Decolonizing Sociology: Is There Any Hope?

Decolonizing Sociology: Is There Any Hope?

The concept of social science is often seen as the product of specific conditions that occurred in a precise time and space in Western civilization. In fact, Immanuel Wallerstein stated that the social sciences are “an enterprise of the modern world. Its roots lie in the attempt, full-blown in the sixteenth century, and part and parcel of the construction of our modern world, to develop the systematic secular knowledge about reality that is somehow validated empirically” (Wallerstein, 1996:2). Therefore, analyzing, interpreting, and understanding the mentalities, attitudes, and realities of civilizations that share very little in common with Western societies has always been a difficult endeavor that too often leads to a prevailing Eurocentrism in the social sciences.

Studying all human civilizations from a Western perspective, in which all aspects of reality, whether historical or social are therefore organised and understood from said perspective, renders Western thinkers the sole architects of ideas and theories, while relegating non-Westerners and their entire body of knowledge to mere subjects of study. Once ripped from its own ontological and epistemological bases in order to be reinterpreted and contextualized according to a Western worldview, even the scientific knowledge produced by non-Westerners which had “a certain duty and function” in their civilizations loses both “its capability of explaining factual conditions and its virtue of being scientific” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 411).

The idea of a “master explanation of everything Islamic” guaranteed the continued survival of the Orientalist Grand Narrative when it comes to the study of Islam within Western Academia. The resilience of this narrative is not due so much to the result of an inherent strength of Orientalist scholarship, but rather the weakness of the non-essentialist alternatives being offered (Volpi, 2010:33). While postmodern epistemologies provide interesting new avenues of research, they nonetheless do not offer a real and robust alternative (Turner, 1994:101). The bulk of the literature pertaining to the topic of Islam in sociology tends to emphasize the politicization of the religious (or Islamism) at the expense of all the other factors that are shaping the Muslim world as a whole; hence, the persistence of the prevailing reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Muslim societies.

The present instability plaguing the modern Muslim political realm is the subject of much interest and debate in Western academia. Unfortunately, what often transpires from such studies is a rather Manichean view of Muslim societies as inherently despotic entities beholden to oriental despotism and opposed to the very concepts of modernity and progress (Kalmar, 2012:1).Orientalist thought introduced the notion that a civilization based upon Islamic precepts can only inspire undemocratic governments. Western contemporary readings of Muslim societies, for the most part, approach the subject “through the lenses of western concepts and methodologies” and in doing so reiterate unfortunately Orientalist assumptions and arguments (Volpi, 2009:22).

Ibn Khaldun elaborated a social and political philosophy centered around the concept of change. To him, no social order is everlasting and natural but rather historical, hence the “fundamental law to keep in mind about socio-political systems is that they are not static” (Kayapinar, 2008: 377). Ibn Khaldun not only reiterated the importance of change but he also offered a comprehensive analysis of its trajectory. Since every epoch and society has its own peculiarities, rules, and logic, understanding any socio-political and economic event within a certain context and timeframe requires knowing those precise characteristics. “Ibn Khaldun reduced the general dynamic of change into one single notion: assabiya” (Kayapinar, 2008: 378). According to him, this concept plays an essential role in this progression leading to change. “He established asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). So, ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings.

To understand the contemporary politics of the Muslim world, it is necessary to begin by analyzing the traditional model, social symbols, and ideologies which have informed every aspect of community life for centuries and have been brutally interrupted by the advent of colonialism. Such an analysis in a Khaldunian framework proceeds by examining the organic model at the heart of these societies and identifying the organic relationship between its different parts (politics, economics, social framework, religious ideology, etc.…). The current crisis in the modern Muslim political realm is accompanied by the relative absence of a “compelling and widely shared overall social purpose” (Moten, 1996: 38). According to Moten, this is a direct result of the colonial experience since “the major victim of the colonial domination was the Muslim’s self-image and cultural identity” (Moten, 1996: 10). The colonial policy of progress and enlightenment through a Westernized education system marked the beginning of a strategy seeking to replace the existing educational system, perceived as inferior and backward, with European learning. This attitude vis-à-vis Islamic knowledge is perfectly reflected in “Lord Macaulay’s insistence that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” (Moten, 1996: 10). This educational policy’s main goal was to transmit European cultural values to the natives and to create “a class of clerks, collaborators and cronies to continue the cultural onslaught of the West” (Moten, 1996: 10).

However, its consequences were far more devastating and continue to impact Muslim societies to this day. Muslims educated in these Westernized educational systems became a strange mixture of the East and the West, “out of place everywhere and at home nowhere” (Moten, 1996:11). Al-Faruqi goes even further by saying that Muslims today are neither Islamic nor Western, but rather “a cultural monstrosity of modern times” (al Faruqi, 1982: 5). They’ve become a composite of diverging ideas and ideologies, alienated from their own past and yet never quite Western enough; incapable of mining their own sources and consulting the intellectual heritage of their civilization to generate sustainable responses to the social and political challenges they are facing. Even Muslim scholars educated in these Western-centric systems are often either unaware of their intellectual heritage or employ western perspectives to utilize this heritage (…) ignoring in the process “the unique idiosyncratic manners for explaining and settling social problems unique to their civilization” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 408). Overlooking the existing differences between Muslim and Western civilization and applying a Western worldview to the problems of Muslim societies often leads to resounding failures and exacerbates the inability of achieving a consensus around a shared political and social purpose.

The majority of the work on Ibn Khaldun in sociology is comprised mainly of biographical studies pertaining to his life, discussions about his theory of state formation, and examinations of the methodological foundations of his work. However, the application of his theory to existing historical situations remains a rarity. The majority of the work dedicated to the thought of Ibn Khaldun vacillates between studies focusing on certain aspects of his theory/ methodology and studies trying to establish a parallel between his approach and that of Western thinkers. The latter especially often leads to anachronic readings of Ibn Khaldun. The principal difficulty seems to be the misinterpretation of his understanding of religion. Two dominant opinions about Ibn Khaldun’s approach to science and religion are found within Orientalist literature.

According to the first opinion, supported by Gibb and Richter, every social phenomenon discussed by Ibn Khaldun is connected “with the Holy Qur’an and consequently connected with the will of God” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). But, according to the second opinion supported by Gumplovicz and Von Kremer, Ibn Khaldun “interpreted social phenomena in a realist way depending on reason and experiment” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). If he used verses of the Qur’an it was only to escape bigoted reactions and possible accusations of blasphemy. For the most part however, Ibn Khaldun’s work is often relegated to an example of proto-sociology or the subject of investigation. His theories and concepts are described and analysed without ever being used as tools to interpret and understand history. Sociological studies pertaining to Muslim societies in Western academia remain mostly grounded in Orientalist analyses. The work of Ibn Khaldun offers an alternative to the Orientalist Grand Narrative and give us an opportunity to elaborate a neo-Khaldunian sociology beyond the confines of Eurocentrism.

Very few attempts have been made to incorporate Ibn Khaldun’s theory of state formation within the framework of modern sociology. Yet, he offers us a possibility of engaging in the study of Muslim societies without the preconceptions of Orientalism. Khaldunian theory represent a sociological framework indigenous to the Muslim world. In previous centuries, his work influenced Muslim and Western scholars alike, but it also served as a theoretical backdrop to the elaboration of political reforms in the Ottoman empire. A neo-Khaldunian perspective could provide a novel way of looking at the current state of Muslim polity. Through his writings, Ibn Khaldun achieved two important goals. On one hand, he elaborated a new approach to philosophical history, with a theoretical framework and a methodology reiterating the need to engage with the study of history critically. On the other hand, his Muqqadimah provides vital information on the religious, philosophical, and literary Muslim scholarship of the fourteenth century. What is lacking today is the integration of the Khaldunian theoretical framework into the corpus of modern sociology.

 

Bibliography: 

Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Islamization of knowledge: General Principles and Workplan (Maryland: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982), p.5

Kalmar, Ivan (2012). Early Orientalism. Imagined Islam and the notion of sublime power. London; New York: Routledge.

Kayapinar, Akif M. (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Concept of “Assabiyya”: An Alternative Tool for Understanding Long-Term Politics, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 375-407.

Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.

Moten, Abdul Rashid (1996). Political Science: An Islamic Perspective. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

Sunar, Lutfi & Yasliçimen, Faruk (2008) The Possibilities of New Perspectives for Social Sciences: An Analysis Based on Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of “Umran”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 408-433.

Turner, Bryan (1994). Orientalism, Postmodernism And Globalism. London: Routledge.

Volpi, Frederic (2009) Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, 16(1): 20-38.

Volpi, Frederic. (2009). Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, Vol. 16, No.1, pp.20-38

Wallerstein, Immanuel (ed). (1996) Open the Social Sciences: Report of the Gulbenkian Commission of the Social Sciences. California: Stanford University Press.

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 2)

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 2)

Khaldunian theory and the Muslim political realm

The Caliphate (al-khilafa) designates the form of government that emerged in the Muslim world after the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)[1]) in 632 and lasted until the early part of the twentieth century. The four rulers (Abu-Bakr, Umar, Ali, and Uthman) that reigned over the nascent Muslim nation after his death came to be known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs in Muslim historiography (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 257). Their era is particularly admired in Islamic theology as a period of extraordinary expansion during which the tradition of electing Caliphs was maintained and the need for a unified community (Muslim Ummah) was reiterated politically and socially. By the end of the year 661, Muslims ruled over Mesopotamia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Persia, and parts of North Africa. It is during this period that the foundation for all future Muslim empires was established (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 257). The Qur’an and the Sunnah (in the case of Sunni Islam) became the basis upon which was built not only the political legitimacy of Muslim rulers but also the socioeconomic management of Muslim societies.

The Umayyads who ruled the Muslim empire between 661-750 expanded what was primarily an Arab-Muslim empire into Spain, Central Asia, and India (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 19). They successfully established an effective administration across a vast territory inhabited by multiple ethnic groups with a multitude of cultures and languages. The reign of the Umayyad put an end to the election of Caliphs and began the tradition of hereditary monarchy. In 750, the Abbasid dynasty overthrew the Umayyads and ruled the Muslim world until 1258 (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 329). Much like their predecessors, they continued to expand Muslim rule into new lands and the city of Baghdad became the political capital of the Caliphate. Despite its eventual fragmentation, the Abbasid empire established Islam into a universal and multiethnic religion; a legacy that resonates with Muslims to this day. The schism between Sunni and Shia was particularly evident in the political realm where several Shi’ite dynasties ruled over various parts of the Muslim world (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 329).

The Fatimid dynasty was the product of a revolution mounted by the Isma’ili movement against Abbasid rule. They officially established their Caliphate in 909 in North Africa. During their reign, Egypt became an important commercial and cultural center (Alatas, 2014:113). They also established major trade routes in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Their long political decline finally came to an end when in 1171 Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub (Saladin) took control of Egypt in the name of the Abbasid Caliph. Another Shiite dynasty that reigned over vast swaths of Muslim land was originally a Sunni Sufi order that turned to Shia Islam in the fifteenth century (Alatas, 2014:113). The Safavid empire at its peak ruled over Iran, parts of the Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Both bureaucracy and the arts flourished under the Safavids. They established an efficient system of administration allowing for greater transparency in order to manage their vast and expansive realm (Alatas, 2014:113). Innovations in the artistic and cultural life were particularly encouraged by Safavid rulers, thus architecture and the fine arts grew exponentially under Safavid tutelage. A Sunni rebellion in 1722 eventually brought an end to their empire.

In the tenth century, Turcoman nomads from Outer Mongolia migrated to West Asia in order to avoid the impending Mongol invasion. Amongst these displaced populations were the Oghuz, a nomadic tribe of warriors known more widely today as the Seljuks. “By the eleventh century, when the Seljuk empire was centered at Isfahan, various Turcoman tribes, which were autonomous from the Seljuks, were trying to establish themselves in Anatolia” (Alatas, 2014:97). These tribes eventually formed their own principalities throughout the region. These groups possessed the ability to mobilize quickly “between a quarter and half a million cavalrymen” (Alatas, 2014: 97). Their ability to bring help and relief when needed to the centralized Seljuk state allowed the Turcoman principalities to grow in power and influence. In the fourteenth century, sixteen Turcoman principalities were established throughout Anatolia. The Seljuk empire disintegrated overtime and finally crumbled in the thirteenth century, giving way to the emergence of the Great Mongol empire. Much like the Seljuks, the Mongol empire eventually broke up into several parts as well. “One of these parts, constituting Iran, Iraq and Anatolia, became the Ilhan empire founded by Hulagu” (Alatas, 2014: 97).

Despite these changes, several Turcoman tribes succeeded in maintaining their independence from both the Seljuks and the Mongols. Amongst them was the Ottoman (Osmanli) principality founded by Osman of the Kayi Tribe. It is from this principality that emerged what later came to be known as the Ottoman empire (Alatas, 2014: 97). The Ottomans ruled most of the Muslim world for over six centuries, making this entity one of the most influential and prosperous empires in Muslim history. At the height of its power, the Ottoman territories incorporated most of Southeast Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

The encroachment from increasingly powerful European nations on one hand and Tsarist Russia on the other throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century reduced greatly the vastness of Ottoman territory. Mounting economic and social problems further strained the resources of an already embattled empire. But it is the consequences of World War I that damaged irreparably the power and the authority of the Ottoman Caliph. “In March 3, 1924, the Grand National Assembly abolished the caliphate, thus ending the Ottoman dynasty and empire” and leading to the birth of the Turkish Republic (Shaw, 1977: 369). There are today more than fifty Muslim nation-states in the world spread over three continents and ascribing to a wide range of political, economic, and social ideologies ranging from theocratic governments, to secular republics, to monarchies, and democracies. These states started to emerge twenty-three years after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and represent a historical discontinuity. What had been the prevailing sociopolitical order in the Muslim world for thirteen centuries came to an end in the early twentieth century. The impact and legacy of Western colonialism is crucial in understanding the process of state formation leading to the emergence of Muslim nation-states after the second world war.

One of the prevailing Orientalist assumptions about the Ottoman empire is the view that it was already in decline by the eighteenth century. This idea finds its source in another Orientalist assumption which states that the Islamic civilization reached its peak during the early medieval period and that the Ottoman empire amounted to nothing more than a brief interruption in the long centuries of decline which followed (Ansary, 2010:220). This idea of a decaying empire by the late sixteenth century is reiterated by prominent Western historians such as Bernard Lewis. “For many centuries, while Europe was rising to greater and greater heights of achievements, the East was sinking in the comfortable torpor of decay (…)” (Lewis, 1994:42). According to him, by the time European powers started their incursions into Ottoman territory, the empire was but a shadow of its former self. However, many Muslim historians disagree with this narrative and maintain that despite the challenges facing it, the Ottoman empire was far from the decaying entity posited by Orientalists (Hanioglu, 2008:42).

The European penetration of Muslim lands was a slow and complex process, and not so much the ferocious military onslaught Lewis presented in his analysis. “The process was so slow, however, and so pervasive and so complex that it was hard for anyone going through the history of it all day by day to make a connection between the European encroachment and the burgeoning decay” (Ansary, 2010:220). The Ottoman empire did not simply go down in flames to conquering European armies. Despite an increasing European penetration and the growing military, economic, and administrative challenges facing it by the end of the eighteenth century, the Ottoman empire remained a military and political giant (Hanioglu, 2008:42). In fact, “long after the empire was totally moribund, long after it was little more than a virtual carcass for vultures to pick over, the Ottomans could still muster damaging military strength” (Ansary, 2010:221).

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Ibn Khaldun gained an important following amongst Ottoman scholars who used his ideas to address some of the pressing issues facing the Ottoman state. The prominent seventeenth century writer Katib Çelebi was one of the first Ottoman scholars to apply Ibn Khaldun’s ideas to analyze the empire’s financial woes. In his book The Mode of Procedure for Rectifying the Damage, the Khaldunian theory of cyclical rise and decline of states was applied for the first time to the Ottoman context. Another Ottoman historian who was greatly influenced by both Ibn Khaldun and Çelebi was Mustapha Naima. In his chronical Tarih-i Na’ima, he mentioned the Khaldunian cyclical theory to illustrate the contrast between nomadic and sedentary societies (Fleischer, 1983:200).

“By the eighteenth century, Ibn Khaldun was well established in Ottoman circles as having provided a framework that explained the decay of the Ottoman state. The Ottoman empire was said to be in Ibn Khaldun’s stage of stasis and decline” (Alatas, 2007:274).

The Ottoman scholars who studied Ibn Khaldun’s work started paying attention to the social, political, and economic organization of the empire trying to detect the signs of decline posited by Khaldunian theory. Scholars such as Çelebi and Naima were primarily preoccupied with elaborating institutional and administrative reforms susceptible of preventing a potential collapse. Their reading of Ibn Khaldun was therefore mainly normative and ideological (Alatas, 2007:275). His sociological arguments were used in the Ottoman context to not only champion reforms designed to strengthen the authority of the Caliph, but also to justify the holding of the Caliphate by an Ottoman dynasty.

To understand the prevailing political instability in the modern Muslim world, it is crucial to revisit the end of the Ottoman empire. However, in order to avoid falling into the usual pitfalls of Orientalism, a change of perspective is required. Khaldunian theory offers a framework and a methodology indigenous to the Muslim world. This theory was the primary tool used by Muslim scholars to study the patterns and rhythm of their own history. It was through Khaldunian concepts that they analyzed their political institutions and proposed the necessary reforms. The advent of colonialism led to the dismantlement of Muslim scholarship and halted any and all efforts to further develop Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-‘umran al-bashari (science of human social organization).

Fanon analyzed in-depth how colonized societies become subjugated in all aspects. The rise of Orientalism as a form of scholarship dedicated to the study of the Orient and Islam is part of a broader pattern in which the production of knowledge is part and parcel of the grand colonial project. The colonial realm is a compartmentalized and Manichean world, where the “colonial subject is a man penned in: apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world” (Fanon, 1963:15). Through its policies and academics, the colonizer implants in the mind of the colonized that all essential values are Western values, and “remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man” (Fanon, 1963:15). The colonized becomes convinced of the pertinence and accuracy of these ideas; his very thought process has now fallen prey to the same colonial incursion ravaging his land. “The white colonists attack the traditions and myths—above all, their myths—of the racially colonized while clandestinely creating and perpetuating myths of their own concerning the racially colonized” (Rabaka, 2010:121).

These concocted myths and stereotypes not only become part and parcel of the colonial narrative, but they are also eventually internalized by the colonized. This leads to the emergence of many of the problems Fanon addresses throughout his corpus. Disrupting and shattering indigenous cultures triggers amongst all colonized peoples an inferiority complex. They position themselves in relation to the culture and the language of their colonizers. “The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush” (Fanon, 1952:2). The psychological, social, emotional, economic, and political impact of this mythical portrait of the racialized subject entrenches even further the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. Constantly attacking, challenging, and weakening severely any lingering inkling of autonomy or sovereignty from the pre-colonial era reiterates this binary power-dynamic between the colonialists and the colonial subjects.

“Colonization is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it” (Fanon, 1963:170).

In order for the colonial project to reach its desired supremacy, the indigenous population must be convinced of the benefits of colonization. This can only happen once they are completely alienated from their own indigenous culture. The peoples of the colonies were reduced to entities with no history of their own, no art, no past, and certainly no future (Said, 1993:193). The inherently destructive nature of colonial domination was quick to disrupt in remarkable ways the cultural and intellectual life of the conquered.

The present instability plaguing the modern Muslim political realm is the subject of much interest and debate in Western academia. What often transpires from such studies is a rather Manichean view of Muslim societies as inherently despotic entities opposed to the very concepts of modernity and progress. “This idea has a pedigree of many centuries, and the classic term for what it refers to is oriental despotism” (Kalmar, 2012:1). Orientalist thought introduced the notion that a civilization based upon Islamic precepts can only inspire undemocratic governments, often using the current political situation in various Muslim countries as a compelling example. Western contemporary readings of politics in Muslim societies approach the subject “through the lenses of western concepts and methodologies” reiterating Orientalist assumptions and arguments (Volpi, 2009:22).

Khaldunian sociology is a historical sociology which can be applied to a wide range of societies where social bonds based on kinship played an important role in the formation of their states. Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical framework provides us with the ability to understand the dynamics leading not only to the rise of these states but also their potential decline, while keeping in mind the distinctive characteristics of each society. “The central concept of ‘asabiyyah is also sociological as it refers to a type of social cohesion founded on the knowledge of common kinship or descent” (Alatas, 2014:146). A Khaldunian framework offers us the possibility of analyzing the woes of the modern Muslim political realm from a new and fresh perspective, outside of the usual reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Islam as an entity possessing an anti-modern core.

[1]Peace be upon him

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alatas, Syed Farid (2014). Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology. London; New York: Routledge.

Alatas, Syed Farid (2007) The Historical Sociology of Muslim Societies: Khaldunian Applications, International Sociology, 22(3):267-288.

Ansary, Tamim (2010). Destiny Disrupted. A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. New York: Public Affairs.

Fanon, Frantz (1952) Le syndrome nord-africain, Esprit Nouvelle série, 187(2): 237-248.

Fanon, Frantz (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press.

Fleischer, Cornell (1983) Royal Authority, Dynastic Cyclism, and “Ibn Khaldunism” in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Letters, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 18(3-4): 198-220.

Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of The Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kalmar, Ivan (2012). Early Orientalism. Imagined Islam and the notion of sublime power. London; New York: Routledge.

Lewis, Bernard (1994). The Shaping of the Modern Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.

Najeebabadi, Akbar Shah; Mubarakpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman; Abdullah, Abdul Rahman; Salafi, Muhammad Tahir (2000). The History of Islam, Houston, Tex: Darussalam.

Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.

Shaw, Stanford (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rabaka, Reiland (2010). Forms of Fanonism. Frantz Fanon’s Critical Theory and The Dialectic of Decolonization. New York: Lexington Books.

Volpi, Frederic (2009)Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, 16(1): 20-38.

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 1)

Understanding Khaldunian Sociology (Part 1)

“The substantive interest of Ibn Khaldun in both the Muqaddimah and the Kitab al-‘Ibar, lies in the explanation of the formation and decline of Maghribian  and Arab states” (Alatas, 2014: 22). In his study of the rise and fall of north African states, Ibn Khaldun compared the social organization of pastoral nomadic societies to that of sedentary societies. He posited that the differences observed between these two types of societies are the result of inherent differences in their ‘asabiyyah; a concept often translated as group feeling or social cohesion. “Ibn Khaldun’s thesis was that groups with strong ‘asabiyyah could establish political rule over those with weak ‘asabiyyah” (Alatas, 2014:22). He saw the progression from nomadic civilization toward a sedentary one as a natural process where the advent of sedentary lifestyle is in fact the desired outcome of bedouin life. He postulated that all human societies evolve from a rather primitive lifestyle toward a far more complex one entailing grand cities, sophisticated cultures, and an opulent lifestyle.

According to him, the concept of ‘asabiyyah plays an essential role in this progression. “He establishes asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings. “This abstract concept conveys the idea of the bond that ensures the cohesion of a social group just as, analogously, the tendons ensure the cohesion of flesh to the bones” (Baali, 1988:44). Ibn Khaldun clarified that such a bond is not only born of consanguineal relations but is also social, psychological, physical, and political in nature. The superior ‘asabiyyah enjoyed by nomadic bedouins gave them a stronger social cohesion than the sedentary groups living in urban areas where they’ve established their dynasties. This strong social cohesion gave them both “the aggressive and defensive strength” necessary to eventually take over sedentary groups with a weakened ‘asabiyyah (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). A diminished social bond leaves settled groups at the mercy of nomadic/pre-urban bedouin tribes. These tribes often relied on the cities of the settled groups to acquire the basic necessities of life. This scarcity resulting from their precarious lifestyle promoted cooperation and mutual reliance amongst the members of the tribe which brought about a stronger and more vigorous ‘asabiyyah.

Ibn Khaldun assigned to religion an important role in the creation and the strengthening of ‘asabiyyah. He used as an example the advent of Islam in the Arab Peninsula where religion provided a spiritual bond between disparate Arab tribes and gave them a common cause for which to fight (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 126). Islam served as a unifying force and created a strong social cohesion amongst the Arab tribes joining the nascent Muslim nation. This unification allowed the pre-urban tribes to establish royal authority and commence sedentary life. The strength of their bedouin ‘asabiyyah and the puissance of their religious mission allowed them to expand their territory and conquer previously settled groups (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 91).

“The role of religious ideology, then, lies in its significance as necessary “additional power” that supports the struggle of a powerful asabiyyah, the Quraysh in the case of Islam, to overpower those groups that are equal or superior to it in strength(…) Furthermore, according to Ibn Khaldun, religious ideology can materialize only if it conforms with and responds to the material conditions and needs of the life of the society it addresses. Islam was successful not only because Muhammad belonged to a dominating “house” with a powerful asabiyya (…) but also because his teachings were congruent with the desert vision and material reality of the Arabs” (Mirawdeli, 2015:97).

The primitive culture of the tribes is one focused exclusively on satisfying the basic needs. It is a life of austerity and extreme precarity. In what Ibn Khaldun called the stage of badawa (pastoral nomadic) the tribes are mostly preoccupied with ensuring their survival. This made unity a crucial element to the existence of the group. In order to bring this about, they needed to create a “dominating element” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). ‘Asabiyyah allows an individual within the group to acquire a legitimate power that gives him “Mulk” a royal authority. “Hence, asabiyya expresses itself in the form of legitimatising the restraining power of a person among the group, giving him mulk, royal authority” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). The group willingly submits to his authority which only further strengthens their cohesion as a group. Once the ruler achieves his hegemony over his own group, he is now poised to extend it to neighbouring tribes. Eventually, consanguineal relations lose their importance as the primary source of ‘asabiyyah to be replaced by a far more abstract understanding of power. The chieftain that previously held royal authority over the group is replaced by a state based on a “single great ‘asabiyyah” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).

“Thus, Asabiyya gives a group the superiority without which royal authority cannot be achieved. At the same time, by making social organization possible, it establishes the first condition of umran. And historical evolution, the transition from Badawa to sedentary culture, is concurrent with the transformation of royal authority into a fully developed state. In this sense, civilization is no more than the manifestation of the function and reality of the State” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).

Sedentary life on the contrary is one predicated on conveniences and luxury. With a large number of individuals living in close proximity to one another in cities they’ve settled, the production of goods increased, and a large quantity of surplus labour became available for the manufacturing of luxuries (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). But, according to Ibn Khaldun the development of all these superfluities is what eventually triggered the degeneration of the group and led to the decline of its power and strength (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). The simplicity, the roughness, and the simple devotion and allegiance found in the original group eroded with increasing wealth and power. The comforts of sedentary life are not however the only thing that precipitated the decline of the group. When the ruler gained absolute power and started excluding his people from the royal authority he enjoyed due to their voluntary submission to his dominance, he started to sow the seeds of discord and weakened the very ‘asabiyyah to which he owed his authority (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 95).

Ibn Khaldun postulated in his theory of state formation that all human societies are caught in this cyclical process; from humble and simple beginnings, to opulent cultures and lifestyle, followed by erosion and decline. In his theory he identified four stages progressing from badawa (desert life) to hadara (civilization). The first stage is the period of establishment, where group solidarity is primarily based on familial ties and religious kinship. Life at this stage is one of great precarity and the survival of the group is what matters most. The rulers at this stage are chieftains who endeavour to “perfect themselves by exhibiting admirable qualities demonstrating, among other things, their capacity for administrating God’s law” (Dale, 2015: 187). In the second stage, the ruler succeeds in monopolizing the royal authority and acquires absolute power. This hegemony by the ruler coincides with the erosion of the ‘asabiyyah that began on the basis of familial group solidarity. The ruler can now build a proper state with features such as a complex administrative bureaucracy, a paid army, and advisors to counsel him.

The third stage is characterized by the abundance of luxury and the increasing importance of leisure as a defining aspect of sedentary life. “Monarchs now found it increasingly necessary to increase taxes to support their extravagant lives and were initially able to do so because their cowed subjects did not resist” (Dale, 2015:192). The ruler uses his authority to satisfy his personal needs. He then spends exorbitant amounts on public works and on the beautification of his cities. The state enjoys economic prosperity, and high culture is developed through the crafts, fine arts, and the sciences. Cultural pursuits gain avid supporters amongst the ruling class and the upper strata of society. Leisure and self-indulgence become important aspects of life.

In the fourth stage luxury and comfort are now defining features of society. Life is centered around the search for contentment and satiation. Complacency, corruption, and decadence take hold in the once morally upright group. The ruler indulges in depraved behavior while neglecting the state. “The nobility, superior ‘asabiyyah, and other personal traits that characterized chiefs three generations earlier had, by the fourth generation, entirely dissipated” (Dale, 2015: 192). At this point, the state is starting to decline and to disintegrate. The vital forces of solidarity and religion that once provided the group with the means to their unity and success are now all but destroyed. To ensure support for his rule and to maintain the luxuries acquired, he once again resorts to raising the taxes. As the income of the state declines, it ultimately becomes impossible for the ruler to maintain his authority.

 

Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical view of history

A linear view of history first emerged in the work of St. Augustine (354-430 CE) who described history as the unfolding of God’s plan. He believed that this process which started with the creation of the world would come to an end with the Final Judgement. The growth of knowledge and the recording of past events contributed greatly to the rise of the concept of linear history (Barnes, 1948: 171). Voltaire in the eighteenth century also ascribed to a similar view, albeit more secular. He divided the evolution of history into four great ages eventually culminating in the scientific enlightenment of Man. However, the idea that history repeats itself through the rise and fall of civilizations was not completely unheard of before Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-ijtima al-insani( science of human society).

Throughout the centuries, many historians and philosophers, such as Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Montaigne (1532-1592) held a cyclical view of history. In the modern age, both Arnold Toynbee (1884-1975) and Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) adhered to a cyclical view of history in which civilizations continuously rise and fall. In fact, Toynbee posited that the cyclical nature of history emerged as the predominant view when ancient civilizations like the Babylonians made discoveries in the field of astronomy (Bailey, 1958: 93). As they observed recurrent cosmic events (lunar month, solar year, night and day cycle), the repetitive nature of life shaped their view of history. This cyclical conceptualization is also found “in the mentality of the old Hindu civilization as well as in the rhythm of the Yin and Yang of ancient China” (Bailey, 1958: 94). In fact, the notion of world-cycles was also central to the ancient Greeks’ understanding of cosmic time. This idea was later inherited by Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius who strongly believed in the uniformity of the world.

“The idea was adopted by the Stoics and championed by Marcus Aurelius who was convinced that the world is so uniform that a man of forty has seen all that past generations saw or that future generations may see” (Bailey, 1958: 94).  

The Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico elaborated in the early 1700s what he called the theory of historical returns (ricorsi). His cyclical understanding of history was mainly based on his anti-Cartesian view of humanity and his rejection of Man’s supposed rationality. Vico dismissed the natural sciences capacity to explain human phenomena, and much like Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century, he set out to create a “new science which could shed light on the developments in collective life” (Bailey, 1958: 94). His investigation into the human past led him to identify three stages in the life cycles of nations. These cycles followed a single constant pattern that he dubbed the storia eterna ideale. According to Vico, the progression of each nation through these stages (the eras of gods, of heroes, and of men) was preordained by Divine Providence. As a devout Christian he regarded “the old Testament’s story, until the end of the Flood, as an accurate narrative”, and in doing so played an important role in the preservation of Christian historiography.

“He believed that each nation passed through identical stages from ‘barbarism of the senses’ to true civilization and then into decadence resulting from overintellectualism, the ‘barbarism of reflection’. Here the cycle begins all over again” (Bailey, 1958: 94). 

There is an obvious difference between Ibn Khaldun’s style of investigation of history and the method used by previous philosophers and historians (Korkut, 2008: 548). Having developed a theory explaining the structure of social events, he proceeded to elaborate an investigative method to analyze them. He propounded that all social events are unique and warned against the all too common mistake of “applying a solution to a certain social problem as remedy for another (…)” (Korkut, 2008: 548). He described social phenomena as dynamic and prone to changes as opposed to being static. Hence, a solution devised for a certain social event becomes inapplicable to another. “In tandem, each social event is circumscribed by the moral, psychological, and physical atmosphere of the society from which it spurts; indeed, the relevant causes of each society are distinctive” (Korkut, 2008: 548).

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alatas, Syed Farid (2014). Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology. London; New York: Routledge.

Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.

Baali, Fuad (1988). Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s Sociological Thought, Albany: State University of New York Press

Ibn Khaldun; Rosenthal, Frantz; Dawood, N.J; Lawrence, Bruce B (2005). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Dale, Stephen Frederic (2015). The Orange Trees of Marrakesh: Ibn Khaldun and the Science of Man. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Barnes, Harry Elmer (1948). Historical Sociology: Its Origins and Development, New York: Philosophical Library.

Bailey, Robert Benjamin (1958). Sociology Faces Pessimism: A Study of European Sociological Thought Amidst a Fading Optimism, The Hague: Nijhoff.

Korkut, Senol (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Critique of the Theory of “al-Siyasah al-Madaniyyah”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 547-570.

Ibn Khaldun: A Sociology Beyond Eurocentrism

Ibn Khaldun: A Sociology Beyond Eurocentrism

While the critique pertaining to the various aspects of the impact of Orientalism on the social sciences has been growing since the early part of the twentieth century, very little has been said about the persistent disregard of non-Western thinkers as a source of “theoretical authority” (Alatas, 2014: 1). The theories and concepts found in their extensive body of work are very rarely applied to produce key historical and empirical information. This is particularly the case in the fields of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, where the prevailing theoretical expertise is still firmly grounded in Western Academia. Studying the work of influential non-Western thinkers as substitutes to Orientalist constructions remains for the most part a rare endeavour.

 The prevailing Eurocentrism in the social sciences often manifests itself in the study of all human civilizations from a European perspective. Western thinkers become in this dynamic the sole architects of ideas, the originators of theories and concepts through which the world is assessed and interpreted, while non-Westerners are relegated to mere subjects of study and purveyors of data. The modern social sciences are heavily influenced by European philosophical traditions in their approaches and discourses. “The empirical field of investigation is selected according to European (for European read also American) criteria of relevance” (Alatas, 2007: 271). All aspects of reality, whether historical or social, are therefore organized and understood from a Western perspective.

Sociology is yet another example of a field in the social sciences where the important role of non-Western social thinkers in the development of the discipline got little to no attention. The works of seminal Western sociologists such as Durkheim, Weber, and Marx not only played a central role in the evolution and growth of sociology in Europe, but their theories and models were also applied to non-Western societies sometimes sharing very little in common with their European counterparts. Non-Western social theorists, on the other hand, were vastly excluded from the elaboration of social theory. A compelling example of this phenomenon is the treatment of Ibn Khaldun in the modern social sciences. The majority of the work on Ibn Khaldun comprises mainly of biographical studies pertaining to his life, discussions about his theory of state formation, and examinations of the methodological foundations of his work. However, the application of his theory in the analysis of existing historical situations remains sparse. For the most part, Ibn Khaldun’s work is often relegated to the margins of modern sociology either as an example of proto-sociology or the subject of investigation. His theories and concepts are described and analysed without ever being used as tools to interpret and understand history. Very few sociologists in Western academia have went beyond simply citing him as a pioneer or a founder of their discipline.

“There has always been little interest in developing his ideas, combining them with concepts derived from modern sociology and applying theoretical frameworks derived from his though to historical and empirical realities. While there are certainly exceptions that is, attempts to apply a Khaldunian theory or model to social reality, these are few and marginal to mainstream social science teaching and research” (Alatas, 2007: 271).

Modern social theory rests vastly on the ongoing overlooking of “alternative perceptions of reality” grounded in traditions other than the prevailing Western epistemology (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 412). The political, economic, social and cultural hegemony of the Western world enables the current dominance of Western though. According to Aijaz Ahmed the supremacy enjoyed by Western epistemology “represents a politically disabling contentious shift of attention from the facts of current neo-colonialism” toward less controversial areas of research (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:19). While the criticism of Orientalism and Eurocentrism in academia is well-known, the calls for the elaboration of alternative discourses remain essentially unanswered. Much like in mainstream Western academia “the prescription for autonomous social sciences are rarely put into practice even in the South” (Alatas, 2014: 9).

Very few attempts have been made to incorporate Ibn Khaldun’s theory of state formation within the framework of modern sociology. His study pertaining to the rise and fall of states, the nature of dynastic succession, as well as the role of religion as an “extra-historical unifying cohering force” (Mirawdeli, 2015:97) while often mentioned and analysed is seldom applied. His extensive work on the history of Muslim societies in North Africa and the Middle East, considered by many to be the genesis of sociological analysis, “has rarely been seriously considered as a basis for a modern Khaldunian sociology” (Alatas, 2014: 2). The persistent marginalization of Ibn Khaldun in the discipline of sociology is due to the lack of a neo-Khaldunian iteration of his theory. The primary aim of this thesis is to move beyond descriptive accounts of his work in order to demonstrate how Khaldunian theory can be applied to historical and empirical realities. The current underdevelopment of his theory finds its source in the lack of work applying his “theoretical framework to historical and contemporary data” (Alatas, 2014: 53). In order to remedy to this oversight and reiterate the place of Khaldunian theory in modern sociology, our study will revolve around the practical application of Khaldunian framework in the analysis of a critical period in Muslim history; that of the fall of the Ottoman empire and the subsequent emergence of modern states in the Muslim world.

Wali al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Khaldun al-Tunisi al-Hadrami, known as Ibn Khaldun, was born in Tunis in 1332. His family, like many of their co-religionaries, fled Spain in the aftermath of the Reconquista and settled in Tunis in the 13thcentury.  As a young man ‘Abd al-Rahman received an education encompassing both religious instruction and worldly knowledgein the form of traditional sciences. Ibn Khaldun lived in a time of great tumult where the Arab Muslim world entered a period of political disintegration and cultural decay. Greatly influenced by the ongoing upheaval around him, he sought to understand and explain the “patterns of human action in history” capable of altering the world so fundamentally (Çaksu, 2017: 41). Inspired by the works of previous Muslim historians like Ma’sudi, he wanted to chronicle the transformations taking place in his own period by detailing the “newly emerging conditions” (Dale, 2015: 1).

While remaining firmly grounded in the traditional approach to historical writing of his predecessors, he nonetheless sought to transcend what he saw as shortcomings in their method. He exhorted historians to abandon the writing of narratives focusing solely on “transient political and military events” (Dale, 2015: 2). He advocated instead for a transformation of history into an integral part of the staple Aristotelian sciences such as physics, mathematics, and astronomy. History according to him should become both a subject and a method entailing a radical new approach to historical research.

“A beneficiary of the same Greek intellectual bequest that subsequently influenced the social and political thought of Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, and Durkheim, he argued that history ought to be practiced as a science, a philosophical discipline.” (Dale, 2015: 2). 

In 1378, he completed his Kitab al-‘Ibar, a historical study on the Arabs and Berbers. This book contained his famous Muqaddimah, a prolegomena in which he introduced what he believed to be a new science. He called it ‘ilm al-‘umran al-bashari(science of human social organization) or ‘ilm al-ijtima al-insani(science of human society). “The basis of Ibn Khaldun’s new science of society was his critique of the state of historiography among the historians of the Arab East and West up to his time” (Alatas, 2014: 13). According to him, in the study of history ascertaining the probability and possibility of events is the only way to distinguish the true from the false, and this can only be achieved through the investigation of human society. Relying solely on the authenticity of chains of transmissions, as was the method of choice in historical investigation amongst Muslim scholars, was a process Ibn Khaldun found to be inadequate when bereft of an investigative approach.

“While there were outstanding historians among the Muslims of the past, later historians introduced untruths and even gossip which were passed on to succeeding generations of historians. The false and the nonsensical in history were not rejected as historians tended not to look into the causes and origins of events and conditions” (Alatas, 2014: 14).   

Ibn Khaldun’s main concern was what he perceived as a lack of critical perspective in the study of history. He worried that this oversight would allow mistakes and weak suppositions to permeate historical records and taint the veracity of the recorded information. He posited that history became over time a discipline where the surface occurrences of history were hardly distinguished from “its inner meaning” (Alatas, 2014: 14). Historians simply relied on the work of earlier scholars without investigating the origins of the events in question and trying to discern the truth from false reports. They were instead preoccupied primarily with the preservation of historical information as it had been recorded by prior generations. For Ibn Khaldun however, “the discipline of history requires not only a sound command of numerous sources but also a good speculative mind”, since historical information cannot simply be trusted without proper scrutiny (Alatas, 2014: 14). Relying solely on the reported information, no matter how reliable the source, was in his opinion insufficient as a method. He proposed instead an autonomous science with “human social organization and society” as its main object and tasked with establishing the veracity of historical events and ascertaining their probability (Alatas, 2014: 21). This new science was to become a prerequisite for the study of history. He saw them as complementary since his science of human society endeavored to uncover the inner meaning of history. Ibn Khaldun distinguished the outer forms of history that he called zahirfrom its inner meaning which he referred to as batin. The outer forms referred to facts and reports while the inner meaning alluded instead to accounts of cause and effect. He was very much aware that his science of human society was in fact unique in both its scope and objective. While it bore a passing resemblance to rhetoric, politics, and other existing fields it nonetheless brought forth a singular contribution and a unique approach to history.

“Such is the purpose of this first book of our work. (The subject) is in a way an independent science. (This science) has its own peculiar object—that is, human civilization and social organization. It also has its own peculiar problems, that is, explaining the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization, one after the other, Thus, the situation is the same with the science as it is with any other science, whether it be a conventional or an intellectual one, It should be known that the discussion of this topic is something new, extraordinary, and highly useful. Penetrating research has shown the way to it.” (Ibn Khaldun, Rosenthal, Dawood, Lawrence, 2005: 38).

He was particularly concerned with the rise and decline of states and societies and was trying to offer an explanation to this phenomenon. He quickly realized that he needed to first understand the nature of certain key elements such as the connection between the state and society, the nature of human organization, and the role of group solidarity and feeling in the evolution of human society. To comprehend the nature of human organization, he looked closely at factors that he believed triggered social change like urban institutions, the economic life, the organizational ability of the state, and existing solidarity/group feelings (Mahdi, 1957:235).

“Ibn Khaldun conceived of this new science of human society as consisting a number of sub-areas as follows: (1) society (‘umran) in general and its divisions; (2) Bedouin society (al-‘umran al-badawi), tribal societies (qaba’il), and primitive peoples (al-wahshiyyah); (3) the state (al-dawlah), royal (mulk) and caliphate (khilafah) authority; (4) sedentary society (al-‘umran al-hadari), cities; and (5) the crafts, way of making a living occupations. These areas can be seen to cover what in modern terms would encompass human or social ecology, rural sociology, political sociology, urban sociology, and the sociology of work” (Alatas, 2014:21).

Ibn Khaldun’s first mention in European sources can be traced back to the seventeenth century when a biography detailing his life appeared in d’Herbelot’s Bibliotheque Orientale. It was only a century later, at the height of Western colonialism, that prominent Orientalists like Silvestre de Sacy, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, and William MacGuckin de Slane provided the first translations of Ibn Khaldun’s work in French and German. These were based on extracts of hisMuqaddimahand only offered a quick and incomplete overview of his overall body of work. A more serious study of Ibn Khaldun was undertaken in the nineteenth century in mainstream sociology with several Western scholars recognizing him as the founder of sociology.

Both Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838-1909) and Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943) saw themselves as students of Ibn Khaldun. Oppeinhemer was often referred to as the “reviver of Ibn Khaldun”, while Gumplowicz dedicated an entire chapter to the scholar where he spoke highly of his work and called him “an Arab sociologist of the fourteenth century” (Alatas, 2014:44). Ibn Khaldun was recognized as the founder of sociology by many notable Western sociologists in the nineteenth century. Howard S. Becker and Harry Elmer Barnes, in their book Social Thought from Lore to Sciencededicated to the history of sociology, credited him with being the “first to apply modern-like ideas in historical sociology” (Alatas, 2014: 145). They were particularly admirative of his contribution to conflict theory. Unlike many other Western scholars, they recognized the uniqueness of Ibn Khaldun’s historical, political, cultural, and social context. They were conscious of the fact that he lived and wrote in a context quite different from that of nineteenth century Europe. They were able to detect those elements in his work that resonated with their own era, and in doing so restated the ageless and universal features of Khaldunian theory.

“Becker and Barnes themselves, in their chapter titled “Struggle over The Struggle for existence”, recognized him as an early conflict theorist and one emphasized causal principles in history at a time when ‘providential’ viewpoints everywhere held sway” (Alatas, 2014:44).

In his methodology, they saw a direct critique of documentary history, especially his elaboration of laws relating to society and social change. According to them, his greatest contribution as a social thinker was his treatment of historical material. “Much like Durkheim, Weber and others he was a human mind trying to comprehend rather than catalogue the specifically social factors in man’s living and doing” Alatas, 2014:44). Another example of European-led revival of Ibn Khaldun can be found in Jose Ortega y Gasset’s article titled Ibn Khaldun reveals the secrets to us: thoughts on North Africa. He tried to integrate Khaldunian concepts into mainstream social sciences. Ortega however betrayed his Orientalist perspective of Islam and Muslim societies when he described native Africans as “generally not thinkers” and declared Ibn Khaldun to be “an eminent exception, who has a clear and insightful mind in the way of the Greeks” (Alatas, 2014:44).

In Muslim readings of Ibn Khaldun, his work was not reduced to a mere object of study but was rather considered as genuine tool in the analysis of “historical and contemporary development of states” (Alatas, 2007:272). Long before Western scholars became aware of Ibn Khaldun, his contemporaries in the Muslim world were already applying his writing and producing a body of work inspired by Khaldunian theory. Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad bin al-Azraq al-Andalusi (1428-1491) was one of his fervent disciples who not only produced a comprehensive synopsis of the Muqaddimahbut also wrote about the connection between ethics and royal authority from a Khaldunian perspective. Another influential historian inspired by Ibn Khaldun was the Egyptian al-Maqrizi who even went to his lectures in Cairo. He dedicated a detailed entry to him in hisDurar al-‘Uquda biographical dictionary in which he showered the scholar with high praises. He described theMuqaddimahas a perfect example of Ibn Khaldun’s unparalleled mastery of historiography. “It reveals the truth of things, events and news; it explains the state of the universe and reveals the origins of all beings in an admirable plain style” (Rabbat, 2000:24).

In the twentieth century a few Muslim and Western scholars attempted to use Ibn Khaldun to study “the contemporary realities of their societies” (Alatas, 2007:272). While in the context of Western academia figures such as Ernst Gellner and Yves Lacoste led the effort to apply Khaldunian theory, their counterparts in the Muslim world were also undertaking “important theoretical appraisals of his work” (Alatas, 2007:273). Ibn Khaldun’s influence could be felt amongst key Muslim reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century including Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and Rashid Rida, all of whom pioneered Islamic modernism. Much later, philosophers such as ‘Abid al-Jabir (1971) and Ali Oumlil (1979) continued to strive for the understanding of Khaldunian thought outside of the prevailing Orientalism and Eurocentrism in the modern social sciences. For the most part however, Ibn Khaldun has been reduced to an object of study as the more practical aspects of his work fell into disuse. While Khaldunian theory faded from memory, Orientalist thought gained in prominence amongst many sociologists as the primary framework for the production of knowledge about Islam, the Orient, and Muslims.

Sociological studies pertaining to Muslim societies in Western academia remain mostly beholden to reductionist and essentialist analyses. The Orientalist Grand Narrative’s assumption that Muslim societies are inherently chaotic and violent and are antithetical to good governance persists and is even enjoying somewhat of a rebirth in the current political climate. Yet, the work of ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun offers the possibility of not only elaborating a modern sociology (neo-Khaldunian sociology) but also studying Muslim societies beyond the confines of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.

 

Postcolonialism And Sociology

Postcolonialism And Sociology

Although sociology came late to the study of empire, it would be erroneous to think that sociologists have made no significant contribution to discussions pertaining to imperialism or colonialism. Close to a half of the sociologists working in Britain, France, and their numerous colonies during the 1950s were directly involved in some kind of colonial research or another (Steinmetz, 2014:78). They played an important role in the research on development and under-development that emerged at the height of the decolonization period. They were also among the first to produce comparative historical research on colonies. For those sociologists interested particularly in historical and transnational analyses, empires represented an interesting subject that could not be avoided or ignored. This explains the emergence of a “self-described postcolonial sociology” focused primarily on the topic of colonialism and empire (Steinmetz, 2014:78).

Unlike anthropology that engaged in an assessment of its participation in the Western colonial project, “sociologists’ amnesia about their discipline’s engagement in the colonial empires set in almost immediately at the end of the colonial era (…)” (Steinmetz, 2014:78). Any sociological analysis pertaining to colonialism focused almost exclusively on the economic aspects of imperialism. Sociology’s own involvement in the colonial project was, for the most part, completely overlooked. Lately however, an impressive body of work on postcolonialism is starting to emerge in the discipline. Breaking away from traditional anthropological approaches, sociology focuses instead on the study of colonies as historical formations (Steinmetz, 2014:77). Sociologists insist on examining the interactions between colonizers and colonized in order to understand how both parties are being transformed by this encounter. Recent discussions of postcolonial sociology “question the applicability of Western social scientific concepts and theories to the global South and ask how sociology itself has been shaped by empire” (Steinmetz, 2014:77). It is becoming quite an effervescent subfield that cooperates closely with many other disciplines. It continually generates an impressive array of new theoretical, empirical, and methodological insights. Some of the emerging topics in this research domain include: interactions among different European empires, imperial urbanism, gender and familial relations and ideologies in imperial settings, postcolonial culture and literature, imperial violence, and new technologies of geopolitical domination (Steinmetz, 2014:93).

Postcolonial theory has been gaining ground in sociology since the early 1990s. While initially postcolonialism was incorporated into existing sociological endeavors—such as the study of migration and multiculturalism—four distinct postcolonial approaches have since gained traction in sociology. The first one examines how European ethnography, racism, social ontologies, and other aspects of culture have shaped colonial empires. The different imperial strategies used to shape these empires resulted in hybrid political formations. Sociologists study the transition from one imperial configuration to another in order to disclose the process through which the political landscape is rearranged and reorganized to fit the newly established imperial pattern (Steinmetz, 2014:82).

“An example of predominantly colonial strategies evolving into more imperialist approaches is the nineteenth-century British shift to an imperialism of free trade. The 1880s then saw a movement back to formal colonialism by Britain and other European powers. Another imperial pattern involves chartered companies. Such companies were created by investors for trade, exploration, and exploitation throughout the medieval and modern eras” (Steinmetz, 2014:82).

The colonial state is organized like a field. Its internal dynamics ensure the production of a constant stream of ethnographic representations and projects meant to facilitate and regulate native governance. These idées–forces define, according to Bourdieu, “the performative ideas that both represent and divide the social world” (Steinmetz, 2008:607). The modern colonial state becomes the sphere of production of a new kind of “noblesse de robe” (Bourdieu, 1996:377). This new nobility however finds its legitimacy in scholarly titles rather than “pedigrees of noble birth” (Steinmetz, 2008:607). The state helps to validate this new nobility by acknowledging its credentials and endorsing its claims to dominate the state.

The second approach explores the ambivalence inherent to the colonizer-colonized relationship and the forms of colonial hybridity that emanate from this rapport. In contemporary usage, the concept of colonialism refers to the conquest of a foreign territory and its native population, subsequently controlled and ruled over by members of the “conquering polity” (Steinmetz, 2014:79). The varying degrees of indirectness and informality, of said foreign rule, regulates the ramifications of the loss of sovereignty experienced by the indigenous population. An important characteristic of colonialism is the subservient position the natives are confined into. The conquered population is constituted as legally, administratively, socially, culturally, and biologically inferior to their occupiers. “All colonial states divide their subjects into different tribal or racial groups in an effort to enhance control, but at the same time the colonized are subsumed by the colonial state under a single, overarching category” (Steinmetz, 2014:80). All Western colonies practiced this rule of difference to maintain the status quo and prevent the colonized from ever attaining the same legal rights as their rulers. While some colonies haves shown a certain degree of flexibility in respect to the rule of difference, this tenet was generally more stringent during the nineteenth century than in previous eras.

“Even the supposedly assimilationist French Empire placed limits on genuine assimilation. In a historical study of the training of Algerian teachers in French Algeria inspired by Bourdieu’s sociology of education, Colonna (1975, pp.168-69) showed that the colonial power placed a specific limit on the path to acculturation one that defined the quality of scholarly excellence as being neither too close to the culture of origin nor too close to the culture of the West” (Steinmetz, 2014:80).

The third strand of postcolonial analysis in sociology criticizes Western knowledge as being inadequate for the task of understanding post-colonized non-Western cultures. Some even accuse Western thought of being antagonistic to the very existence of the non-Western world. This argument goes back to the German Romanticism of the eighteenth century, and was reclaimed a century later by certain schools in Central European anthropology (Steinmetz, 2014:93). “This critique of universal categories reached an apotheosis with interwar German neohistoricist sociologists (Steinmetz 2010), some of whom argued that all social scientific categories had to be unique to a single time and place (Freyer, 1926)” (Steinmetz, 2014:93). For some, this is the very reason why a Southern sociology focused on non-Western cultures is necessary. Others however, reject this line of thinking by arguing that a phenomenon like capitalism is “universalized and can be analyzed using the same concepts in the global South and the global North” (Steinmetz, 2014:93).

The fourth strand of postcolonial sociology focuses on the issue of imperial blowback, and Fanon’s observation pertaining to the reciprocal relationship between Europe and the Third World.  Eric de Dampierre (1968) argues for treating “the European, even metropolitan context, in counterpoint with the African context” (Steinmetz, 2014:94). This idea of cultural reciprocity between colony and metropole is a critical element in Said’s study of postcolonial methodology. While historians focused mainly on the impact of imperialism on the configuration of domestic cultures and politics, postcolonial critics such as Spivak, Said, and Gilroy concentrated instead on “metropolitan high culture” (Steinmetz, 2014:94). Sociologists on the other hand, choose to examine both the back flow of colonial culture in the metropoles, as well as the aftermath of colonialism in postcolonial societies.

An increasing number of sociologists are willing to engage in a self-critique of sociology as both a product of empire and an enabler of the colonial project. In fact, Alatas, Berque, Bourdieu, and Stavenhagen are amongst those who openly called for a decolonization of the discipline itself. Steinmetz however calls for caution against false generalizations and states that more empirical research is needed to truly ascertain and understand the role of sociologists in colonial empires. After all, many sociologists were ardent opponents of colonialism and were involved in the Anti-Imperialist League, which is often described as the precursor of the American Sociological Society.

“Bourdieu’s work on the relative autonomy of cultural field, which is inspiring some of the most interesting research in sociology today, is a key resource for preventing postcolonial sociology from failing back into reflectionist or one-sidedly ‘short circuit’ externalist approaches to the sociology of knowledge” (Steinmetz, 2014:94).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  • Steinmetz, George (2008). The Colonial State as a Social Field: Ethnographic Capital and Native Policy in the German Overseas Empire before 1914, Sociological Review, Vol.73, No.4, pp. 589-612.
  • Steinmetz, George (2014). The Sociology of Empires, Colonies, and Postcolonialism, Sociological Review, Vol.40, pp. 77-103.

 

Political Islam and social movements

Political Islam and social movements

The prevailing image of Islam in Western media and intellectual circles is one that reiterates the political nature of this religion. Islam is said to embody an authoritarian polity in which concepts such as freedom, democracy, and openness, have very little place (Bayat, 2007:4). Political Islam especially is perceived as the main vehicle of this brand of politics predicated on a revival of an authentic Islamic political tradition. This sociopolitical phenomenon embodies for many Westerners what they fear most about Islam.

By the early twentieth century, the autonomy of Muslim societies was greatly diminished due to the consolidation of colonial power in the Muslim world. Strong central governments, answerable to foreign imperial regimes, had replaced the old political system. In this new reality, “the traditional forms of Muslim religious organization were often suppressed” (Lapidus, 1988:7). Massive economic changes, unprecedented migration to the cities, and the emergence of new social strata accompanied the collapse of the old sociopolitical system. “The new era was marked by efforts to define new modes of political action as well as new modes of Islamic religious belief” (Lapidus, 1988:7).

Although there is a general consensus in Western academia that the historical roots and the development of this Islamic revival should be studied, the overwhelming majority of these studies tend to focus only on certain aspects of it, at the detriment of all others (Burke, 1988: 18). While the diverse political projects of Islamist groups is often discussed at length, almost nothing is said about their underlining social agendas. The capacity of these groups to mobilize consensus by addressing social grievances, while redefining the political spectrum, makes them at once political and social reform movements.

“As one engages this issue, one notes important differences over even so basic a matter as the definition of the subject. Is it Islamicpolitical movements? Or socialmovements in Islamic societies? These contracting questions frame a basic difference in the field” (Burke, 1988: 18).

The emergence, development, and diversification of Islamism correspond to the trajectories of state formation and socio-economic development in the Middle East. The popularity of modernization theory, and class analysis in the 1960s and 1970s, eclipsed any possible focus on Islamism in the political analyses of the Middle East and other Muslim majority countries. “When it was considered, it tended to be dismissed as rear-guard battle from traditional social forces heading for the dustbin of history” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). In the wake of the Iranian revolution, Islamism was defined primarily as a political phenomenon concerned mainly with “the establishment of an Islamic state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). Often compared to movements from the left and the right, it was described as a nationalist and revolutionary movement implementing a top-down approach to seize the institutions of the state in order to establish a new social order (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278).

Statist Islamism and political activism

“In its high degree of generality, Islamism emerged as the language of self-assertion to mobilize those (…) who felt marginalized by the dominant economic, political, and cultural processes in their societies (…)” (Bayat, 2007:6). For these individuals neither capitalist modernity, nor socialist utopia offered concrete answers to the political and economic woes of their nations. It was not however the working class that brought Islamism to the center-stage of Muslim politics; it was rather the Muslim middle-class that sought to find within Islamist discourse a viable dissident narrative. It was a way for them of rejecting the increasingly rigid control of the elite, while proposing an alternative to their western-centric political, economic, and social project. “In a quest to operate within an authentic nativist ideology, Islamists tried to articulate a version of Islam that could respond to their political, economic, and cultural deficit” (Bayat, 2007:7). Therefore, Islamism was conceptualized as a system with a distinctive political project, a religiously inspired cultural code, and a strong populist language.

“Two simultaneous but contradictory processes pushed Islamism toward its hegemonic position: opportunity and suppression” (Bayat, 2007:7). In the 1950s and 1960s throughout the Muslim world massive educational growth, economic expansion, increase in wealth, and social mobility co-existed with “continuous political repression, marginalization, a sense of humiliation, and growing inequality” (Bayat, 2007:7). The members of this highly educated middle-class increasingly became aware of their marginalization in their societies where a small but affluent elite held all the political and economic power. Often allied with Western powers, these elites enjoyed the protection and the support of these nations. Political repression and social control were widely used by these regimes in order to quell any attempt at political dissidence. Political Islam became widely popular amongst those searching for an alternative to what they perceived as the rapid decay of their societies. Through its populist rhetoric and religious sociopolitical project Islamism quickly gained traction.

The term statist Islamism refers to the brand of Islamism that implies an “institutionalized participation in the politics of the nation state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). In this category, one can find groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who seek to reconcile Islamic doctrine with liberal forms of democracy. Their variant of Islamism evolved over time to become a reformist discourse. It appealed equally to members of the middle class and the working class eager to find a “broader popular constituency” to challenge the assertions of the more affluent, more secularized establishment claiming to speak for the nation (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). The model of political action and the ideological program detailed by the Muslim Brotherhood served as an example to follow for a wide range of organizations throughout the Muslim world. Groups such as Ennahda in Tunisia, the Salwa movement of Saudi Arabia, and Islah in Yemen, have “Brotherhood roots or links” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). Socially, these movements have often emerged within the middle class and are fundamentally linked to the spread of education and urbanization in their respective societies.

Statist Islamism sought to improve rather than destroy the existing system. Their narrative was not so much predicated on challenging social hierarchies and the economic model, but rather on attacking corruption and moral laxity seen as the very cause of the socio-economic ills plaguing the community. “The economic problems were to be solved not by a drastically new system of governance or redistribution of wealth but by elites recognizing and acting upon their obligations to Islam and sharia” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). What explains the resilience of statist Islamism is its capacity to adapt its aim and strategies to the shifts in models of governance and forms of social activism.

Non-statist Islamism and grassroots activism

The major models theorizing collective action never really focus on how collective action can transform into a revolution. They mainly explain the causes of social discontent without however pondering on how these same causes trigger revolutionary crises. James Davies claims that when prolonged periods of economic and social development are followed by a period of sharp decline, revolutions are more likely to occur (Bayat, 2007:18). According to Ted Gurr’s relative deprivation thesis “what seems to mediate between these objective processes and the occurrence of revolution is the psychological mood of the people, their expectations, and frustrations” (Bayat, 2007:18). Resource mobilization theorists have stressed out however that the people’s mood and their frustrations may not be enough to trigger action “unless they are able to mobilize the necessary resources by creating appropriate opportunities” (Bayat, 2007:18).

Popular frustration can give rise to two types of mobilization. One type seeks to dismantle the existing order and replace it with an alternative structure. This was the case in Iran where shortly after the revolution a process of massive Islamization of the nation was undertaken. Through a top-down process driven by the state a concerted effort was made to “Islamize the nation, state apparatus, public space, and individual behavior” (Bayat, 2007:50). The second type of mobilization seeks to revamp and amend the dominant order through the action of social movements. These movements are attempting to create “alternative institutions and value systems before a total change” (Bayat, 2007:18). Whereas in Iran Islamization spread through a top-down process, in Egypt the Islamic revival was born of a bottom-up social movement that first appeared in the 1920s (Bayat, 2007:33).

The economic restructuring of the 1970s diminished tremendously the state’s capacity to care for the marginalized and vulnerable groups within many Muslim societies. To compensate for this exclusion at the state level, vast sections of these societies relied increasingly on “self-help strategies, kinship networks, and other informal mechanisms” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This created an environment conducive to the rise of a type of Islamism rejecting any institutionalized participation in politics in favor of changes in lifestyles and individual behaviours.“Non-statist Islamismis not so much apolitical as it is infra political: local-level organizational, preaching and charitable activity” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 282). Grassroots activism is central to their brand of Islamism. While groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have also centered their activism on charity work and preaching, non-statist grassroots Islamism tends toward a more conservative interpretation of the Islamic doctrine. Salafism, which over the past decades became the most popular movement in the grassroots Islamist phenomenon, encourages its adherents to focus on the community rather than the state. “Salafis tend to promote an ascetic lifestyle and consider consumerism to be a distraction from religious duties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015:283).

The Salafi’s eschewing of all forms of political engagement has worked in their favor at the grassroots level. Unlike statist Islamists and Jihadists who often attract the ire of the state, Salafis are generally tolerated by these regimes. The post 9/11 crackdowns on Islamic organizations in the Middle East were mainly targeted toward politicized, and armed Islamists. “In allowing or facilitating the expansion of Islamist grassroots infrastructure, regimes signalled their limited capacity to govern peripheral, rural or informal urban areas” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This has allowed Salafis to have a greater control over the social field. Governments have actively encouraged members of politically active Islamists groups to join instead the less overtly militant Salafi movement. The contemporary Salafi movement arose from the student movements of the 1970s in Egypt. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Salafism was often promoted as the safer alternative to the more militant Islamist movements. “Yet, even if many grassroots activist, for principled or pragmatic reasons, eschew politics, their activism has played a role as part of a broader Islamist movement in building constituencies for Islamist parties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283).

Jihadi movements differ form both statist Islamists and non-statist groups like the Salafis by their endorsement of violence as a mean of establishing an Islamic state. Some of these groups call for violent tactics in their attempt to further the cause of an idealized form of Islamic community. Many more however are not motivated by a desire to promote armed struggle as a meaningful strategy, but are rather forced to adopt violent actions as a response to state repression; as it was the case in the Algerian civil conflict of the 1990s (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 284). These types of movements tend to find a fertile ground in areas where the state power is greatly diminished, and communities are marginalized. They usually emerge in places where the legitimacy of the state is widely contested, and its presence is all but absent or greatly undermined (Volpi and Stein, 2015:284).

 

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

While developing a nationwide consciousness through the rise of a national culture holds many revolutionary and therapeutic promises, it is also riddle with many pitfalls. Fanon was far too aware of the lurking dangers of “fixity and fetishism of identities within the calcification of colonial culture” to fall into to the trap of either romanticizing the past, or homogenizing the unfolding history of anti-colonial resistance (Bhabha, 1994:9). According to him, the discourse of cultural essentialism can reiterate and legitimize the insidious racialization inherent to the violent rationale of colonialism. The process of historical and cultural rehabilitation is an essential step in overcoming the rhetoric of the colonial civilizing mission, and its narrative consigning the colonized to barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. In Fanon’s understanding however, these aggressive assertions of cultural identity at a national level should eventually lead to wider international solidarities dedicated to the same anti-colonial struggle. “Ideally, national consciousness ought to pave the way for the emergence of an ethically and politically enlightened global community” (Gandhi, 1998:123).  It is crucial to move beyond the colonial moment by imagining a renewed social consciousness transcending the fixed identities and rigid boundaries inherent to nativism. “Postcolonialism, in other words, ought to facilitate the emergence of what we might, after Said, call an enlightened postnationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:124).

The vast majority of contemporary postcolonial critics and theorists agree that postnationalism proposes not only a more accurate reading of the colonial experience, but also a more creative framework for a postcolonial future. The perspective offered by the previous generation of anti-colonial activists (Fanon, Memmi, Césaire, Cabral etc.…) is often criticized for describing the colonial encounter through “the rigid binary of colonizer and colonized, center and periphery” (Archeraiou, 2011:150). Despite the historical and political truth of the antagonism underlined in their writings, their anti-colonial perspective neglects to recognize “the corresponding failures and fissures which trouble the confident edifice of both colonial repression and anti-colonial retaliation” (Gandhi, 1998:124). The colonial onslaught, despite its violence and systematicness, was never successful in completely obliterating colonized societies. In fact, Homi Bhabha argues that the encounter with colonial powers was far more ambivalent in nature then exclusively oppositional. The early political visions of Said and Spivak differ tremendously in their understanding of colonial history. Whereas Said presents colonialism as an uninterrupted narrative of oppression and exploitation in Orientalism, Spivak tends to offer a more complex image of the effects of Western domination. While she never dismisses the destructive impact of imperialism, she nevertheless insists on acknowledging its positive effects. According to Spivak, imperialism is endowed with a paradoxical nature that generates what she refers to as “an enabling violence” (Spivak, 1996:19).

Postnationalism investigates the precarious nature of the colonial encounter by bridging the old divide between Westerner and native through a less beleaguered—and more politically amorphous—account of “colonialism as a cooperative venture” (Gandhi, 1998:125). This rather softer outlook on colonialism seeks to produce a postcolonial ethos capable of creating an inter-civilizational coalition to challenge the institutionalized suffering and oppression of our current world (Gandhi, 1998:125). In order to do so, the colonial encounter is showcased as a process of mutual transformation. The old tale of conflict and confrontation is replaced by an anecdote of transcultural exchange. As Harish Trivedi states:

“It may be useful to look at the whole phenomenon as a transaction…as an interactive, dialogic, two-way process rather than a simple active-passive one; as a process involving complex negotiation and exchange” (Trivedi, 1993:15).

Three main factors seem to have heralded contemporary postcolonialism’s discursive turn toward postnationalism. The advent of globalization as an academic field with a growing body of work, insisting on the economic and technological homogenization of the world, reinforced the impression that national boundaries are no longer sustainable in the modern world. The current flow of global capital goes hand in hand with an unparalleled movement of peoples, technologies, and information across borders hitherto perceived as impermeable (Appadurai, 1990:295). Due to its global reach, colonialism became the harbinger of this free-flow that exemplifies the disconcerting relationships characterizing modernity. “The imperial gaze, in other words, delivered a distinctively globalized perception of the disparate world” (Gandhi, 1998:126). The colonial encounter caused the overlapping of diverse and reciprocally antagonistic national histories by accelerating the contact between formerly distinct and autonomous cultures. The colonial onslaught became a common experience to countless cultures connected by nothing else. Therefore, the condition of the postcolonial aftermath pertains “to Indians and Britishers, Algerians and French, Westerners and Africans” (Said, 1993: xxiv). The globalization of cultures and histories is the very matrix through which postcoloniality emerges.

A second factor that leads to the “postnationalisation of postcolonial theory” is the mounting critical distrust of identitarian politics (Gandhi, 1998:126). A variety of critics suspect that essentialized racial/ethnic identities are deliberately being maintained and proliferated in the neocolonial context. Stuart Hall details the insidious process through which “the convenient Othering and eroticization of ethnicity merely confirms and stabilizes the hegemonic notion of Englishness” (Hall, 1989:227). In these circumstances, ethnicity is always defined as peripheral to an Englishness or Americanness conceived of as the mainstream. This leads critics such as Rey Chow and Gayatri Spivak to question the enduring longing for the “pure Other of the West” (Spivak, 1990:8). The dissatisfaction with identitarian politics is driven primarily by the conviction that the narrative based on racial/ethnic affiliations has been co-opted by a devious partnership between neo-orientalism and postcolonial pragmatism.

Finally, to complete this account of the growing discursive turn toward postnationalism, we must take into account the pervasive exhaustion with the previous embattled approach to colonial history. The desire to transcend the older pattern of confrontation and conflict fuelled the belief that the antagonistic basis of old solidarities lacks contemporary credibility. “In conservative Britain, for instance, old racial oppositions come in the way of other more urgent alliances organized along the axes of class, gender, sexuality” (Gandhi, 1998:128). Said denotes an analogous impasse in old national enmities. His disenchantment stems from what he labels as a ”rhetoric of blame”, which he claims is responsible for the violence and confusion escalading hostilities between the Western and non-Western world (Said, 1993:20). These antagonistic relationships are exploited and manipulated by a throng of fundamentalist and reactionary movements taking cover under the rhetoric of anti-Western sentiment to, in Said’s words, “cover up contemporary faults, corruptions, and tyrannies” (Said, 1993:17).

“Finally, for all the blindness of unequivocal anti-nationalism, postcolonial theory has been susceptible to the general disillusionment with national cultures. Caught between the harsh extremes of ethnic cleansing, on the one hand, and the militaristic American purification of the un-American world on the other, postcolonialism ponders a ceasefire. Its hope, via postnationalism, is this: that it be possible to inaugurate a non-violent revision of colonial history, and that politics may become genuinely more collaborative in times to come” (Gandhi, 1998:129)

Hybridity and mutual transformations

Much like the culturalist turn of the 1970s that became a leading trend in the social sciences, the non-binary models promoted by Bhabha, Young, and Gilroy gained traction in the early 1990s in postcolonial studies. They have become the principal modes through which colonial and postcolonial cultural encounters are conceptualized and understood (Acheraiou, 2011:150). The previous models predicated on binary modes of theorizing and resisting colonialism/neocolonialism have been relegated to oblivion. Postcolonialism opts instead for a postnational reading of the colonial encounter, putting the emphasis on the amalgamation of cultures and identities touched by imperialism. To do so, it deploys various conceptual terms and categories of analysis to examine the elusive relationships between colonizers and colonized. “In this regard, the terms hybridity and diaspora, in particular, stand out for their analytic versatility and theoretical resilience” (Gandhi, 1998:129). As a critical term, hybridity is often tackled in connection with a series of concepts indicating the advent of an “intercultural transfer”, as well as the forms of identity emerging from such an exchange (Hiepko, 2001:118). This process of creolization implies that the various groups implicated in this event will adapt themselves to each other and to their new environment, allowing for a new identity to arise.

The origins of the term hybridity can be traced back to the discourse of the biological sciences. In botany and zoology, the hybrid is said to be a cross between two different species of plants or animals. However, in the context of colonialism and its racializing discourse, the term was primarily understood in a negative manner. By blurring the distinction between different races, the process of hybridization was seen as a potential danger to the alleged superiority of the White race, and white colonizers by extension (hiepko, 2001:118). Since the usage of this concept is traditionally entrenched in the narratives of evolution, “the hybrid was originally conceived of as infertile and often as an inferior copy of the original” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:4). Within Western thought, hybridity was usually interpreted in the framework of racial thinking. This generated a great deal of reluctance amongst those wary of its usage in postcolonialism. They were mainly concerned with the nineteenth century notions about race and miscegenation embedded in the term. Robert J.C Young who discusses the link between the concept of hybridity and the racist idea of mongrelity has argued for this perspective. He claims that the usage of the term reiterates and reinforces the contentious and divisive dynamics of its nineteenth century ideological baggage (Young, 1995:14).

“Today, therefore, in reinvoking this concept, we are utilizing the vocabulary of the Victorian extreme right as much as the notion of an organic process of the grafting of diversity into singularity” (Young, 1995:10).

For the most part, the language of hybridity seems to derive its theoretical incentive from Fanon’s judicious reading of colonialism as a catalyst for the accelerated transformation of colonized societies. He states that the constraints of the decolonization project radically unsettles and alters traditional cultural patterns in colonized societies. “The shifting strategies of anti-colonial struggle, combined with the task of imagining a new and liberated postcolonial future, generate a crisis within the social fabric” (Fanon, 1965:64). The revolutionary endeavor undertaken in the struggle for liberation provokes profound political and cultural transformations that change these societies irrevocably. Fanon proclaims that it is “the necessities of combat that give rise in Algerian society to new attitudes, to new modes of action, to new ways” (Fanon, 1965:64). His analysis of the Algerian Revolution highlights the transformations observed in the status of Algerian women as well as the changes occurring in the family structure and its values. Significant modifications in the customary attitudes toward science and technology can also be observed during the same period. While the rise of a national culture requires the uncovering of a native identity, invoking the myth of pure origins, the experience of colonial oppression must bring profound changes in the consciousness of the colonized to help them transcend the limitations of nativism, so they can instead embrace wider international solidarities.

“The challenging of the very principle of foreign domination brings about essential mutations in the consciousness of the colonized, in the manner in which he perceives the colonizer, in his human status in the world” (Fanon, 1965:69).

Fanon’s remarks pertaining to the “instability and consequent inventiveness of anti-colonial conditions” were revisited by a variety of postcolonial theorists who later formulated the discourse of hybridity (Gandhi, 1998:130). Most of them focused on the fact that the colonial encounter led to the transformation of the colonized into a political subject of decolonization. The contact between two conflicting systems of belief produced a whole new cultural identity. Stuart Hall argues that anti-colonial identities “do not owe their origins to a pure and stable essence” but are instead the byproduct of a traumatic and disruptive fissure in history and culture (Gandhi, 1998:130).

Homi K. Bhabha contributed to the discussion on hybridity by bringing forth the idea of intercultural space. According to him, this expanse of in-betweenness and liminality is where hybrid identities are formed. In what Bhabha calls the ‘Third space of enunciation’, the transitional space between the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized, as well as migrants and other post-colonial subjects, go through a process that alters their fixed sense of identity (Bhabha, 1994:37). While this recasting of previously fixed identities can be positive and empowering, its transgressive nature and location in the liminal space, poses nonetheless potential dangers as it produces “a new, and hybrid subjectivity” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:8). While this Third Space possesses the ability to generate non-fixed identities, there is always the possibility that these new identities might at first glance resemble the old ones, without being quite the same however (Bhabha, 1994:4). What is involved in the creation of a hybrid identity is an “estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations”(Bhabha,1994:9). Colonialism is read, in Bhabha’s perspective, as the trigger of a new politics of un-homeliness.

“In this sense, colonialism is said to engender the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiation. Not surprisingly, diasporic thought finds its apotheosis in the ambivalent, transitory, culturally contaminated and borderline figure of the exile, caught in a historical limbo between home and world” (Gandhi, 1998:132).

The role of hybridity in the production of contemporary identities is particularly of significance when one takes into account how this process frames them along cultural borderlands as hyphenated entities. Mary Louise Pratt extends Bhabha’s analyses by arguing that both the colonizer and the colonized are involved in the transcultural subtleties of the colonial encounter. She describes it less as a violent interaction and more as a contact requiring innovative forms of communication to overcome the existing ideological/cultural/linguistic barriers. This interaction amidst “radically asymmetrical conditions of power, invariably produces an estrangement of familiar meanings and a mutual ‘creolisation’ of identities”(Pratt, 1992:4).

“Some critics of Bhabha, such as Aijaz Ahmed and Benita Parry, criticize his theory for its poststructuralist/postmodernist and textual emphasis” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:9). Ahmed argues that Bhabha is situated in the same material conditions of postmodernity that ascertain and reiterate the benefits of modernity; it is this very location that informs Bhabha’s judgments of the past, as well as the “anti-historicality of his post-colonial theory” (Ahmed, 1996:291). Others however, have argued that the ambivalence of Bhabha’s Third Space can be used to inspire emancipatory aims, and unearth new narratives pertaining to nation. “Hybridity is a threat to colonial and cultural authority; it subverts the concept of pure origin or identity of the dominant authority through the ambivalence created by denial, unsettling, repetition, and displacement” (Mabardi, 2000:6).

The possible existence of these locations of hybridity theorized by Bhabha, where the traditional and the new co-exist, challenges the standard narratives pertaining to modernity and postmodernity. It proposes the likelihood of “mixed times where premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity coexist” (Pieterse, 1995:51). This outlook on time occupies an important place in Bhabha’s work. His concept of time-lag intimates that the colonial past still exercises a certain hold on the postcolonial present, that is,  “in the colonialist stereotype that surfaces in the present and troubles the linearity of modernity by repeating the past” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:10). Hybridity’s ability to question and challenge what might appear as natural borders is probably its greatest aptitude and influence.

“Acknowledging the contingency of boundaries and the significance and limitation of hybridity as a theme and approach means engaging hybridity politics. This is where critical hybridity comes in, which involves a new awareness of and new take on the dynamics of group formation and social inequality. This critical awareness is furthered by acknowledging rather than suppressing hybridity” (Pieterse, 2001:239).

The notion of in-betweenness implied by the term hybridity is further explored through the concept of diaspora. While this term usually evokes the specific dynamics of human displacement, postcolonialism is generally more concerned with the idea of cultural dislocation. Although it is often used interchangeably with the concept of migration, “it is generally invoked as a theoretical device for the interrogation of ethnic identity and cultural nationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:131). The notion of hybridity elucidates those processes of “cultural mutation and restless (dis) continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents” (Gilroy, 1993:2). This concurrence between diasporic thought and the discourse of hybridity allows postcolonialism to reveal the process of mutual transformation experienced by both the colonizer and the colonized. “For all its hyperbolic claims, the discourse of hybridity and diaspora is not without its limitation” (Gandhi, 1998:136). While postcolonialism attempts to understand the mutual transformation of colonizer and colonized, hybridity usually implies the destabilizing of colonized cultures. In all these cross-cultural conversations the West remains the primary meeting ground. Furthermore, in the metropolis, the positive outlook on multiculturalism is often used to disguise serious economic, political, and social disparities. In this context, it is crucial to remain cautious of claims which favor hybridity as the only enlightened response to racial/colonial oppression.

“The dangers of ‘enlightened hybridity’ are amply demonstrated in Ashcroft et al.’s recently announced objections to the aggressively postcolonial claims of the indigenous peoples of ‘settled colonies’ which, arguably, compete with the corresponding claims of ‘white settler’ Australians and Canadians.” (Gandhi, 1998:136).

Hybridity and mimicry

The complications pertaining to Bhabha’s attempt to think beyond the traditional binary modes of analysis become evident in “his account of the issue of political engagement, resistance and agency” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). He views the political sphere as an area where dominant and subordinate cultures engage in a process of constant (re)negotiation and political (re)positioning. This cognitive ambivalence on the part of both “partners” permits the advent of new, and hitherto unknown methods in which the native can circumvent the weight of colonial power. Bhabha compares this process to a “psychological guerrilla warfare” that gives the colonized a certain edge over their colonizers (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). His reassessment of the spaces, the times, and the modes of political engagement in the colonial relationship is an attempt on his part to find a way of reformulating subaltern agency in terms other than those elaborated by either late Fanon or early Said. For Bhabha, the portrait of the violent native insurgent found in The Wretched of the Earth reestablishes the Western model of the individual as an autonomous subject, “by which Western modernity—and the history of colonialism which accompanied it—is underwritten” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:131).

Unlike Fanon, Said establishes the subaltern as devoid of any real agency, and a mere consequence of the dominant discourse. Within the power dynamic presented in Orientalism, the subaltern is only ever the West’s silent rival. While some have criticized Said for “constructing too hegemonic a picture of Orientalism’s discursive formation, Bhabha points out to the way in which Said himself shows that such a discourse is constituted ambivalently” (Young, 2004: 181). Said tackles this ambivalence by mentioning a single instigating intention. In his analysis, Orientalism is reduced primarily to a Western projection designed to rule over the Orient. He posits an antagonism born out of the binary opposition between power and powerlessness. This emphasizes “the supposition of an exterior controlling intention and leaves no room for negotiation or resistance (…)” (Young, 2004:182). However, Bhabha believes that Europe’s intents toward the East were not merely motivated by imperial greed. “There is always, in Said, the suggestion that colonial power is possessed entirely by the colonizer which is a historical and theoretical simplification” (Homi, 1983:200). He argues that this is a reductive analysis of a far more complex relationship. According to him, the representation of the Orient in Western discourse displays a deep ambivalence toward an Other viewed simultaneously as an object of desire and derision (Bhabha, 1994:19). Both the colonizers and the colonized enter a process of mutual transformations and engage in mutual mimicry.

Bhabha defines the concept of mimicry as “one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge”(Bhabha, 1994:85). The case of the nineteenth century adventurer Richard Burton, who passed himself off as a native in India and other British colonies, is no doubt one of the greatest examples of cross-cultural impersonation through mimicry. “His fluency in several languages and easy ability to consort with natives led him to adopt indigenous dress” (Godiwala, 2007:59). Burton’s act of mimicry was a subversive one that allowed him to regularly warn colonial powers against insurgent activities, burgeoning rebellions, and underground anti-colonial mobilizations. Said’s definition of the orientalist as a Westerner who establishes himself as an “authority in the texts of the colonized peoples applies to Burton’s writing as it does to the Egypt-based Burkhardt” (Godiwala, 2007:60). As pointed out by Parama Roy, in Burton’s travelogues, letters, and journals he is always posited as the authority on the native subject having “penetrated and participated in every exotic and forbidden mystery”(Roy, 1998:26). Mimicry is used here as a camouflage allowing the colonizer to fade into the background while still occupying a privileged position as an observer.

However, in the case of the colonized, Bhabha theorizes that the act of mimicking the colonizer’s habits, behaviors, mannerisms, and attitudes contains simultaneously an element of mockery as well as a certain threat in the resemblance to the values of the colonizing culture. The colonized subject engaging in the act of mimicry is effectively refusing to return the colonizer’s gaze, which, “Bhabha suggests, destabilizes colonial authority just as effectively in a different way” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). The colonizer’s ambivalence toward the colonized is conveyed in the “narcissistic colonialist demand” that requires the recognition of his authority, priorities, and references by the Other (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). By refusing to satisfy the colonizer’s need for such recognition, the subaltern is effectively engaging in resistance. This defiance arises from the subaltern’s calculated attempt to escape the process through which he is to be confined to a subordinate position in order to confirm the dominance of the colonizer.

“Here, the Anglicization of a colonial subject makes the subject familiar and yet, for Bhabha, emphasizes the difference from the English subject which is a process that mocks the authority of the latter” (Godiwala, 2007:60).

According to Dimple Godiwala, Bhabha is making a false assumption by equating the mimicry of an Englishman such as Burton to that of an Indian mimicking English values and attitudes. While Burton’s mimicry is endowed with the power bestowed upon him by his status of colonizer, to the colonized subject this mimicking Englishman represents a danger in his role as a spy of the empire. “Burton’s impersonation gives a him a thrill and a pleasure as his role as consummate actor is mingled with the knowledge of his own power” (Godiwala, 2007:61). Bhabha’s projected equivalence on both sides is simplistic and foregoes completely the impact of the power wielded by the colonizer’s culture. Young echoes Godiwala’s argument by pointing out that “such an analysis cannot be equally applicable to colonized as to colonizer” (Young, 2004:145). Burton’s motivations are part of the larger ‘colonialist desire’ to insinuate oneself into the lives of the colonized in order to render it accessible and manageable. The colonized however, mimic because they have internalized the notion that their cultural values are inferior to that of their colonizers. Therefore, the “subject-positions” of the colonizer and the colonized are fundamentally different and mimicry is used for very different reasons. The colonized is primarily motivated by a desire to imitate values they regard as superior to their own (Godiwala, 2007:61).

 

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Postcolonial Nativism: Culture And Resistance

Postcolonial Nativism: Culture And Resistance

The long history of resistance to colonialism is well known and documented in Postcolonial studies. The extensive and often violent process of colonization never effectively pacified colonized bodies. However, theorizing this kind of resistance sparked vigorous discussions amongst those wishing to address it within the confines of postcolonial theory. Questions pertaining to subjectivity, identity, and agency created unavoidable fault-lines within the conversation concerning “the appropriate models for contemporary counter-hegemonic work” (Parry, 1994:84).  For some, relying on a simple inversion of terms outlined by colonial discourse—such as colonizer/colonized—hinders greatly any attempt made to reinstate the colonized as the primary subject of its own history. Retaining colonial assumptions based on “undifferentiated identity categories” prevents any real challenge susceptible of contesting “the conventions of that system of knowledge”, and in fact creates a whole new layer of complicity (Parry, 1994:84). The project of postcolonial critique should instead seek to deconstruct and displace the Eurocentric foundations of the “discursive apparatus, which constructed the Third World not only for the west but also for the cultures so represented” (Terdiman, 1985:36).

There is no lack of evidence when it comes to instances of native dissatisfaction and dissent under colonial rule. In fact, the various forms of institutional and ideological domination generated widespread contestation. Official colonial archives have recorded instances of insurgency and organized political contestations against colonial rule.  “Traces of popular disobedience can also be recuperated from unwritten symbolic and symptomatic practices in which a rejection or violation of the subject positions assigned by colonialism is registered” (Parry, 1994:85). However, these often anarchic bouts of defiance, accompanied by a discourse of identity-assertion, “which were sometimes nurtured by dreams, omens and divination, and could take the form of theatre, violated notions of rational protest” were not always chronicled or highlighted in the anticolonial discourse (Harris, 1974:14). For the intellectual elite of the various nationalist and liberation movements these events were neither motivated by a specific political program with predetermined political outcomes, nor capable of advancing the struggle for nation-building.

“When we consider the narratives of decolonization, we encounter rhetorics in which ‘nativism’ in one form or another is evident” (Parry, 1994:88). For those theorizing anticolonial resistance, nativism can be misconstrued as nothing more than an essentializing discourse, or worse a type of ‘reverse racism’. According to Parry, reducing nativism to a mere castigating of inequalities grounded in a repetition of imperialism’s conceptual framework, overlooks its role in the development of a narrative of resistance. Nativism is imbued with a discourse predicated on overthrowing the hierarchy, the stance, and the concepts of the colonial narrative, and also rejecting the position of subjugation reserved to the colonized. “A recent discussion of nativism condenses many of the current censures of cultural nationalism for its complicity with the terms of colonialism’s discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). While it allows the decolonized to write about themselves as subjects of their own literature, nativism remains for Anthony Appiah beholden to monolithic conceptions of identity.

“Railing against the cultural hegemony of the West, the nativist are of its party without knowing it. Indeed the very argument, the rhetoric of defiance, that our nationalist muster are…canonical, time tested…In their ideological inscription, the cultural nationalists remain in apposition of conteridentification…which is to continue to participate in an institutional configuration—to be subjected to cultural identities they ostensibly decry…Time and time again, cultural nationalism has followed the route of alternate genealogizing. We end up always in the same; the achievement is to have invented a different pas for it” (Appiah, 1988:164).

For those sharing Appiah’s trepidations, nativist topology based on dichotomies such as periphery/center, native/foreigner, Western/tradition, reiterates the idea of the colonizer as a dynamic agent of change, and the colonized as a passive observer. “Thus while the reciprocity of the relationship is stressed, all power remains with western discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). However, Parry argues that nativism possesses the ability to generate an empowering project based on the creation of a coherent identity transcending the need to simply “locate and revive pristine pre-colonial cultures”(Irele, 1970:170).  Fanon and Cabral, as authors of liberation theories—“which could today be accused of an essentialist politics”—recognized the inherent potential possessed by the creation of an insurgent, unified self, in furthering the revolutionary cause (Parry, 1994:91).

“For as I read them, both affirmed the invention of an insurgent, unified black self, acknowledged the revolutionary energies released by valorizing the cultures denigrated by colonialism and, rather than construing the colonialist relationship in terms of negotiations with the structures of imperialism, privileged coercion over hegemony to project it as a struggle between implacably opposed forces (…)” (Parry, 1994:91).

According to Stuart Hall, there are two ways of conceptualizing cultural identity. The first one defines it in terms of a unique common culture, creating a collective “one true self”, which people with a shared common history and ancestry identify with (Hall, 1990: 110). Within the confines of this definition, our cultural identities demonstrate the collective historical experiences and cultural codes that provide us the basis on which we build the frames of reference that identify us as “one people” (Hall, 1990:111). It reiterates the “stable, unchangeable and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history” (Hall, 1990:111). This perception of cultural identity played an important role in the postcolonial struggles that have transformed our world. “It lay at the centre of the vision of the poets of ‘Negritude, like Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor, and of the Pan-African political project, earlier in the century” (Hall, 1990:111). It also remains an important element in nascent forms of representation amid previously marginalized peoples. Amongst postcolonial societies, the reclaiming of this cultural identity is what Fanon refers to as:

“a passionate research (…) directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others” (Fanon, 1963:170).

 

I) The colonizer/colonized paradigm

According to Frantz Fanon, what characterizes the Western colonization of the Global South is the intense and continuous racialization of non-whites. The colonizers’ existence and identity rests primarily on their ability to maintain a highly racialized colonial system that grants them all the profits, while stripping the non-whites of their rights and basic humanity (Rabaka, 2010:113). Albert Memmi points out that the “economic motives of colonial undertakings” explain why so many Europeans choose to relocate to the colonies (Memmi, 1967:3). The change involved in moving to a colony ensured that these settlers could make a substantial profit. In a racialized hierarchy where being white guaranteed all possible privileges, moving to a colony entailed: better jobs, higher wages, rapid social mobility, and profitable businesses. In short, the colonizer becomes aware of his status of white settler as he arrives in the colony and “discovers his own privilege” (Memmi, 1967:7). He becomes keenly aware that this lucrative and privileged position he occupies is in direct relation to the colonized. If his living standards are so high, it is precisely because those of the colonized are so low (Memmi, 1967:8).

“He knows also that the most favoured colonized will never be anything but colonized people, in other words, that certain rights will forever be refused them, and that certain advantages are reserved strictly for him. In short, he knows, in his own eyes as well as those of his victim, that he is a usurper. He must adjust to both being regarded as such, and to this situation” (Memmi, 1967:9)

In order to fortify this racial hierarchy and justify the existence of the colonizer, the system must propose a certain image or status the colonized must abide by. “These images become excuses without which the presence and conduct of a colonizer (…) would seem shocking” (Memmi, 1967:79). The colonized is depicted as a being devoid of any tangible qualities that requires not only guidance, but also protection from himself. “In order for the colonizer to be the complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, but he must also believe in its legitimacy” (Memmi, 1967:89). This process requires the dissemination of a fictitious and degrading portrait of the colonized, until he/she ends up not only accepting it, but also living it to a certain extent. The racialization of the non-whites mentioned by Fanon is the effort made to dehumanize the colonized. Since the colonial project intertwines and intersects with racism, the narrative of white supremacy becomes the main ideological vehicle through which the mistreatment of racialized bodies is legitimized (Rabaka, 2010:113).

The colonial realm is a compartmentalized and Manichean world, where the “colonial subject is a man penned in: apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world” (Fanon, 1963:15). Through its policies and academics, the colonizer implants in the mind of the colonized that all essential values are Western values, and “remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man” (Fanon, 1963:15). The colonized becomes convinced of the pertinence and accuracy of these ideas; his very thought process has now fallen pray to the same colonial incursion ravaging his land. “The white colonists attack the traditions and myths—above all, their myths—of the racially colonized while clandestinely creating and perpetuating myths of their own concerning the racially colonized” (Rabaka, 2010:121). These concocted myths and stereotypes not only become part and parcel of the colonial narrative, but they are also eventually internalized by the colonized. This leads to the emergence of many of the problems Fanon addresses throughout his corpus. Disrupting and shattering indigenous cultures triggers amongst all colonized peoples an inferiority complex. They position themselves in relation to the culture and the language of their colonizers. “The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush” (Fanon, 1952:2). The psychological, social, emotional, economic, and political impact of this mythical portrait of the racialized subject entrenches even further the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. Constantly attacking, challenging, and weakening severely any lingering inkling of autonomy or sovereignty from the pre-colonial era reiterates this binary power-dynamic between the colonialists and the colonial subjects.

“Colonization is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it” (Fanon, 1963:170). 

In order for the colonial project to reach its desired supremacy, the indigenous population must be convinced of the benefits of colonization. This can only happen once they are completely alienated from their own indigenous culture. “The result was to hammer into the head of the indigenous population that if the colonists were to leave they would regress into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality” (Fanon, 1963:149). The peoples of the colonies were reduced to entities with no history of their own, no art, no past, and certainly no future (Said, 1993:193). Without the presence of their colonizers, they will surely once again fall prey to their ego, their biology, and their intellectual inadequacy. The inherently destructive nature of colonial domination was quick to disrupt in remarkable ways the cultural life of the conquered. The denial of all pretentions of nationhood, the new legal, political, and social system imposed by the occupying powers, the marginalization of the indigenous population, the forced expropriations, the ban of their most sacred customs, and “the systematic enslavement of men and women, all contributed to this cultural obliteration” (Fanon, 1963:170).

 

II) National culture and liberation struggles

Albert Memmi has argued that despite the end of colonialism, the perverse longevity of its imprint will continue to persist. The idea that the colonial aftermath will lead to the emergence of a new society rising from the ashes of what was previously a colony, remains for Memmi nothing short of a delusion. He maintains that too often one underestimates “the psychologically tenacious hold of the colonial past on the postcolonial present” (Memmi, 1968:88). The economic, cultural, and political damage caused by colonial occupation does not simply disappear with the first signs of national independence. Colonisation as Said argues, is a “fate with lasting, indeed grotesquely unfair results” (Said, 1989:207). The status of the colonized remains affixed into a zone of dependency and periphery. They continue to be stigmatized and described as the underdeveloped, the less-developed, forever posited as the complete opposite of their superior Western overlords who remain in every possible way antithetical to them (Said, 1989:207).

The relationship between culture and imperialism is an integral part of the discussion pertaining to decolonization. The advent of close to a hundred new decolonized post-colonial states after 1945 is a fact those scholars, historians, activists working on the topic of postcolonialism should take into account. Colonial uprisings such as the San Domingo revolution, the Abdul Kader insurrection, the Orabi Revolt, and the Boxer Rebellion are all examples of earlier uprisings against colonial rule right across the non-European world. “There had been reprisals, changes of regimes, causes célèbres, debates, reforms, and reappraisals. All along the empires increased in size and profit” (Said, 1993:196). However, the post war era saw the emergence of a sustained and systematic resistance to the West as the embodiment of the Empire to be defeated. “Long simmering resentment against the white man from the Pacific to the Atlantic sprang into fully fledge independence movements” (Said, 1993:196).

 The anti-colonial militancy active between the two world wars was not completely anti-West. While some believed that working with Christianity could provide a reprieve from the colonial onslaught, others saw in the process of Westernization a possible solution to colonialism. They believed that certain aspects of Western culture could provide them with the necessary ammunition to question, challenge, and eventually extricate their nations from the colonial hold. Their endeavours and viewpoints however received very little acknowledgement in the metropole, and “in time their resistance was transformed” (Said, 1993:196). Since colonialism was a system, it became obvious that the resistance needed to be as systematic (Sartre, 1964). A wave of anti-colonial and anti-imperial activity and thought challenging not only colonialism, but also the very foundations of Western civilization, emerged as a result of this systematic approach to resistance.

“For the first time Westerners have been required to confront themselves not simply as the Raj but as representatives of a culture and even of races accused of crimes—crimes of violence, crimes of suppression, crimes of conscience” (Said, 1993:195).

According to Edward Said, culture can predispose a society to foreign domination, as much as it can prepare said society to abandon or amend the ideas leading to such a predisposition (Said, 1993:196). This change of mindset cannot occur however without a profound desire in the members of this society to resist the pressures of colonial rule. They must be willing “to take up arms, project ideas of liberation, and to imagine (…) a new national community, to take the final plunge” (Said, 1993:200). The political and economic cost of colonial occupation must be enough of a burden that the desire to overthrow this foreign domination becomes indispensable. The very idea of empire and the cost of colonial rule, as well as the justifications seeking to legitimize imperialism, must be openly challenged. Once the rebellious natives are willing to reiterate the independence and integrity of their own culture free from colonial intrusion, the necessary prerequisites for the emergence of a systematic resistance to colonialism are met. With the recovery of their native culture the indigenous population is now ready to transcend their status of dominated subjects in the colonizer/colonized dichotomy. The opposition and resistance to imperialism are “articulated together on a largely common although disputed terrain provided by culture” (Said, 1993:200).

The mapping of the newly recovered cultural space heralds the difficult process of territorial recovery, which is at the heart of decolonization. After the primary resistance against outside intrusion comes the period of ideological resistance, when every effort is made to rebuild a “shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system” (Davidson, 1978:155). By once again embracing their native culture and rejecting the values and cultural modes imposed upon them, such as speaking European languages or wearing Western clothes, the natives are actively elaborating the ideological basis for the greater unity essential to the completion of their liberation struggle (Said, 1993:210). Under colonial domination, the colonizers actively seek the systematic destruction of national culture. Colonial authorities consider the attachment of the natives to their own traditions as an obvious sign of their loyalty to the national spirit, and their refusal to submit to colonial rule. “Very quickly it becomes a culture condemned to clandestinity” (Fanon, 1963: 171). This perseverance of cultural expression amongst the colonized is for Fanon the demonstration of a lingering sense of nationhood that continues to endure despite the colonial presence (Fanon, 1963: 171).

Both Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral were in general agreement about the important role of culture in the struggle against colonialism. For Fanon, revolution is an integral part of the process of rejuvenation of both man and society after the ravages of colonial rule. “Only through revolution could a suppressed people undo the effects of colonisation” (Blackey, 1974:193). The struggle for liberation is the process through which the national integrity and pride, as well as the past and the future, are restored. Liberation requires the total destruction of the colonial system (Fanon, 1958:105). Cabral believes that the larger struggle for the liberation of the colonized is a “fundamental characteristic of the advance of history (…)” (Cabral, 1961:14). Revolution is the conduit through which not only national independence will be achieved, but the purging of foreign domination will once again allow the previously colonized to transform their lives in the direction of progress. The national productive forces must be liberated to service the development of this national spirit. “Thus, the struggle is not only against colonialism, but against neo-colonialism as well” (Blackey, 1974:193). Cabral’s vision of the struggle for liberation encompassed a broader spectrum of what revolution should entail. He argued that revolutionaries must not simply fight for abstract ideas alone, but for the improved conditions of their peoples. The fight must not revolve merely around the idea of liberty of independence, but should also address “local and pressing grievances and problems” (Blackey, 1974:194). In other words, it is by fighting for local grievances, and reiterating the necessity to restore the primacy of native cultures that the leaders of the liberation struggle will gain the support of their populations.

“We have to remember that its’ not enough to produce, to have a full stomach, to practice sound politics, and to make war. If a man, a woman, a human being does all of this without advancing as an intelligent being, as the foremost being in nature; without truly feeling every day that knowledge of the environment and of the world in general increases in one’s head; without, that is, advancing in the cultural sphere; then all that one does—producing, practising sound politics, fighting—hasn’t worked at all” (Cabral, 2016:115)

Culture is a vital part of a people’s identity in its struggle for freedom from colonialism. A national culture encompasses all the efforts made by a people to describe, and justify the process through which the common identity holding them together as one people is produced. In the case of colonized nations, national culture should take centre stage in the struggle against colonialism. The greatest act of cultural manifestation undertaken by a colonized people, resides in their conscious and organized struggle to restore national sovereignty. “It is not solely the success of the struggle that consequently validates and energizes culture; culture does not go into hibernation during the conflict” (Fanon, 1963:178). The struggle itself will expand the multiple directions culture can go into, and in doing so hint at new possibilities. The fight for liberation will not simply restore the people to their previous values and structures; its primary aim is instead “a fundamental redistribution of the relations between men” that will not only achieve the demise of colonization, but also that of the colonized (Fanon, 1963:178). A struggle, which mobilizes every level of society, and reaches the ideal conditions for cultural development and innovation, will no doubt herald a new form of humanity. “A nation born of the concerted effort of the people, which embodies the actual aspirations of the people and transforms the state (….)” shatters irrevocably the colonizer/colonized paradigm so central to colonial discourse and colonial rule (Fanon, 1963:179).

Cabral agrees with Fanon’s assessment of the importance of culture in the struggle for freedom. The primary role of culture is to strengthen the common bond between members of the same group. It not only provides a sense of individual identity, but it is also a “purveyor of intimate information about the individual, and his group’s ethos and the manifestation of its most obvious and occasionally banal characteristics” (McCulloch, 1983: 85). Cabral went so far as to affirm that it is impossible to create and execute a revolution if the people haven’t managed to keep their culture thriving despite the constant organized repression of their way of life. “It is cultural resistance which at a given moment can take on new forms—political, economic, military—to fight foreign domination” (Cabral, 1972:40). According to him, in the colonial context the cultural influence of the empire is often limited to the main urban areas, and then to only a small contingent of “petty bourgeoisie and urban workers” (Blackey, 1974:207). The masses on the other hand, remain vastly untouched by the cultural influence of the colonial power. They find in their own culture a rampart to help them preserve their identity, and resist the assimilation and subjugation sought by the colonial project.

Fanon however, warns nascent postcolonial states against falling into a pattern of imitation where they would reproduce Western and capitalistic ways of life. In fact, he states that such an imitation would only lead them to the kind of moral and spiritual debasement being experienced by Western nations (Blackey, 1974:208). He believes that common interests should bring those engaged in the anti-colonial struggle together in order to “try to set afoot a new man” (Fanon, 1963:316). Cabral shares a similar outlook and reiterates the importance of looking beyond the struggle for liberation, and taking into account the economic, social, and cultural development of the people on their road to progress. He vehemently rejects the type of nativism leading to a narrow minded nationalism, which will not serve the interests of those trying to escape the colonial hold, but would instead lead to the emergence of an ethnocentrism reproducing the worst aspects of the colonial system (Blackey, 1974:208).

Fanon also highlights the importance of the colonized intellectual in assisting his society in the process of cultural recovery. He should use his knowledge to spur them into action, and foster through his writings the hope of a better future. “The colonized intellectual is responsible not to his national culture, but to the nation as a whole, whose culture is, after all, but one aspect” (Fanon, 1963:168). Since one cannot divorce the fight for culture from the larger struggle for liberation, the colonized intellectual must assist in the restoration of the palpable matrix from which culture can grow. For both Fanon and Cabral, “national culture is no folklore where an abstract populism is convinced it has uncovered the popular truth” (Fanon, 1963:168). National culture, on the contrary, emerges from the collective thought process through which the people define, validate, and praise the actions by which they join forces and organize their systematic resistance to colonialism. For the liberation movements who successfully led their struggle against Western imperialism, it was necessary to establish their legitimacy through their cultural primacy. By establishing an unbroken continuity leading to the first movements/groups/individuals who stood against the colonial intrusion of European powers, these nationalist parties were able to ascertain their legitimacy and relevance.

“Thus the Algerian National Liberation Front which inaugurated its insurrection against France in 1954 traced its ancestry to the Emir Abdel Kader, who fought the French occupation during the 1830s and 1840s. In Guinea and Mali resistance against the French is traced back generations to Samory and Hajji Omar” (Said, 1993: 197).

Decolonization is a complex process that unfolds over the course of different political contexts, different histories and geographies, different narratives, and counter-narratives. “The struggle took the form of strikes, marches, violent attack, retribution and counter-retribution” (Said, 1993:197). It also encompasses an eruption of orators and intellectuals appealing to the masses for a greater commitment and mobilization for the anti-colonial struggle. Anti-imperialist resistance emerged gradually from various sporadic—and often unsuccessful— revolts until after World War One. During the period between the two world wars, it took on a more systematic approach and became a lot “more militantly independence-minded” (Said, 1993:219).

 

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What Is The Postcolonial?

What Is The Postcolonial?

The arrival of cultural studies in the 1970s provoked a major discursive turn that extricated social theory from the clutches of disciplinary hegemony. Postcolonial theory emerged in the aftermath of this cognitive shift, and has quickly gained traction in Western academia. Since then, postcolonialism has spread its impact and significance in fields as varied as globalization, economics, sociology, and even ecology. Postcolonial discourse was crucial in the development of new discursive approaches better suited to address contemporary political and social transformations. The classical narratives of modernity, in which social theory relied heavily on dependency theory and center/periphery models, were unable to explain the multi-directional flow of global interactions; “a flow that was most noticeable in cultural exchanges” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin, 2000:vii).

In the last decade, postcolonialism has emerged as a major critical discourse in the humanities akin to theories such as poststructuralism and feminism. “As a consequence of its diverse and interdisciplinary usage, this body of thought has generated an enormous corpus of specialized writing” (Gandhi, 1998:viii). While much has been produced under its rubric, postcolonialism remains for the most part a nebulous term. “Unlike Marxism or deconstruction, for instance, it seems to lack an ‘originary moment’ or a coherent methodology” (Gandhi, 1998:viii). Despite the various successes of postcolonial studies in reshaping traditional disciplinary configurations and modes of cultural analysis, there are increasingly a growing number of attacks from not only outside the field but also from within.

The intellectual history of postcolonial theory is grounded in a dialectic between Marxism and poststructuralism/postmodernism. This theoretical contention shapes the academic content of postcolonial analysis, revealing itself in the ongoing debates “between the competing claims of nationalism and internationalism, strategic essentialism and hybridity, solidarity and dispersal, the politics of structure/totality and the politics of the fragment” (Gandhi, 1998:ix). Both sides of this divide present compelling arguments in the critique of their theoretical opponents. However, neither Marxism nor poststructuralism can truly explain the meanings and the ramifications of the colonial onslaught. Postcolonial critics must constantly work toward a position that implies a negotiation between these two modes of though. The postcolonial project is one that entails the integration of these conflicting theoretical and political denominations.

“While the poststructuralist critique of Western epistemology and theorization of cultural alterity/difference is indispensable to postcolonial theory, materialist philosophies, such as Marxism, seem to supply the most compelling basis for postcolonial politics (Gandhi, 1998:ix).

Postcolonial discourse is primarily grounded in the historical phenomenon of colonialism. As a body of theoretical and empirical literature, it is built in large parts around the concepts of otherness and resistance. While some postcolonial thinkers explore these concepts through binary models of perception, others have opted instead to examine the colonial encounter through the possible mingling of colonizing and colonized cultures. The term postcolonial is said to be emblematic of a form of social criticism pertaining to the unequal systems of representation through which “the historical experience of the once-colonized Third World comes to be framed in the West” (Bhabha, 1998: 63). Operating in two different registers simultaneously, it is both a historical marker alluding to the period following the end of colonization, and a term indicating the changes in the intellectual approaches influenced by post-structuralism and deconstruction (Padmini, 1997: 2). The postcolonial is therefore understood as “a set of reading practices” concerned with analyzing the “cultural forms” which intercede, challenge, or reproduce the relationships of supremacy and subjugation between nations, races, and cultures (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 12).

While postcolonial criticism officially reached the Western academy through Edward Said’s Orientalism in the late 1970’s, it actually predates the period where the term postcolonial started gaining traction. The work of figures as diverse as the African-American thinker W.E.B Du Bois, the Trinidadian C.L.R James, the Martinican revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon in Algeria, the African critics Chinua Achebe and Cheikh Anta Diop, and the Indian historiographer Ranajit Guha have all been instrumental in establishing the modes of cultural analysis identified with postcolonialism (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 5). Despite its belated arrival in the Western academy, it nonetheless had a major impact on contemporary modes of cultural analysis, bringing to the forefront the importance and intersectionality of issues such as race, nation, empire, migration, and ethnicity in the process of cultural production.

Postcolonial criticism did not simply expand the traditional field of English literature, or put the emphasis on certain areas of analysis previously overlooked; it also irrevocably modified the major modes of analysis that epitomized the period from 1945 to 1980 (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8). Colonial discourse analysis rejects the idea of studying literature in solation, and insists on taking into account the multiple materials, contexts, and academic fields (politics, sociology, history, etc.…) that shape and determine its production and reception. Postcolonial criticism questions notions pertaining to “the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere” by suggesting that culture can actually facilitate relationships of power as efficiently as any of the “more visible forms of oppression” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8).

For some the hyphenated form post-colonialism serves primarily as a temporal marker of the process of decolonization. Others however reiterate that the postcolonial condition is not the result of the end of colonial occupation, but rather begins with the very advent of colonialism itself. The hyphenated form insinuates, according to them, a disconnect between colonialism and its ramifications. They argue that the “unbroken term ‘postcolonial’ is more sensitive to the long history of colonial consequences” (Gandhi, 1998:3). Other theorists have instead expressed a preference for the term postcoloniality, which they believe to be devoid of the academic dogma linked to the notion of postcolonialism. “In postcoloniality, every metropolitan definition is dislodged. The general mode for the postcolonial is citation, reinscription, rerouting the historical” (Spivak, 1993:217). Although Spivak perceives positive aspects to postcoloniality, others remain far from convinced. Ella Shohat believes that the globalizing nature of postcoloniality erases the complexity inherent to the postcolonial condition. According to her, it “downplays multiplicities of location and temporality (…) between post-colonial theories and contemporary anti-colonial, or anti-neocolonial struggles and discourses” (Shohat, 1992: 104).

Anne McClintock agrees with this assessment and reaffirms that the “absence of the necessary multiplicity” is indeed problematic (Childs and Williams, 1997:16). The singularity implied by the idea of an all encompassing postcolonialism re-centers global history around the chronicles of European history, and in doing so invalidates the “decentering of history in hybridity, syncretism, multi-dimensional time, and so forth (…). Colonialism returns at the moment of its disappearance” (McClintock, 1992:293). Arif Dirlik presents yet another perspective of postcoloniality that suggest a form of amnesia. According to him, this term is not applicable to the entire postcolonial period, “but only to that period after colonialism when among other things, a forgetting of its effects has begun to set in” (Dirlik, 1994:339). In this outlook, postcoloniality becomes a sort of pathology, “a disease of the times” (Childs and Williams, 1997:17). Anthony Appiah shares a similarly pessimistic view of postcoloniality. He refers to it as a “meretricious form of intellectual activity” (Childs and Williams, 1997:18). His criticism implies a willing complicity on the part of postcolonial intellectuals with the very imperialist and postcolonial structures they are meant to oppose.

“Postcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: a relatively small, Western-style, Western trained group of writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery. In the West they are known through the Africa they offer; their compatriots know them both through the West they present to Africa and through an Africa they have invented for the world, for each other, and for Africa” (Appiah, 1991:348).

The idea that some types of postcolonial production may strengthen the dynamics of control and exploitation, while weakening any efforts made to resist these forces, raises an interesting question. Is postcolonial production homogenous? Some writers insist on dividing postcolonialism into two distinct branches: one oppositional, and the other complicit. The former appears mostly in post-independence societies, while the latter is “an always present underside within colonization itself” (Mishra and Hodge, 1991:284). This model provides a necessary remedial to those critics who often perceive postcolonialism as either “(all too easily) resistant” or as an uneven phenomenon (Childs and Williams, 1997:19).

“Postcolonialism, we have stressed, is not a homogeneous category, either across all postcolonial societies or even within a single one. Rather, it refers to a typical configuration which is always in the process of change, never consistent with itself” (Mishra and Hodge, 1991:289).

The obvious point of departure—when trying to establish who, what, and where is the postcolonial—remains those populations previously colonized by the West. Nevertheless, such a grouping might only offer us a very limited picture of the phenomenon in question. The fact that the process of decolonization is uneven and incomplete remains a significant issue in that: “if territories cannot be considered post-colonial (in the sense of being free from colonial control), can their inhabitants?” (Childs and Williams, 1997:12). Another level of complexity is added when one takes into account the conditions singular to internal colonization. While a certain territory can be deemed decolonized and referred to as postcolonial, some of the ethnic and cultural groups that inhabit it could still be living as colonized entities. “That is particularly true of the situation of First Peoples, of the condition of internal colonization, and is one of the factors which unsettles the claims of white settlers colonies to post-colonial status” (Childs and Williams, 1997:12). The advent of the major diasporic movements, as temporal markers of the colonial and postcolonial periods, complicates even more the connection of peoples and territories to postcolonialism. The African and Asian Diasporas found in Europe and North America are examples of migratory movements created by the onslaught of Western imperialism in the Global South.

“For the demography of the new internationalism is the history of post-colonial migration, the narratives of cultural and political diaspora, the major social displacements of peasants and aboriginal communities, the poetics of exile, the grim prose of political and economic refugees ” (Bhabha, 1994:5).

The arrival of these substantial populations from former colonies in the imperial metropoles created unique conditions under which these areas could now be labeled as postcolonial spaces. However, these diasporas are far from constituting what the Caribbean poet Louise Bennett referred to as instances of “colonization in reverse” (Childs and Williams, 1997:13). As Homi Bhabha states: “The Western metropole must confront its postcolonial history, told by its influx of postwar migrants and refugees, as an indigenous or native narrative internal to its national identity (…)” (Bhabha, 1994:6). The question of identity has always been central to postcolonial thinking, from Senghor’s Negritude to Spivak’s complex theorizing (Childs and Williams, 1997:13). Said’s insight on the colonial period in Orientalism introduces a new outlook on the identities of diasporic communities. He states that their histories, far from being alien to Western identities, are in fact an integral part of them. Western colonial incursions have irrevocably disrupted and altered the cultures and the identities of indigenous cultures. “Today it is not merely “primitive cultures” that are shattered by more powerful “civilizations”: all societies (…) are being destroyed (…) by the forces that were unleashed by European imperialism and industrial capitalism” (Asad, 1992:333). Therefore, it is understandable that the issue of unsettled identities remains an important discussion at the very heart of postcolonialism.

Another important aspect of the postcolonial is its relationship with history itself, “and the ways in which it is theorized, categorized, narrated, and written about” (Childs and Williams, 1997:8). Since the West has a long history of denying the presence of any meaningful pasts in areas it colonized while simultaneously destroying the very cultures embodying these histories, a significant aspect of postcolonial work entails the retrieval or the reassessment of indigenous histories. A typical example is the description of Haiti’s slave rebellion by C.L.R. James. The telling of such history is of particular importance “in its depiction of black people making their own history, rather than being passive participants in history made by others” (Childs and Williams, 1997:8). The Western-ness of history in origin, location, or ideology is a topic that postcolonial critics continue to debate.

“The significance of history for post-colonial discourse lies in the modern origins of historical study itself, and the circumstances by which “History” took upon itself the mantle of a discipline. For the emergence of history in European thought is coterminous with the rise of modern colonialism, which in its radical othering and violent annexation of the non-European world, found in history a prominent, if not the prominent, instrument for the control of subject peoples” (Ashcroft et al. 1995:355).

Over time, the term postcolonial has come to refer to what was previously known as Third World or Commonwealth literature. The perspectives and methods associated with postcolonial criticism are also increasingly being used to address the singular histories and predicaments of “internally colonized cultures within the nation states in the developed world” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 8). The Canadian context offers a perfect example of how complex and multifaceted the tem postcolonial has become. There are in this case at least five distinct contexts to which the term might apply.

The period of decolonization succeeding the end of World War II made “the nation-state the universally normal form of the modern state”(Chatterjee, 2011:11). Concepts inspired by the European Enlightenment such as citizenship, civil society, the state, public sphere, human rights, equality before the law, and social justice became the basis of political modernity (Chakrabarty, 2000:4). Canada represents in many ways a postcolonial state still dealing with profound dynamics of internal colonization. The cultural and political dependency of Canada toward Britain continues to shape Canadian identity. For those Canadians of European ancestry, this dependent relationship has serious consequences on not only the way they perceive themselves, but also how they conceptualize their Canadianess. Furthermore, “a parallel process of subordination has been detected in the cultural domain especially as a consequence of US domination of the continent’s mass media (…)”(Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). As a result of this, it is not unusual to find many Canadians who see themselves as having succumbed to the economic and political influence of the United States. This regularly generates discussions centered on the importance of safeguarding Canada’s political sovereignty vis-à-vis the US, and ensuring an authentically Canadian process of cultural production. Another issue of importance is the topic of Quebec’s independence, which is often framed along postcolonial frameworks and perspectives as an oppressed culture, and a nation within Canada (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). The treatment of minorities from immigrant communities is another matter that raises questions about Canada’s claims of being a genuinely multicultural and tolerant society. Writers such as Austin Clarke and Bharati Mukherjee often explore these questions through postcolonial lenses (Moore-Gilbert, 1997: 10). The predicament of the indigenous peoples of Canada is however the most important and obvious Canadian context where postcolonial criticism offers the necessary framework to establish a narrative of resistance.

“If Onkwehonwe movements are to force settler societies to transcend colonialism, we need to understand clearly who and what constitutes our enemy. The “problem” or “challenge” we face has been explained in many ways, but to move our discussion forward I will state it in a blunt and forcefully true way: the problem we face is Euroamerican arrogance, the institutional and attitudinal expressions of the prejudicial biases inherent in Europe and Euroamerican cultures” (Alfred, 2005:101)

Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that postcolonialism should not simply be understood as the latest iteration of critical analysis in social thought (Bhambra, 2007: 15). The post must instead be conceived of as a pivotal moment where the prevailing theoretical understanding of the world is transcended. Postcolonial approaches aim to improve categories of analysis by establishing, as a measure of adequacy, an increased inclusivity (Bhambra, 2007: 15). By giving prominence to the voiceless, postcolonialism is attempting to address issues of inclusion and exclusion, while simultaneously elucidating the reciprocal relationship linking knowledge to politics. According to Edward Said, “each humanistic investigation must formulate the nature of that connection in the specific context of the study, the subject matter, and its historical circumstances” (Said, 1978: 15). Therefore, postcolonialism not only tackles current inequalities, but also their historical roots and their modes of production (Bhabha, 1992: 440).

Although the study of colonial systems of representation and cultural production predates Said’s involvement in the field, what he introduced is an analytical approach grounded in contemporary European cultural theories. Postcolonial theory has since emerged as a junction for a variety of disciplines and theories; it has also become somewhat of a battleground. “While it has enabled a complex interdisciplinary dialogue within the humanities, its uneasy incorporation of mutually antagonistic theories—such as Marxism and poststructuralism—confounds any uniformity of approach” (Gandhi, 1998:3). This explains the lack of consensus when it comes to what should be the appropriate content, scope, and relevance of Postcolonial studies. In essence, postcolonialism can be defined as a project devoted to the “academic task of revisiting, remembering, and crucially interrogating the colonial past” (Gandhi, 1998:4). It is meant to divulge the reciprocal and antagonistic relationship between colonizer and colonized, and in doing so unearth the concealed roots of the postcolonial condition.

“The colonial past is not simply a reservoir of ‘raw’ political experiences and practices to be theorized from the detached and enlightened perspective of the present. It is also the scene of intense discursive and conceptual activity, characterized by a profusion of thought and writing about the cultural and political identities of colonized subjects. Thus, in its therapeutic retrieval of the colonial past, postcolonialism needs to define itself as an area of study which is willing not only to make, but also to gain, theoretical sense out of that past” (Gandhi, 1998:5)

The ongoing expansion of the term postcolonial is such that some fear the possible collapse of postcoloniality as an analytical construct. The diversity of historical contexts, geographical regions, cultural identities, and political predicaments puts a strain on its scope and relevance. Some even argue that it has been appropriated by “an essentially complicit mode of political (dis)engagement from the coercive realities of colonial history and the current neo-colonial era” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:11). There have also been some polarizing discussions as to whether the focus of postcolonial analysis should be on postcolonial culture alone, or whether it should also include the culture of the colonizer.

“Indeed, despite abundant evidence of the successes of postcolonial criticism, it is arguable that these conflicts have attained sufficient weight and charge to raise the question of whether it is not now splintering into a series of competing, mutually incompatible or even antagonistic practices” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:11).

The earlier anti-colonial critique spearheaded the effort to challenge Western constructions of notions such as colonizer and colonized, and probed the relationship connecting the center to the periphery. It also questioned the dichotomies that shaped the very concept of knowledge in fields such as literature and history. However, these texts remained, for the most part, dependent on the same structures they were attempting to dismantle. They tackled the structure of binary constructions—between master and slave for example—without however “questioning the reality of the dualism itself” (Mongia, 1997:5). As much as the narrative of nationalism posed a real challenge to colonialism, it nonetheless remained beholden to the narrative of modernity as a bearer of progress, while also acknowledging the universal value of Enlightenment.

In an attempt to dismantle the grand narrative making Europe the norm, nationalism proposed the modern nation-state as the new ideal (Mongia, 1997:5).  In the wake of this new narrative pertaining to nationalism, postcolonialism took a keen interest in analyzing the “difficulty of conceiving the nation even as an imagined community” (Mongia, 1997:5). Postcolonialism rejects not only the “Western imperium but also the nationalist project”(Appiah, 1991:353). Instead, it takes as its objective, uncovering and critiquing the relationship connecting the various systems of knowledge to existing forms of oppression. Therefore, the responsibility of postcolonial theory resembles that of Western philosophy, a reimagining of the very concepts by which knowledge is conceived.

“The development of postcolonial theory also needs to be understood in terms of new socio-historic pressures”(Mongia, 1997:5). The traditional concepts such as democracy, the citizen, and nationalism that have so far explained human history seem to have lost the ability to cope with contemporary realities. Newer social movements focusing instead on issues such as race, gender, and ethnicity have demonstrated efficiently the shortcomings of the previous understandings of community, individual, and nations. Instabilities caused by complex changes “such as decolonization, the movements of peoples on a hitherto unmatched scale, and now distributions of global power” have shown that the old narratives of progress and reason are incapable of tackling current realities, and “the numerous fractures that attend them”(Mongia, 1997:5).

Postcolonial theory attempts to provide a response to the pressures created by contemporary issues, while also offering the means to talk about them. According to Gyan Prakash, postcolonialism’s ultimate project seeks to criticize “the historicism that projected the West as history” (Prakash, 1994:1475). He describes Subaltern studies as postcolonial criticism. They offer an “anti-foundationalist historiography” that reinstates the subaltern classes’ capacity for action by transcending the “foundationalist structures of colonial, nationalist, and Marxist historiography” (Prakash, 1990:397). He believes that postcolonial critique exists primarily as an aftermath of colonialism. Postcolonialism reiterates the important role played by the legacy of the Enlightenment and modernity in establishing the theoretical foundations of Western thought. It recognizes the continuous and enduring power of these ideas and values, and the necessity of addressing their lingering presence. “As a result, postcolonial theory offers not some ‘pure’ alternative but rather stresses that it is always after the empire of reason, always after having been worked over by colonialism” (Spivak, 1990:228). The debates of the 1980s pertaining to the broader societal issue of multiculturalism explain the rise of postcolonial theory in “metropolitan academies” (Mongia, 1997:6). The struggles led by Black Studies and Women’s Studies in the 1960s and 1970s leveled serious challenges against the traditional disciplines and their orthodox canons. Postcolonial theory benefits from the space created by these endeavors to establish itself as a new form of opposition. “Within this space, postcolonial theory finds a niche in the Western Academy” (Mongia, 1997:6).

 

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