Postcolonialism (postcolonial theory, post-colonial theory) is an intellectual discourse that holds together a set of theories found among the texts and sub-texts of philosophy, film, political science and literature. These theories are reactions to the cultural legacy of colonialism.

As a literary theory (or critical approach), it deals with literature produced in countries that once were colonies of other countries, especially of the European colonial powers Britain, France, and Spain; in some contexts, it includes countries still in colonial arrangements. It also deals with literature written in colonial countries and by their citizens that has colonised people as its subject matter. Colonized people, especially of the British Empire, attended British universities; their access to education, still unavailable in the colonies, created a new criticism - mostly literary, and especially in novels. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union during the late 20th century, its former republics became the subject of this study as well. [cite book|author=Gaurav Gajanan Desai, Supriya Nair|date=2005|title=Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism|publisher=Rutgers University Press|url=] Edward Said's 1978 "Orientalism" has been described as a seminal work in the field. [cite web|title=Introduction to Postcolonial Studies|url=|date=2006-02-02|publisher=Emory University|accessdate=2008-04-21]

ubject matters

Postcolonialism deals with cultural identity in colonised societies: the dilemmas of developing a national identity after colonial rule; the ways in which writers articulate and celebrate that identity (often reclaiming it from and maintaining strong connections with the coloniser); the ways in which the knowledge of the colonised (subordinated) people has been generated and used to serve the coloniser's interests; and the ways in which the coloniser's literature has justified colonialism via images of the colonised as a perpetually inferior people, society and culture. These inward struggles of identity, history, and future possibilities often occur in the metropolis and, ironically, with the aid of postcolonial structures of power, such as universities. Not surprisingly, many contemporary postcolonial writers reside in London, Paris, New York and Madrid.

The creation of binary opposition structures the way we view others. In the case of colonialism, the Oriental and the Westerner were distinguished as different from each other (i.e. the emotional, decadent Orient vs. the principled, progressive Occident). This opposition justified the "white man's burden," the coloniser's self-perceived "destiny to rule" subordinate peoples. In contrast, post-colonialism seeks out areas of hybridity and transculturalization. This aspect is particularly relevant during processes of globalization.

In "Post-Colonial Drama: theory, practice, politics," Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins write: "the term postcolonialismndash according to a too-rigid etymologyndash is frequently misunderstood as a temporal concept, meaning the time after colonialism has ceased, or the time following the politically determined Independence Day on which a country breaks away from its governance by another state, Not a naïve teleological sequence which supersedes colonialism, postcolonialism is, rather, an engagement with and contestation of colonialism's discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies ... A theory of postcolonialism must, then, respond to more than the merely chronological construction of post-independence, and to more than just the discursive experience of imperialism." [Helen Gilbert, Joanne Tompkins, Post-Colonial Drama: theory, practice, politics, Routledge 1996, ISBN 0415090237]

Colonized peoples reply to the colonial legacy by "writing back to the center", when the indigenous peoples write their own histories and legacies using the coloniser's language (e.g. English, French, Dutch) for their own purposes. [Bill Ashcroft, "The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature" (1990)] "Indigenous decolonization" is the intellectual impact of postcolonialist theory upon communities of indigenous peoples, thereby, their generating postcolonial literature.

A single, definitive definition of postcolonial theory is controversial; writers have strongly criticised it as a concept embedded in identity politics. Ann Laura Stoler, in "Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power," argues that the simplistic oppositional binary concept of "Coloniser and Colonised" is more complicated than it seems, since these categories are fluid and shifting; postcolonial works emphasise the re-analysis of categories assumed to be natural and immutable.

Postcolonial Theory - as metaphysics, ethics, and politics - addresses matters of identity, gender, race, racism and ethnicity with the challenges of developing a post-colonial national identity, of how a colonised people's knowledge was used against them in service of the coloniser's interests, and of how knowledge about the world is generated under specific relations between the powerful and the powerless, circulated repetitively and finally legitimated in service to certain imperial interests. At the same time, postcolonial theory encourages thought about the colonised's creative resistance to the coloniser and how that resistance complicates and gives texture to European imperial colonial projects, which utilised a range of strategies, including anti-conquest narratives, to legitimise their dominance.

Postcolonial writers object to the colonised's depiction as hollow "mimics" of Europeans or as passive recipients of power. Consequent to Foucauldian argument, postcolonial scholars, i.e. the Subaltern Studies collective, argue that anti-colonial resistance accompanies every deployment of power.

The Middle East and national identity

In the last decade, Middle Eastern studies and research produced works focusing upon the colonial past's effects on the internal and external political, social, cultural, and economic circumstances of contemporary Middle Eastern countries; cf. Raphael Israeli's "Is Jordan Palestine?" [in: "Israel, Hashemites and the Palestinians: The Fateful Triangle", Efraim Karsh and P.R. Kumaraswamy (eds.)(London: Frank Cass, 2003), pp.49-66 and also Nazih Ayubi's "Overstating the Arab State" (Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2001) pp.86-123] A particular focus of study is the matter of Western discourses about the Middle East, and the existence or the lack of national identity formation: [ Sadiki, L. (2004) "The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses" India: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd ]

“... [M] ost countries of the Middle East, suffered from the fundamental problems over their national identity. More than three-quarters of a century after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, from which most of them emerged, these states have been unable to define, project, and maintain a national identity that is both inclusive and representative”. [ Kumaraswamy, P, R (March 2006) “Who am I?: The Identity Crisis in the Middle East” The Middle East Review of International Affairs Volume 10, No. 1, Article 5, p 1]

Independence and the end of colonialism have not ended social fragmentation and war in the Middle East.Fact|date=July 2008 Larbi Sadiki wrote in "The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses" (2004), because European colonial powers drew borders discounting peoples, ancient tribal boundaries and local history, the Middle East’s contemporary national identity problem can be traced back to imperialism and colonialism.

Kumaraswamy writes that "in places like Iraq and Jordan, leaders of the new state were brought in from the outside, [and] tailored to suit colonial interests and commitments. Likewise, most states in the Persian Gulf were handed over to those who could protect and safeguard imperial interests in the post-withdrawal phase", [ Kumaraswamy, P.R. (March 2006) “Who am I?: The Identity Crisis in the Middle East” The Middle East Review of International Affairs Volume 10, No. 1, Article 5, p.1]

According to Sadiki, "with notable exceptions like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, most [countries] ... had to [re-] invent, their historical roots" after colonialism. Therefore, "like its colonial predecessor, postcolonial identity owes its existence to force". [ Sadiki, L. (2004) "The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses" India: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd p.122]


The interior of Africa was not colonised until almost the end of the 19th century, yet the impact of colonialism was even more significant to the indigenous cultures, especially because of the Scramble for Africa. The increasingly efficient railroad helped European powers to gain control over all regions of Africa, with the British particularly emphasizing goals of conquer. The British Empire sought to build a single railroad through the continent and succeeded in building tracks from Egypt to Cape Town.

Many African empires existed in the pre-colonial era, such as the Ashanti, Ghana Empire and Edo Empire. Nigeria was home to the Haussa, Yoruba and Igbo cultures and Chinua Achebe was among the first to take up this history in the construction of a postcolonial identity, as in Things Fall Apart.

Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o was educated at the British University of Leeds and wrote the first postcolonial East African novel, Weep Not, Child, in 1964. The later The River Between addresses postcolonial religious issues. His essay "Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature" is considered one of the most important pieces of African literary criticism.

Criticism of focusing on national identity

Scholars criticise and question the recent post-colonial focus on national identity. The Moroccan scholar Bin 'Abd al-'Ali argues that what is seen in contemporary Middle Eastern studies is 'a pathological obsession with ... identity'. [ Bin 'Abd al-'Ali quoted in Nazih Ayubi's "Overstating the Arab State" (Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2001)p.148] Nevertheless, Kumaraswamy and Sadiki argue that the problem of the lack of Middle Eastern identity formation is widespread, and that identity is an important aspect of understanding the politics of the contemporary Middle East. Whether the countries are Islamic regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia), republican regimes (i.e. Egypt, Syria, and Algeria), quasi-liberal monarchies (i.e. Jordan and Bahrain), democracies (i.e. Israel and Turkey), or evolving democracies (i.e. Iran and Palestine), ‘the Middle Eastern region suffers from the inability to recognize, integrate, and reflect its ethno-cultural diversity.’ [ Kumaraswamy (March 2006) “Who am I?: The Identity Crisis in the Middle East” in The Middle East Review of International Affairs Volume 10, No.1, Article 5, p.1]
Ayubi (2001) questions if what Bin 'Abd al-'Ali described as an obsession with national identity may be explained by 'the absence of a championing social class?' [Nazih Ayubi, "Overstating the Arab State" (Bodmin: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2001)p.148]

Founding works on postcolonialism

*Aimé Césaire: "Discourse on Colonialism" (1950)
*Frantz Fanon: "Black Skin, White Masks" (1952)
*Frantz Fanon: "The Wretched of the Earth" (1961)
*Albert Memmi: "The Colonizer and the Colonized" (1965)
*Kwame Nkrumah: "Consciencism" (1970)
*Edward Said: "Orientalism" (1978)

Other important works

*Guy Ankerl. "Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations", Geneva INU PRESS; 2000 ISBN2-88155-004-5
*Ashis Nandy. "". (1983)
*Ashis Nandy. "" (1987).
*Balagangadhara. "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion." (1994, 2nd ed. 2005) ISBN 9004099433.
*Benita Parry: "Delusions and Discoveries" (1983)
*Gayatri Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988)
*Hamid Dabashi, "" (2007)
*Homi Bhabha: "The Location of Culture" (1994)
*Edward W. Said, "Culture and Imperialism" (1993)
*Valentin Mudimbe, "The Invention of Africa" (1988)
*Paulin J. Hountondji, "African Philosophy: Myth & Reality" (1983)
*Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, (1986) "Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature"
*Bill Ashcroft The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature (1990)
*Robert J.C. Young "Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction" (2001)
*Trinh T. Minh-ha, "Infinite Layers/Third World?" (1989)
*Chandra Talpade Mohanty, "Under Western Eyes" (1986)
*Uma Narayan, "Dislocating Cultures" (1997), and "Contesting Cultures"(1997)
*Leela Gandhi "Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction". Columbia University Press:1998 ISBN 0-231-11273-4.
*Anne McClintock, "The angel of progress: pitfalls of the term 'postcolonialism'" "Colonial Discourse/Postcolonial Theory", edited by M. Baker, P. Hulme and M. Iverson (1994)
*Bartholomew Dean and Jerome Levi eds., "At the Risk of Being Heard: Indigenous Rights, Identity, and Postcolonial States" (2003) University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-06736-2 [] [,hlasretro]
*Achille Mbembe, "On the postcolony", edited by The Regents of the University of California (2000)
*Declan Kiberd, "Inventing Ireland" (1995)
*Ernesto "Che" Guevara: "Colonialism is Doomed"
*Prem Poddar and David Johnson, "A Historical Companion of Postcolonial Thought" (2005)
*Partha Chatterjee (1993)"Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-colonial Histories", Princeton University Press.
*Walter Mignolo: "The Idea of Latin América" (2005)
*Walter Mignolo: "Local histories/global designs: Coloniality" (1999)
*Gayatri Spivak: "The poscolonial critic" (1990)
*Gayatri Spivak: "Selected subaltern studies" (1988)
*Gayatri Spivak: "A critique of poscolonial reason: Towards a history of the vanishing present" (1999)

ee also

*Postcolonial literature
*Inversion in postcolonial theory
*Cultural Alienation
*Cultural cringe
*Edward Said
*Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
*Ranajit Guha "Subaltern Studies"
*Alamgir Hashmi "Commonwealth Literature: An Essay Towards the Re-definition of a Popular/Counter Culture"
*Chinua Achebe's
*Ranjit Hoskote
*Balagangadhara "Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap" ("Comparative Science of Cultures")

External links

* [ Postcolonial & Transnational Theories ]
* [ Communitarian Agonism] "Project for a postcolonial Nietzsche"
* [ Postcolonial Islam ]
* [ Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature]
*A special issue of the journal [ Labyrinthe. Atelier interdisciplinaire] , 2006 (in French): [ "Faut-il être postcolonial ?"]
* [ Paper about Post-Colonialism: Definition, Development and Examples from India]



*Bill Ashcroft (ed.) et al. "The Post-Colonial Studies Reader"
*Alamgir Hashmi "The Commonwealth, Comparative Literature and the World"

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • postcolonialism — noun An era or attitude relating to the period after the settlement of one country by another, or very broadly, after the 1960s, when many colonised countries gained their independence. See Also: postcolonial …   Wiktionary

  • postcolonialism — /poʊstkəˈloʊniəlɪzəm/ (say pohstkuh lohneeuhlizuhm) noun 1. an attitude of mind typical of those who have experienced colonial rule. 2. a philosophical, literary, or artistic theory that frames subjects in the context of the cultural aftermath of …   Australian English dictionary

  • Subaltern (postcolonialism) — Subaltern is a term that commonly refers to the perspective of persons from regions and groups outside of the hegemonic power structure. In the 1970s, the term began to be used as a reference to colonized people in the South Asian subcontinent.… …   Wikipedia

  • Neocolonialism — This article is about Neocolonialist political and economic critiques. For Neocolonial architecture, see Colonial Revival architecture. For expanded applications of economic analysis, see Economic imperialism (economics). World empires and… …   Wikipedia

  • Robert J.C. Young — Robert JC Young (born 1950) is a postcolonial theorist, cultural critic, and historian.He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, taught at the University of Southampton, and then returned to Oxford where he was Professor of English and Critical… …   Wikipedia

  • Postcolonial literature — (or Post colonial literature, sometimes called New English literature(s)), is a body of literary writings that reacts to the discourse of colonization. Post colonial literature often involves writings that deal with issues of de colonization or… …   Wikipedia

  • Anti-imperialism — Anti imperialism, strictly speaking, is a term that may be applied to or movement opposed to some form of imperialism. Generally, anti imperialism includes opposition to wars of conquest, particularly of non contiguous territory or people with a… …   Wikipedia

  • J. Neil Garcia — Infobox Person name = J. Neil C. Garcia image size = 120px caption = birth date = birth place = Philippines flagicon|Philippines death date = death place = education = occupation = Professor of English, Creative Writing and Comparative Literature …   Wikipedia

  • Outline of critical theory — The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to critical theory: Critical theory – examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two… …   Wikipedia

  • Imperialism in Asia — This article is part of the New Imperialism series. Origins of New Imperialism Imperialism in Asia The Scramble for Africa Theories of New Imperialism Imperialism in Asia traces its roots …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.