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Post Colonial Studies
 by: Samir K. Dash

Postcolonialism has been defined as:

  • A description of institutional conditions in formerly colonial societies.

  • An abstract condition of the global condition after the colonial period.

  • A description of discourses informed by psychological and epistemological orientations.

  • the social, political, economic, and cultural practices which arise in response and resistance to colonialism.

  • This corresponds ' definition of postcolonial literature as, "an always present tendency in any literature of subjugation marked by a systematic process of cultural domination through the imposition of imperial structures of power," which as they point out implies that postcolonialism is "already implicit in the discourses of colonialism".

Postcolonialism, like other post-isms, does not signal a closing off of that which it contains (colonialism), or even a rejection (which would not be possible in any case), but rather an opening of a field of inquiry and understanding following a period of relative closure. Colonialism is an event which can be identified, given an historical definition, through its effects and characteristics as they reveal themselves in a given nation, among different cultural and social groupings.

Such writings as Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism (1993) discuss discourse analysis and postcolonial theory as tools for rethinking forms of knowledge and the social identities of colonial systems. As a result these tools can be applied to the recognition of modernism and modernity as part of may be called the colonial project of domination.

Debates on Postcolonialism are unresolved, yet issues raised in Said's book Orientalism (1978) critique Western descriptions which produce essential representations of Non-Euro-American others, because colonialism as a discourse is based on the ability of Western to enter, examine another culture, produce knowledge, and use that power against those countries.

Post colonial studies , over the last decade has been emerged both as

  • A meeting point

  • A background for verity of disciplines.

Post colonialism has been seen as a 'decisive, temporal marker of the decolonizing process'. But the fundamental to it is the concept that Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak had rised in 1985. in that year she threw a challenge to the race and blindness of the Western academy, asking "Can the subaltern speak?" her question was followed by the work by a collective intellectuals of 1980, now known as subaltern Studies group. Spivak raised the question to highlight that there exists a complicated relationship between the historian and the unknowing subjects of subaltern histories – which is very much fundamental to post-colonial studies as well as all subaltern and feministic studies.

After 1970's and 1980's , the new literature that emerged from the Commonwealth, has shattered the notions of 'centre' and 'periphery' on which post-colonial studies is (mistakenly) founded. If all nations at some point come under the sway of British E\imperialism are seen as post-colonial, then this term no longer does much useful distinguishing work.

After 1980's , the literary and cultural relativitism has shattered the "logo centric concept" of British or Western literature. Thus, there is no "centre" that can sustain post colonial studies, hence3 post colonialism has lost its meaning.

However the major points of the post colonial studies can be summarized roughly as under:

  • Post colonial aftermath: the post colonial aftermath is marked by the range of ambivalent cultural moods. This is what described by Albert Memi, Tunisian anti-colonial revolutionary and intellectual as a vision of a new world that will "magically emerge from the ruins of the colonialism". To this he adds that the aftermath is inevitably underestimates the psychological hold of the colonial past. For Edward said, this aftermath is the "dreadful secondariness".

  • Homi K. Bhabha and the role of memory: Bhabha believes that memory is necessary bridge between colonialism and question of one's cultural identity. Hence remembering is more than retrospection and is a painful 're-membering' of the 'dismembered past' of colonial history and this is a part of the identity that one bears in a post colonial era.

  • Culture and post colonial literature: The understanding of post-colonialism as a means largely for the descendents of the settler groups in the colonial-imperial process to claim authenticity and autonomy and purge the guilt of empire as a process which altered pre-modern civilization. This is attempted by firstly, separating themselves from the 'original' culture; and secondly, by increasing understanding their empire as a muted and ambiguous legacy among nations, ethnic groups and selves engaged in the culture of imperialism. Given this reading, post-colonial literature can be seen as a transitory phase of the wider cultural condition of the legacy of imperialism.

© Samir K. Dash, 2004

About The Author

Samir K. Dash is a UGC-NET qualified, MA (English) from Ravenshaw (auto) College, Cuttack, Orissa (India).

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This article was posted on March 21, 2005


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