Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Post-Colonialism

Post-colonialism has two distinct but often intersecting meanings. First, states and societies which underwent the historical experience of decolonizationin the mid-to-late twentieth century are often described as 'post-colonial'. Second, post-colonialism (often without the hyphen!) is also taken to refer to a body of scholarly work which is often seen to have been inaugurated with Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), and has proved highly influential across a large number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Post-colonial theory, especially in the field of history, often takes the form of critical reflections on colonial modernity in different societies. In this session, we shall use 'post-colonialism' in a looser sense, to denote both the historical experience of decolonization and the specific forms of thinking and discourse this experience has given rise to. In order to understand this, we shall focus on a deceptively simple text, The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi, a French writer of Jewish-Tunisian origin. This text was published in 1957, in the middle of an upsurge in anti-colonial movements across the world. We shall use Memmi's text as an entry point into the lived experience of colonial domination, and also discuss the relationship between the ideas put forward in this text and the later field of postcolonial theory 'proper'.

Core Reading:

  • Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957)

Seminar Questions:

  • What kind of colonialism is Memmi analysing? Is it the only kind?
  • To what extent are the sorts of social and psychological situations described by Memmi unique to societies under colonial rule?
  • ‘There are, I believe, impossible historical situations and this is one of them’. (p.83 – 1974 Earthscan Books edition). What sort of challenge does Memmi pose to the ‘leftist colonizer’ (‘the colonizer who refuses’?) Do you think this challenge still has any resonance in the post-imperial world?
  • ‘Thus, while refusing the sinister, the benevolent colonizer can never attain the good, for his only choice is not between good and evil, but between evil and uneasiness’. (p.86-87). Discuss this statement.
  • ‘The eulogizing of oneself and one’s fellows, the repeated, even earnest, affirmation of the excellence of one’s ways and one’s institutions, one’s cultural and technical superiority do not erase the fundamental condemnation which every colonialist carries in his heart. […] Deep within himself, the colonialist pleads guilty.’ (pp.100-101) Discuss.
  • ‘But perhaps the most important thing is that once the behavioural feature, or historical or geographical factor which characterizes the colonialist and contrasts him with the colonizer, has been isolated, this gap must be kept from being filled. The colonialist removes the factor from history, time, and therefore possible evolution. What is actually a sociological point becomes labelled as being biological or, preferably, metaphysical. It is attached to the colonized’s basic nature.’ (p.115) What are the implications of this statement for postcolonial theory?
  • How do colonizer and colonized shape each other, according to Memmi?
  • Are the ‘situations’ Memmi describes for colonizers and colonized inevitable outcomes of the colonialism he analyses?

Further Reading:

Octave Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban: Psychology of Colonization (1956)

Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (1957)

Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957)

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London, 1961)

Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks (London, 1967)

Jean-Paul Sartre, Colonialism and Neocolonialism (1964)

Edward Said, Orientalism (London, 1978)

Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (Delhi, 1989)