Postcolonial Studies emerged as an academic field in the wake of the publication of Edward W. Said’s ground-breaking book, Orientalism. The contours of this field were further shaped by Homi K. Bhabha’s collection of essays, The Location of Culture, and Gayatri C. Spivak’s Preface to Derrida’s Of Grammatology and her oft-cited article, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’. While this triumvirate of critical literary scholars formed the canonical hub of Postcolonial Studies, they were augmented by many others from across the humanities and social sciences. Alongside the inclusion of scholars associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies – such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy – and the Subaltern Studies collective – including Ranajit Guha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gyan Prakash – Postcolonial Studies was also defined by its retrospective inclusion of earlier scholar-activists such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Aime Césaire.
Postcolonial scholarship has been integral to the exercise of opening out and questioning the implied assumptions of the dominant discourses by way of which we attempt to make sense of the world we inhabit. It has further provided the basis from which to reclaim, as Spivak argues, ‘a series of regulative political concepts, the supposedly authoritative narrative of whose production was written elsewhere’ (1990: 225). The task, following Spivak, is less about the uncovering of philosophical ground than in ‘reversing, displacing, and seizing the apparatus of value-coding’ itself (1990: 228). The work of Edward Said, for example, takes seriously the question of how one represents other cultures at the same time as questioning what another culture is. Homi Bhabha similarly points towards the necessity of a dual engagement with social ethics and subject formation on the one hand, and (the representation of) contemporary inequalities and their historical conditions, on the other – as well, of course, as the relationships between these aspects.
Said, Edward W. 1995 . Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient with a new afterword. London: Penguin.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 1988. ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, pp271-316. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2014. ‘Postcolonial and Decolonial Dialogues,’ Postcolonial Studies 17 (2)
Gilroy, Paul 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Guha, Ranajit 1982. ‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’ in Ranajit Guha (ed.) Subaltern Studies I: Writings on South Asian History and Society, pp1-8. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Hall, Stuart 1992. ‘The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power’ in Stuart Hall and Brian Gieben (eds.) Formations of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press/ Open University.
Said, Edward W. 1994. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 1990. ‘Post-structuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value’ in Peter Collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds) Literary Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Discuss the general challenge posed by postcolonial theorists to standard understandings of social theory.
How specifically has the work of one of these authors extended standard understandings of a particular concept?
Does postcolonial theory manage to move beyond its location in the humanities to be relevant also to the social sciences?
What are the limits of the postcolonial challenge to social theory?
Submitted by Gurminder K Bhambra