Post-Colonial Theory

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  • Topic: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Homi K. Bhabha
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  • Published : December 16, 2012
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Post-colonial Theory

What it is:

• the study of interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized; • an examination of the impact of the European conquest, colonisation and domination of non-European lands, peoples, and cultures; • an analysis of the inherent ideas of European superiority over non-European peoples and cultures; • an analysis of the role of representation in installing and perpetuating such notions.

From the point of view of colonised peoples, Western traditions of thought and literature have dominated world culture, marginalising or even excluding non-Western traditions and forms of cultural life and expression.

Key concepts in post-colonial theory therefore include:

Representation
Identity
History

Who are the key players?

Edward Said (1935-2003)

A Palestinian literary critic best known for his work Orientalism pub. 1978. Said use the term Orient to refer to North African Arab and Middle Eastern peoples and cultures who are represented as the binary opposite of Western or occidental cultures. For Said representations of the orient serve to reimpose colonial domination by suggesting that oriental culture is inferior/negative in relation to Western culture. This can be summarised as follows:

|Western culture |Oriental culture | |Has its own history |Has history imposed on it | |Rational, normal |Strange, bizarre, irrational | |Masculine features of activity and domination |Feminine features of possessiveness and submission | |Morally superior, virtuous |Degenerate, lazy, weak, immoral |

Franz Fanon (1925-61)

Born in Martinique, his theoretical beliefs were shaped by his experiences as a member of the Free French Forces during WW2, due to the fact that black soldiers were treated as subordinate and experienced racism.

Fanon’s work can be divided into three stages:

1. the search for black identity
2. the struggle against colonialism
3. the process of decolonisation.

The search for black identity was explored by Fanon in his book Black Skin, White Masks (1967). Fanon suggested that colonised peoples were made to feel inferior and alienated from their own culture, because the history, culture, language, customs and beliefs of the colonisers were promoted as universal, normative and superior. Paradoxically, this lead to the colonised people adopting these cultures and beliefs in an attempt to make themselves feel less inferior.

The struggle against colonialism grew out of Fanon’s involvement in the Algerian war of independence from France (1954-62). Fanon believed that in order to achieve independence, colonised peoples needed to reclaim and reconstruct their own history from the negative/non-existent versions of it produced by the colonisers.

The process of decolonisation for Fanon involved post-colonial nations developing their own forms of social democracy rather retaining existing colonial institutions and filling them with indigenous people. He also believed that colonised peoples should be aware that their education was based on the ideologies and beliefs of the colonisers.

Homi K. Bhabha (b. 1949)

Born in India and now a professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, Bhabha is known for two main works: Nation and Narration (editor 1990) and The Location of Culture (1994).

In Nation and Narration Bhabha argues against the tendency to treat all post-colonial cultures the same, challenging the assumption that they have a shared identity. According to Bhabha, all ideas of the nation are narratives...
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