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Postcolonialism (otherwise written Post-Colonialism), is a method of literary criticism following on from New Historicism and Cultural Studies, beginning around the middle of the twentieth century following the surging independence colonies across Asia, Latin America and Africa. The movement gathered impetus in the late 1970s follow Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) followed by articles by other influential theorists and critics like Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi K. Bhaba. The Postcolonial movement helped reshape the world political stage with the growing recognition of international discourse across once-colonized peoples. Postcolonialism is multi-faceted in its ideologies, but unifying Postcolonial ideologies focus on cultural complexity, discourse between imperial and colonized powers, and the recognition of colonial influence continuing into modern day.

Integral Postcolonial Theorists

Edward Said

Edward Said, a prominent figure of Postcolonialism

Edward Said (November 1st 1935 - September 25th 2003) was one of the founding figures of Postcolonial studies, whose work, Orientalism, published in 1978, lead the charge into the analyzing the discourse between the West and East. Key concepts proposed by Said include the binary opposition between East and West, and the subsequent feminization of the East, and the Orientalist discourse as leading to a construction of characteristics attributed to both the East and West. Said drew inspiration from and was influenced by several theorists across the fields of Deconstructionism, Marxism and New Historicism, including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Noam Chomsky and Karl Marx

Early Life, Education and Academia

Said was born into a Palestinian family on November 1st, 1935, within the British Mandate of Palestine. He would later serve within the U.S. Expeditionary Force in World War I. He was literary theoretician, professor of English, history and comparative literature, and an outspoken proponent of political rights of the Palestinian people. Said graduated at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts 1951, achieved a B.A at Princeton University in 1957, followed by an M.A. (1960) and Ph.D. (1964) at Harvard University. He became a lecturer at Columbia University in English (1963), and then an assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature (1966). He became a full professor at Columbia in 1969, and worked there until his death in 2003.

List of Other Works

  • The Question of Palestine (1979)
  • Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (1981)
  • Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (1988)
  • The Politics of Dispossession (1994)
  • Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (1995).
  • The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983)
  • Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature: Yeats and Decolonization (1988)
  • Musical Elaborations (1991)
  • Culture and Imperialism (1993).

Theoretical Approach

Said argues that the West, through colonization has led to the creation of a colonial discourse that purports to characterize the East - or the Orient. Said's Orient, strictly in terms of his proposed theory, refers more to the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East, although his proposed ideas are readily applied to most colonial discourse as a whole. Said argued that the West, through observation and recounting, has characterized the East as sensual, exotic, promiscuous, excessively emotive and decadent. Said then goes on to argue that, as a result of this characterization, the West has produced a set of traits that serve as the anti-thesis of the East: rational, logical, restrained, moderated, progressive, modern. This back and forth has then resulted in a discourse between the West and the perceived East. This division between East and West has come to be recognized as a binary opposition.

Edward Said's Orientalism

Said's analysis of this discourse has also led to the drawing of parallels between East and West onto misogynistic female and male representations, respectively. The East, and the colonized, is typically feminized as being promiscuous, lazy and irrational, while the West perceives itself as clear-headed, dependable and strong. Said argues, then, that colonization is not only the domination of land and culture, but also the impression of an identity onto the colonized that presents them as the dependent and subservient "feminine" figure, with the colonizers taking on a stereotypically "masculine" controlling figure. Said also argues that this process of feminizing and exoticising of the East is the projection of Western insecurities and fears onto a physical and opposable "Other".


Said has come under criticism for distinction between two clear "sides" in colonial and cultural discourse, arguing that the form of binary opposition is too clean-cut and insufficient in accounting for the blur of cultures that take place during colonization (as expressed by Bhabha) and also fails to build off of and account for the New Historicist views of cultural complexity and the impulse to break down and challenge binaries in favour of multiplicity. Said's ideology also bases itself on the idea of a "constructed" East, or Orient, that fails to create any definitive or substantial statement that speaks to the nature of the East independent of a Western perspective or discourse.

Homi K. Bhabha

Homi K. Bhabha (January 24th 1966 -) is major figure in the development of Postcolonial studies. His field of focus centres around the concepts of hybridization, mimicry and ambivalence, understanding that there exists a fluidity within cultural identities and borders - within colonizer-colonized interactions as well as the post-imperial world. He argued against Said's concept of binary opposition, adopting a more deconstructionist approach that contested that the world was possessed of a cultural complexity that defied binary opposition. Bhabha's influences include Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan

Education and Academia

Homi K. Bhabha, an influential Postcolonial theorist

Bhabha is a graduate of St. Mary's High School from Mumbai. He would later gain a B.A. from Bombay University, and an M.A. and Doc. from Christ Church, Oxford University. He later gained a senior fellowship at Princeton University, became a visiting professor at Old Dominion and the University of Pennsylvania, a faculty fellow at the school of Criticism and Theory, and a lecturer at the University of Sussex. He continues to be the Anne F. Rothenberg professor of English, American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Humanities Centre at Harvard University.

List of Works

  • On Art (forthcoming)
  • A Global Measure' (forthcoming)
  • The Right to Narrate (forthcoming)
  • Beyond Photography (2011)
  • Our Neighbours, Ourselves (2011)
  • Elusive Objects (2009); On Global Memory (2009)
  • The Black Savant and the Dark Princess (2006)
  • Framing Fanon (2005)
  • The Location of Culture (2004, Routledge Classics)
  • Still Life (2004)
  • Adagio (2004)

Theoretical Approach

Bhabha argues against Said's binary opposition, as well as Negritude, believing that both schools of thought inadequately describe the interaction between cultures.


Bhabha proposed the concept of Ambivalence, purporting that there was a fluidity involved in the process of colonization, where the practice of adopting of colonizer cultural practices was a natural result of human intermingling and cultural shifting, and that the stereotyping of the colonized nation spoke more to the insecurities and fears of the colonizer than it did representing the practices of the colonized. Bhabha remains skeptical of the concept of colonization being a struggle between opposite cultures.


Carrying over from New Historicism, Bhabha argues for a cultural complexity, or hybridity - a sense of cultural multiplicity and continuous cultural change across history regardless of colonial influence. He argues that an individual culture cannot return to a "pre-colonial" state but rather as being part of the greater "culture" of the international world-space. He sees borders as a sort of permeable membrane that sorts and shifts the cultural diversity of the people within. He ultimately argues that cultures have no distinct, permanent being, but rather sees them as shifting and defined by the people that carry them, interweaving and changing with where the people live and where they have lived – creating a hybrid or mix of cultures within a person.

False Stereotypes

Bhabha view stereotypes as deficient not because of their inaccuracies so much as because they represent a denial of the colonizer's outlook. He believes that stereotypes as are a projection of the “other” from the perspective of the stereotyper. (Echoing the Feminist “images-of-women"). The fault in stereotypes lies in the myopia of the stereotyper's perspective - the desire to create a static, immovable, universal image of culture.


Mimicry was the belief that the colonized inevitably take on some of the practices and attributes of the colonizers. This could be viewed as a sort of "internalized colonialism", or alternatively it could be viewed as a representation of the colonizeds' ambivalence. When the colonizers see the colonized, they see a "same but distinctly different" culture: a blend of both cultures but with a difference that can cause the colonizer to grow fearful and angry, threatening their racial identity and authority. Bhabha claims that the colonizers see their own gaze reflected back at them, forcing them to confront their own sense of privilege from the eyes of the "other".

On the reverse side, the colonizers are also compelled to imitate the colonized - exhibited in the practice to changing hair colour and styles to emulate those typically genetically attributed to those of certain colonized countries. Further more are examples of adapting musical techniques, or even parties or events "themed" around cultures. Bhabha theorizes that the colonizer mimicking the colonized is a potentially dangerous expression of the recognition of the other, and a desire to take on the traits that are normally suppressed and feared.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a major figure in postcolonial studies

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (February 24th 1942 -) is an Indian literary theorist who came in prominence through her translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology. Her theoretical approach blends Feminist Studies, Deconstructionism, Postcolonialism and Marxism. She notes the integral role that imperialism, particularly Britain's imperialist history, plays a significant but unacknowledged role in literature. She also believed that studying imperialism can help elaborate on the division and "worlding" of the Third World. Spivak, further, criticizes early Western, Anglo-American feminist literature as creating divisions between "First World" and "Third World" feminist movements, as well as the obsession with individual "strong women" that ignores the global effects of colonialism.

Early Life and Education

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (February 24th, 1942) was born in Kolkata, India. She received a Sangeet Visharad degree in North Indian Classical Music in Bhatkhande Academy in 1953. She would graduate at Kolkata in 1959, and then go on to study in Cambridge and Cornell Unviersity(PH.D.) until 1967.She would later go on to teach English and comparative literature in Iowa, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Columbia University. He was appointed University Professor at Columbia in 2007. Her translation of Derrida's De la grammatologie in 1967 raised her to prominence.

Other Works

  • Can the Subaltern Speak? (1985)
  • Essays in Cultural Politics (1987)
  • The Post-Colonial Critic (1990)
  • Thinking Academic Freedom in Gendered Post-Coloniality (1992)
  • Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993)
  • A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999)
  • Death of a Discipline (2003)
  • Other Asias (2005).

Theoretical Approach

Spivak believes that the study of imperialism and its influences on British literature can help explain the "worlding" of Third World countries - essentially understanding the formation of this "other" as seen through discourse influenced by a colonizing history. She saw the Third World as much a part of the metropolitan as the metropolitan was part of the Third World. Her ideas resonate strongly with the ideals of hybridity and interconnectedness as expressed byNew Historicism and Homi K. Bhabha.

Spivak criticized early Anglo-American feminist literature and literary criticism, essentially their "images-of-women" feminism for their narcissistic obsession with the individualist "strong woman" that compromised and was even blind to the influences of colonialism and imperialism. Spivak believed that the sense of independence and individuality possessed by these critics and authors was earned on the backs of women from the Third World, seeing these Third World women as weaker, disrespectful, and lacking the impetus and self-assurance of Anglo-American women. Moreover, in telling women from the Third World to "respect themselves" and challenge their societies (by openly defying harmful customs), Spivak believes these women take on the characteristics of Imperialists and imperial delusions, working under assumptions and self-assured beliefs that are blind to the actuality of the situations they judge.

The Subaltern

Spivak's work Can the Subaltern Speak(1985) addresses the issue of the oppressed Third World woman, particularly in terms of Indian women and their practice of sati - self-immolation following the death of their husband. Dating back to British colonialism, imperial powers often saw themselves as being "betters" who sought to abolish destructive and barbaric customs. The origin of the question as to whether the "subaltern" (people of inferior power) can "speak" finds itself in the question of whether a woman can really choose whether she wants to be immolated or not.

On one hand, a woman is bound by convention, tradition and faith to commit to sati. Her "choice" to immolate may not be her choice, but the choice of her society and cultural expectations. However, to dispute her and claim that her choice is not her own is again to deprive her decision. As British colonizers faced the dilemma during their time - choosing to abolish the practice and risk damaging tradition, or let it continue and live with the damning practice - so does Spivak and her readers in ascertaining the true nature of the choice women make.

Spivak's work has spurred both controversy and discourse, and given her multifacted influences, she finds it difficult to reach any conclusion to answer whether the "subaltern can speak". Although she did eventually "conclude" that "the subaltern cannot speak" (which unto itself as caused great division and argument), the nature of Spivak's discourse itself, rather than the ultimate result, is what spurs postcolonial studies into the complexity of not only interweaving cultures, but also the preservation of "individual" cultures in the international modernity.

Progression of Postcolonial Theory


Postcolonial study was, up until the development of the theory was brutal and negative, with the modern goal of Postcolonial theory to make literary criticism as international as the production of literature

Different parties within Postcolonial Studies

Postcolonial studies include the study of colonizers, colonies and former colonies. Colonies are further divided into Settler Colonies and Occupation Colonies, along with Internal Colonies. In the wake of peaceful colonial extrication, the weakened colonized country is swept up by more powerfulnations, creating a sort of oligarchy and concentrating the majority of resources into a single few centres – forming a Neo-colonialism or sorts.

Settler Colonies

Settler colonies include India and Nigera - a smaller portion of the colonizers remain in the colonized country

Occupation Colonies

Occupation colonies include Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where colonizers move in permanently and develop across further generations

Internal Colonies

Colonies that exist within largely colonized zones, namely within Occupation colonies. These include Native American reservations. .

Cultural Hybridity

In the wake of reduction in colonialism, Postcolonial studies acknowledged the concept of cultural hybridity and the belief that the colonized and the colonizers take on characteristics from one another. It also develops the assertion that cultural multiplicity though diaspora, exile and migration of refugees to other colonized zones, and former colonizers moving to former colonized areas.

In the face of diminishing forms of "traditional" colonialism, larger, multifaceted international corporations begin imposing a sort of new colonization on the world, exploiting wages, working conditions and environmental devastation. On the modern stage, there is also a greater sense of national and commercial interconnectedness, transforming the concept of nationality into a more fluid, multifaceted identity rather than distinct and grounded.


A movement led by Leopold Senghor (Senegalese) and Aime Cesaire (Martinican), Negritude called for a pride in Blackness, and believed that all black races share a collective personality.. Negritude reversed the view colonizers had of the colonized as "barbarians".

Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian Nobel Prize winning playwright, claimed that Negritude was excessively defensive, being too declarative in black pride and less so involved in actually acting on this pride.

Franz Fanon

Franz Fanon was a practitioner of anti-colonial resistance who fought in WWII in the French Army. In 1954, he joined the FLN in the Algerian War against the French colonial forces. He believed that colonial violence could only be counteracted by violence on the part of the colonized to gain independence. He also believed that, during negotiations, that the elite of the community present only had their only interests at heart, betraying the needs and desires of the larger colonized people.

Franz Fanon feared that the "collective personality" that Negritude sustained instilled a sense of sameness and homogeneity in the black community that played directly into colonizer stereotypes of the races - he believed that Negritude suffered from a romantic oversimplification. He saw distortions in the romanticization of per-colonial culture because all cultures change and evolve over time.

Language and Colonialism

Kenyan Novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o argued that former colonized nations should use literature from their native tongue and not from that of the colonizer.

Nigerian Novelist Chunua Achebe argued that the language, be it English or French etc., was adapted to suit the country, rather than being the language of the colonizers. Achebe claims that he wrote not in British English, but in African English

Edward Said

Edward Said's Orientalism introduced formal post-colonial discourse, arguing that Western observation and experience with the East (in Said's argument, the Middle East, but the theory has expanded to East Asia, South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Western minorities) has developed a colonial discourse that exoticizes the "East" while, consequently, portraying the West as rational and dominant.

Said's argument portraying the East and West as engaged in a form of binary opposition has received criticism from several later proponents of postcolonialism, claiming that binary opposition divides cultures along too distinctive and clear cut lines and fails to account for cultural complexity.

Homi K. Bhabha

Homi K. Bhabha presents an array of theories that deal with reinforcing the notion of cultural complexity, especially on the modern world stage. He argues that the colonized and colonizers adopt cultural traits from one another, but that each individual group progresses culturally despite influence from the other.

Bhabha argues that people, through their movement within the world and across different races, interweave cultures to form a hybrid or mix of values and traditions. He sees stereotyping and compartmentalizing of colonized groups as being a reflection of the fears of cultural replication and insecurities within the colonizer groups.

Bhabha's primary concepts include Ambivalence, Mimicry and Hybridity

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Spivak's ideals were a coalescence of Feminism, Marxism, Deconstructionism and Postcolonial Theory, Spivak believes that Imperialism was and continues to be an integral part of British Literature, but that the study of British literature largely ignores the colonial and imperialistic aspect of history. She criticizes "images-of-women" feminism as being narcissistically obsessed with the individual image of the "strong woman" with obliviousness to imperial or colonial influences.

Spivak sees "individuality" (which is to say, drawing divisive distinctions between similar groups of colonized or oppressed people) as being part of the suppressed logic of colonialism. Her view is that Metropolitan feminist individualism has been earned on the backs of subjugated third world women, with these feminists taking on an imperial mentality and placing themselves in a self-glorifying position to embark on a "social mission" to "better" the third world woman.


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