(Post)colonial

The final post in our mini-series on the postcolonial offers a version of the term that attempts to signal to the critical perspectives that have been raised by scholars and that were pointed to in the first two posts in the series.

The central tension underlying critiques of postcolonial theory comes from those that are committed to a project of decoloniality – and who consequently see postcolonialism as a predominantly theoretical endeavour that neglects the programmatic or actionable in favour of privileging the analytical – thereby reinforcing dominant structures of power. Whilst some postcolonialists have indeed concentrated on the material, the school arose from cultural critics such as Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak – thinkers whose work leant more towards post-structuralism. Decolonial theory, on the other hand, arose from sociologists who ascribed more to the economic focuses of world-systems theory.

The other crucial difference between decolonial modes of thinking and postcolonialism is where the two schools locate the founding nexus of coloniality. For early postcolonialists, Said’s Orientalism identifies this as the invention of the exoticised ‘Orient’ as a construction against which the West could come to define itself. The decolonial critique of this is, as sociologist Gurminder K. Bhambra notes, that coloniality ‘starts with the earlier European incursions upon the lands that came to be known as the Americas from the fifteenth century onwards’.[1]

In light of these important critiques, alongside the tendency to read the ‘post’ in postcolonial as suggestive of a clean break with colonialism, the term (post)colonial attempts to call attention to these critiques whilst acknowledging the important contributions that have come from the field. The parenthesis are a little overly-stylised, perhaps, but neatly do the work of critiquing whether we have indeed moved past colonialism or whether we need to look deeper into de-linking ourselves from the project of coloniality altogether.


[1] Gurminder K. Bhambra, ‘Postcolonial and decolonial dialogues’, Postcolonial Studies, 17, (2), 2014, p. 115.

Useful readings: Gurminder K. Bhambra, ‘Postcolonial and decolonial dialogues’, Postcolonial Studies, 17, (2), 2014, p. 115.

Ramón Grosfoguel, ‘Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political-Economy: Transmodernity,Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality, Transmodernity, 1, (1), 2011

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