Postcolonial Essay Questions

Indeed, Sara Berry reveals how during indirect rule, ‘Africans took advantage of officials’ interest in tradition to offer evidence favourable to their own interests’ and often managed to gain access to productive resources.[5] In this way, we can see how ‘Postcolonial theory encourages a refocusing of IR, away from the traditional domain of states, militaries, and diplomacy, toward people, identities, and resistance.’[6] Postcolonialism therefore extends the legitimate areas of study in International Relations (IR) away from simply the West, with its strong military and economic powers, and into the East and those who would usually be considered weak – and therefore nondescript – in the international system.

This takes us beyond Realism and its exclusive focus on Western great powers, and also Gramscian Marxism with its more nuanced but nevertheless absolutist take on Western hegemony.

[14] Upon this realisation of the connection and constitutive relationship of the East and West, the next tent of Postcolonialism will be discussed; the hybrid nature of civilisations.

Postcolonialism attempts to deconstruct ‘orientalist binary categorisation (eg master-slave, coloniser-colonised, civilised-uncivilised, white-black), into which the ‘other’ is invariably incorporate’ and ‘seeks to preserve heterogeneity’.[15] These dichotomies of self and other are revealed to be Orientalist in holding schemas of triumphalist European historiography which ‘justify imperial political economies, and their systems of laws and morals’; the perception imbued within much of the orthodox IR theory that informs world politics.[16] This is reflected in Huntington’s thesis on ‘The Clash of Civilisations’, where he argues that ‘Western civilisation is both Western and modern’, and that ‘non-Western civilisations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western’.[17] These beliefs in the primacy of the West as the sole bearer of modernity, and the East as an irrational and potentially dangerous entity ignore the osmotic and mutually constitutive nature of civilisations throughout history.

Eastern) ‘resource portfolios’ through oriental globalisation was so significant that it underpinned the rise of the West’.

[10] Postcolonialism must therefore move beyond the tunnel-vision it currently suffers and open up its analytical focus, especially when considering the relevance of earlier historical periods for the approach, as is revealed by Hobson.

Whilst it is certainly true that Postcolonialism entails a ‘multiplicity of perspectives, traditions, and approaches to questions of identity, culture, and power’ and spans across many academic disciplines, this essay will seek to draw together the major strands of argument which bind the Postcolonial approach as a whole.[1] These will be understood as: the rehabilitation of Eastern agency and subaltern voices within history, the hybrid nature of societies and the power of identity and cultural discourses.

Through critical engagement with these tenets, a set of theoretical tensions which underlie them will be highlighted.

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Such an understanding of the hybridisation of identity has clear implications for orthodox IR approaches and the idea of a Huntington-esque clash of civilisations, especially when considering hybridity ‘as a measure of local agency in the face of globalization’.[19] However, an immediate problem can be seen here in regards to hybridity.

If bipolarity and dichotomy in world politics is to be deconstructed and hybridity recognised, then why does Postcolonialism insist on retaining the use of East and West as units for analysis?

After all, ‘the creative adaptation, interpretation and transformation of Western cultural symbols and practices’ in colonial societies reveals hybridisation, alongside the fact that ‘colonialism irrevocably transformed the identities of those involved, on sides’.[18] As such, the point is not just that the subalterns had agency, it is that this agency shaped the identity of the colonisers and vice versa.

The dichotomies of self and other created through Orientalism can therefore be deconstructed, as no such line exists within this mutually constitutive relationship.

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