cultural sovereignty, and Leslie Sklair's article provides an extremely useful re-conceptualization of the bourgeoisie as the Transnational Capitalist Class in the current phase of capitalism.

Imperialism is woven through these essays as a theme, but two essays in this volume tackle the issue most explicitly. John McMurtry's essay critiques postmodernism and postcolonialism as the hidden logic of the capitalist empire, through its anti-foundationalist, antiessentialist celebration of pluralism and difference. He conceptualizes postmodernism and postcolonialism as the ideological veneer that masks the unfreedom and inequality of capitalist imperialism. This line of critique is by no means ground-breaking today and perpetuates the tendency to depict postmodernism as a monolithic system of thought. Moreover, McMurtry conflates postmodernism with postcolonial theory without recognizing the historical and ideological differences between the two bodies of thought. Despite its problems, it is a critique that is worth being familiar with, if only to understand the basic position against postmodern and postcolonial theory. Ruth Buchanan and Sundhya Pahuja on the other hand provide a much more critical and sophisticated engagement with the issue of imperialism in the contemporary world. …

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