IR2501 – week 8 lectures
II – Postcolonial Studies
Inter-disciplinary field of study involving all
humanities, arts and social sciences
Especially prominent in literary and cultural studies, but
recent impact on IR
Aim: to analyse ‘the postcolonial condition’
Questions that transition to independence is
smooth, or unproblematic
What is the long term legacy of the Imperial era (political,
How meaningful is independence?
Who writes the history of colonialism? – have the ‘victors’
created a fantasy of a positive impact rather than
oppression and exploitation?
Power-knowledge nexus of Imperialism
deconstructive critique of techniques of Othering
Subjectivity of subaltern subjects
Debates on the representation of marginalised voices in social
conceptions of the nation
Ranajit Guha and the ‘Subaltern Studies Group’
Rewriting history from the perspective of the colonised
‘Decentering’ the production of academic knowledge
Intellectual agendas in Postcolonial
How can we re-write history to account for the
perspective of native populations?
What would be the impact on contemporary analyses and
How can we have a non-oppressive academic
‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’
Does Western scholarship have the tools of speak of ‘other’
Debates on universalism in values
Why are the concerns and views of Western scholars
and policy-makers taken more seriously than those of
thinkers from the ‘margins’?
Agenda-setting by the powerful that excludes voices and
indigenous concerns of most of the world
Challenges and Debates
Main debate in postcolonial theory: Neo-Marxist vs.
Over-stating the discursive aspects hides the material
components of neo-imperialism? i.e. too stuck with talking
Importance of discussing increasingly subtle mechanisms for
surveillance, control and exploitation should not be
dismissed: discursive masks of colonialism change over
Resilience of Orientalism as a mechanism for
E.g. civilising mission of the War on Terror?
Risk of over-emphasising colonialism as a marker:
p/c states vary, and elites should take share of the
blame for ease of their own corruption
Implications for International Relations
Seemingly very focused micro-theory, but the implications are
fundamental to IR: Theorisation of power, in terms of Empire,
relating to the material and discursive aspects of power
Realist Foreign policy and the international system as a
‘rational’, predictable setting…IR is full of cultural
assumptions and lacks objectivity
E.g. racist US assumptions about Japan shaping WWII
policy and academic discourses on the ‘developing’ world
Categories chosen and linear, Western-centric, scale of development
set out ill-suited goals which postcolonial societies cannot but fail to
Assuming a level playing field of globalisation that hides growing
inequalities steeped in a long history, and structurally reinforced
Hides ideological underpinnings of ‘good governance’ discourse
Can there be an IR without ‘Othering’?
Connection to wider post-structuralist agendas: is
exclusion a feature of identity?
David Campbell: the state defines its identity through
Greater regional cooperation maintains boundaries – e.g.
EU: even common identities need an ‘outside’
Connection to wider neo-Gramscian thought and
World Systems Theory/Dependencia School
Is the developed world ‘developed’ precisely because the
developing world isn’t?
Discourse of the liberal growth (through free trade)
and the liberal peace (through intervention) imply
that everyone is can be a ‘winner’ in IR…
Is this structurally possible?
Does Orientalism apply to analyses of the
contemporary Middle East?
Does it apply to other parts of the ‘Global South’?
What lies behind dominant discourses in IR, and IR
Is IR theory fundamentally Western-centric?
Does it put a veneer of legitimacy and rationality on
exclusion and exploitation?
What opportunities are there for marginalised
sections of populations, cultures or parts of the
world to speak for themselves... and to be heard?