Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Critique of Post-Colonialism

During my absence from the internet I read a  lot about post-colonialism. It seems to suffer from a number of problems as a coherent field and despite reading thousands of pages I still don't grasp exactly what it all means. If all it means is that the damage done to indigenous societies by colonialism did not end with formal independence and that "post-colonial" writers are people staking out a position in opposition to that damage then it is not very useful. Firstly, because while everybody agrees that despite antecedents in the work of Frantz Fanon that post-colonialism only developed in the wake of the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism in 1978. Yet, the idea that colonized societies continued to suffer the effects of colonialism after formal independence and that people in Africa and elsewhere should actively oppose these aftereffects predates Said's work by over a decade. Kwame Nkrumah's, Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage in Imperialism was published in 1965 to a very negative reaction by the Johnson administration which actively assisted his overthrow in a military coup the following year. Nkrumah's work clearly showed that the economic relations between African countries and their former colonial masters continued to exist to the detriment of Africa despite formal decolonization and nominal political independence. As a descriptive term neo-colonialism in considerably clearer than post-colonialism or postcoloniality. In line with Nkrumah's work the 1960s and 1970s saw a number of scholars unambiguously and critically write about the continued economic exploitation of Africa by the former colonial powers. This was part of a larger intellectual development that saw the emergence of dependency theory, world systems theory, and the concept of underdevelopment. Authors such as Andres Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, and Walter Rodney clearly argued that there was a continuing negative effect on international economic structures and patterns as a result of prior colonial rule. Yet with the exception of Robert Young there seems to be almost no acknowledgement of this earlier work by present day post-colonial scholars. Instead these post-colonial writers seem to have largely rejected the central importance of political economy in favor of an overwhelming emphasis on European representative culture, particularly literary culture, as the central problem facing Asia and Africa during the last couple of centuries. Of course Africa itself is greatly underrepresented by these writers who tend to be Indian and like the Palestinian Edward Said professors of literature rather than historians, political scientists, and economists. It seems to me that Rodney was correct in noting that the marginalization and exploitation of Africa was primarily a matter of the imbalance of power between Africa and Europe rather than resulting from any discourse. In other words the negative portrayals, images, and representations of of Africa in Europe and the the US have been crafted to justify inequalities and exploitation imposed by other means. They are not the cause these inequalities in themselves, but rather one of its effects.

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