Joseph F. Duggan
Postcolonial Networks seeks to influence the radical expansion of the way scholars and activists think about and practice postcoloniality. At Postcolonial Networks we are actively taking steps to dramatically increase the number and the kinds of people who are engaged with postcoloniality. We can no longer afford to let postcoloniality be the exclusive concern of a few elite scholars who compose the privileged field of postcolonial studies.
One of the reasons that the postcolonial field is so small is the accepted narrow definitional range of what counts as postcolonial and what does not. I see postcolonialism as a vastly complex and inclusive category that can potentially serve as the umbrella for many other related fields including but not limited to subaltern and indigenous studies.
I encountered postcolonialism long before I began to read my first expressly postcolonial theology and theory books. It is utterly too simplistic for us to continue to read only those books narrowly defined as postcolonial. I recommend the following books for a broad audience, and I commend them with particular zeal for those of you teaching courses that introduce postcolonial themes, agendas, and movements.
Power: A Radical View by Steven Lukes is an essential text for postcolonial readers. Power analysis is critical to the study of colonization, to understanding complex dynamics between colonizers and those colonized. Power analysis should be a sub-discipline of postcolonial studies in ways that complement postcolonial theories.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paula Freire is of course a liberation theory text closely linked to liberation theology. True, and postcolonial readers should cease to make harsh disciplinary boundaries between liberation theology and postcolonial theology. Scholars too easily draw severe lines between their narrative contributions and those of others. The praxis that Freire’s theory of liberation brings to postcolonial studies cannot be easily dismissed and certainly not by the field of postcolonial studies, which has yet to deploy its own praxis. Freire’s work forms the substantive basis of a recent book’s theoretical architecture–Plantation Pedagogy: A Postcolonial and Global Perspective. Nonetheless, more substantial work is necessary as most postcolonial courses are delivered without an intentional postcolonial pedagogy.
The Rights of Others by Seyla Benhabib, who provocatively studies “deterritorialized politics,” presents a non-colonial way of charting future courses. Benhabib writes, “We are like travelers navigating an unknown terrain with the help of old maps, drawn at a different time and in response to different needs. While the terrain we are traveling on, the world society of states, has changed, a normative map has not” (Benhabib, 2004, 6). “Our normative maps have not changed” is an understatement simply limited to cartographies but meaningful for every aspect of the broad study of oppressed, colonized, and marginalized peoples.
Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People by Viviane K. Namaste and Disposable People by Kevin Bales poignantly capture the way people have been erased and disposed, helping us to imagine the complexities of invisibilities occasioned by colonization. Postcolonialism as a term has been appropriately and legitimately criticized for its lack of recognition of the way colonialism has continued. There has been pressure to drop the term “postcolonial,” but at Postcolonial Networks we are reclaiming the term in ways that push the discipline to speak with greater integrity. My awareness of this kind of necessary self-critique began with Namaste’s and Bales’ works.
Namaste criticized queer theory for its silence on the marginalization of transsexuals. Namaste wrote, “this body of knowledge [queer theory] rarely considers the implications of an enforced sex/gender system for people who have defied it, who live outside of it, who have been killed because of it. Critics in queer theory write page after page on the inherent liberation of transgressing normative sex/gender codes, but they have nothing to say about the precarious position of the transsexual woman who is battered and who is unable to access a woman’s shelter because she was not born a biological woman” (Namaste, 20000, 9-10). Namaste’s sensitivity to who queer theorists have been silent about and thereby have silenced began to inform my lens about the way disciplines selectively speak about injustice. As the founder of Postcolonial Networks I envision all oppressions through a decolonial lens. Queer theories and theologies are crucial to the work of postcolonial theories and theologies. For the intersections of queer thought and postcolonial theory to be productive both disciplines need to speak with integrity and without bias.
Bales opened my eyes to the continuity of slavery on a global basis. While he acknowledged that slavery is illegal around the world, he nonetheless opens the eyes of his innocent readers to the compelling statistics and verbatim accounts from countries around the world that explose slavery’s persistence. Like Namaste who revealed the oppression of transsexuals, Bales reveals concealed global slavery. “Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money” (Bales, 1999, 4).
All of these books emphasize and analyze the invisibility of marginalized peoples that must be a foundational priority of all postcolonial scholars, activists, and religious leaders. Each of these books addresses a gap to which postcolonial studies needs to speak with integrity.
Lukes offers postcolonial studies a method of power analysis. His work cannot be engaged without many other power analysis books. It is urgent that postcolonial studies include a focus on power analysis.
Freire offers postcolonial studies praxis.
Benhabib offers postcolonial studies an emphasis on the rights of others in decolonized states in ways that draw up new postcolonial maps.
Namaste offers postcolonial studies a means for self-critique, eventually transforming its discipline by prioritizing who it has made invisible.
Bales offers postcolonial studies the challenge of seeing colonialism as ongoing in new forms that require new decolonizing tools.
What books initiated your postcolonial interests and commitments?
Joseph F. Duggan, PhD, is founder of Postcolonial Networks.