I. Genealogy of American Studies

II. Myth and Symbol

III. Interpretive Social Science Theory

IV. Marxisms

V. Poststructuralist & Postmodern Theories

VI. Gender, Race, Sexuality & Dis/ability

VII. Historical Theories & Methods

VIII. Literary Theories & Methods

IX. (British) Cultural Studies

X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories

XI. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity (forthcoming)

Comments? Corrections? Suggestions?


X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories

"Postcolonial" (or post-colonial) as a concept enters critical discourse in its current meanings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but both the practice and the theory of postcolonial resistance go back much further (indeed to the origins of colonialism itself). Thus below I list a number of writers who were "postcolonial" avant la lettre, including figures like Franz Fanon and Albert Memmi, the Caribbean "negritude" writers, and some U.S. critics whose work also presages some of the positions now labeled postcolonial. The term means to suggest both resistance to the "colonial" and that the "colonial" and its discourses continue to shape cultures whose revolutions have overthrown formal ties to their former colonial rulers. This ambiguity owes a good deal to post-structuralist linguistic theory as it has influenced and been transformed by the three most influential postcolonial critics Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha. Many genealogists of postcolonial thought, including Bhabha himself, credit Said's Orientalism as the founding work for the field. Said's argument that "the Orient" was a fanstastical, real material-discursive construct of "the West" that shaped the real and imagined existences of those subjected to the fantasy, set many of the terms for subsequent theoretical development, including the notion that, in turn, this "othering" process used the Orient to create, define, and solidify the "West." This complex, mutually constitutive process, enacted with nuanced difference across the range of the colonized world(s), and through a variety of textual and other practices, is the object of postcolonial analysis.

Both the term and various theoretical formulations of the "postcolonial" have been controversial. I have included works below which take very different approaches to what broadly can be labelled postcolonial, and I have included works which offer strong critiques of some of the limits of the field as practiced by some of it most prominent figures.

In the context of American Studies the work of figures like H.L. Gates, Jr., Gloria Anzaldúa, Lisa Lowe, and José David Saldívar, to name only a few, have anticipated, drawn from, critiqued and applied postcolonial theory to this continent. Part of that work has included decentering the "United States" from its claim on the term "America," a move that opens up the hemispheres, points toward the history of the U.S. as an imperial power, and underscores the larger contemporary fact of the transnationalization and globalization of cultures. The term "transnationalism" is the most often used critical term to denote the complex new flow of culture (in all directions) resulting from the current intensified degree of mobility of people, capital, and ideas across national boundaries. Strong efforts are underway within the American Studies community to locate the field-imaginary of American Studies within a more complicated trans- and post-nationalism.

Online Postcolonial Studies Resources:

Overviews and Anthologies:

  • Barker, Francis, et al., eds. Europe and its Others. (2 vols.) Colchester: University of Essex, 1985. Essays from the influential postcolonial Essex sociology of literature conference.

  • Ashcroft, Bill, et al. The Empire Writes Back.London: Routledge, 1989. Important collection of essays on postcolonial literary studies, particularly those stemming from the former British colonies. Helped establish postcolonial studies as an academic field.

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, eds., The Post-colonial Studies Reader.New York: Routledge, 1995. Collection of essays that ranges widely in time and space, including good selection of precursors, but limited largely to literary postcolonial work, and with some essays that are too truncated.

  • Williams, Patrick, and Lauren Chrisman, eds., Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory.New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Less geo-culturally inclusive than the Ashcroft, Griffith, Tiffin collection, but selections are more carefully chosen and arranged. It also covers more postcolonial issues beyond the literary, and presents most pieces in their entirety.

  • Bhabha, Homi, ed., Nation and Narration.London: Routledge, 1990. Rich collection of advanced essays on the languages of nationalism and nationalisms of language.

Major Figures:

  • Said, Edward. Orientalism. NY: Pantheon, 1978. By most accounts the founding text of postcolonial theory. Said coins the term "orientalism" to describe the way in which a fantasy Orient (his focus is primarily what the West calls the Middle East) is projected onto, and then inscribed upon the lands and peoples of the region. Using a somewhat unstable blend of Foucaultian and Marxist theory, Said established the notion of an archive of knowledges and languages with power to shape external realities as well as the subjectivities of those subjected to colonial discourses and colonial rule.

  • ---. The World, the Text, and the Critic.Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983. Extremely important and provocative collection of essays on the relation of literary theory to the wider social world. See especially "Introduction: Secular Criticism," "Reflections on American 'Left' Literary Criticism," and "Traveling Theory."

  • ---. Culture and Imperialism.London: Chatto and Windus, 1993. Important follow-up to Orientialism, focused this time on the inscription of colonial/imperial concerns into the literature of the dominant Anglo-European world.

  • ---. Edward Said: A Critical Reader.Edited by Michael Sprinker. Oxford: Basil Blackball, 1992. A good point of entry into Said's work.

  • Extensive Online bibliography of works by and about Said.

  • Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constancy Farrington Harmondsworth. London: Penguin, 1967 [1963].

  • ---. Black Skins, White Masks.(trans. Charles Lam Markmann). London: Pluto Press, 1986 [1953]. If Said was the founder, then Fanon must be listed as an ur-founder, for his works on the psychology of colonialism and resistance, with their emphasis on the role of colonial languages (like the French he learned in his native Martinique) in the construction of a colonized mind presaged much postcolonial theory, and his work continues to be influential in its many re-readings. Fanon had immense influence on the previous generation of Third World revolutionaries during the independence struggles of the 50s and 60s.

  • Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized.New York: Orion, 1965. Rivals Fanon as an influential text for Third World and postcolonial resisters and critics.

  • Spivak, Gayatri. In Other Worlds. NY: Methuen, 1987. Collects many of the key essays by one of the foremost "postcolonial" cultural critics who combines elements from deconstruction, feminist theory, and marxism.

  • ---. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Nelson and Grossberg, eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988.

  • ---. The Post-colonial Critic. Edited by Sarah Harasym. New York & London: Routledge, 1990. Collection of interviews that provides a lucid entry point into Spivak's intellectual realm.

  • Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture.London: Routledge, 1994. A representative set of essays by one of the two or three most oft-cited postcolonial theorists. Such Bhabha notions of "hybridity" (an inmixing of dominant and subaltern cultures) and "mimicry" (subaltern echos with difference of dominant discourses) are played out in these pieces.

  • Aijaz, Ahmad. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures.London: Verso, 1992. The most important and widely debated marxist critique of some of the limits of certain versions of postcolonial theory.
Representative Texts:

  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics and Language of African Literature. London: James Curry, 1986. One of many important works of criticism by one of Kenya's foremost novelists. In it Ngugi declares farewell to the English language and announces his return to his native Gikuyu tongue.

  • Mudimbe, V.Y. The Invention of Africa.London: James Curry, 1988. A brilliant text that in many ways does for Africa what Said's Orientalism did for the Middle East.

  • Amur, G. S. and S. K. Desai, eds. Colonial Consciousness in Commonwealth Literature.Bombay: Somania Publications, 1984. Especially strong collection on India sub-continent literatures.

  • Guha, Ranajit. ed., Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society. (2 vols.) New Dheli: Oxford University Press, 1985;1986. The "subaltern studies" schools draws from a number of currents in and outside postcolonial theory.

  • Suleri, Sara. Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Highly inflential, nuanced reading of the languages of colonialism under British rule in India.

  • Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism.New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972. Important work by one of the major figures of the Caribbean "negritude" movement that influenced U.S black nationalism, Afro-European, and Third World anti-colonial struggles.

  • James, C.L.R. The C.L.R. James Reader.Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992. Fine introduction to this brilliant Afro-Caribbean/American thinker whose career spans the mid 20th century and whose intellectual range and style make him an important anti-colonial writer relevant to postcolonial theory.

  • Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. Brathwaite is one of the major theorists of Caribbean "interculturalism" and "creolization," and this historical study adds great depth to his theoretical speculations.

  • Chow, Rey. Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading between the West and the East.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. Important feminist postcolonial analysis of Asian discouses.

  • Sommer, Doris. Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Rich readings of key Latin and North American fiction in dialectical, colonial/postcolonial tension.

  • Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities.Rev. and extended edition. London: Verso, 1991. The most influential recent study of the origins and nature of "nationalism." Useful as a background to nationalism as a force in both colonialism and resistance to colonialism.

  • Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," Public Culture 2 (Spring, 1990). Brilliant attempt to invent a set of concepts to understand the complex, multilateral "flows" of culture in the current, transnational context.

  • McClintock, Anne. "The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term 'Post-Colonialism'," Social Text 31/32 (Spring 1992). One of the more succinct anad insightful reflections on the problematic nature of the term "postcolonial."

  • ---. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context.London: Routledge, 1995. Brilliantly detailed study tracing the complex interrelations of sexuality, race, gender, and nation in colonial discourses and practices.

  • Lloyd, David. Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment. Durham, NC; Duke University Press, 1993. Brilliant reading of Yeats, Beckett, Heaney, and Joyce in context of Ireland's postcolonial predicaments.

  • San Juan, Jr., E. Beyond Postcolonial Theory.New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998. Searching critique of the political inadequacy of postcolonial theory.

  • Lowe, Lisa and David Lloyd, eds. The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1997. Rich collection of essays offering a variety of political critiques of colonialism sensitive to the dynamic between the specificity of local struggles and the determinations of global systems.
North American Postcolonial Studies

  • Du Bois, W. E. B. The World and Africa.New York: International Publishers, 1965. DuBois has been interestingly recoded as a Black Atlantic intellectual by Gilroy, and this book offers a glimpse into his postcolonial thinking.

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera.San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 1987. Brilliant collection of essays and poems asserting and analyzing the postcolonial presence of Chicanos/as, while meditating on the status of real and metaphorical "fronteras/borderlands." Her concept of the "borderlands" has become a key term in contemporary theory.

  • Mohanty, Chandra. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses." Feminist Review 30 (Autumn 1988):61-88. Important postcolonial critique of universalizing tendencies in Western feminist discourses.

  • Sandoval, Chela. "U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Practice of Oppositional Consciousness in a Postmodern World." Genders 10 (1991):1-23. Brilliant use of postcolonial and other theory to elucidate the theorizing practice of U.S. women of color feminisms.

  • Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, ed. Black Literature and Literary Theory. NY: Methuen, 1984. Collection of essays employing and critiquing structuralism and post-structuralism as tools for interpreting African and African-American texts. See especially Gates's introduction, and the essays by Benston, Stepto, and Johnson.

  • Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985;1986. This collection of essays from Critical Inquiry includes a number of important pieces on race in America as well as key contributions to postcolonial theory. See particularly the essays by Gates, Said, Johnson, Carby and Gilman.

  • JanMohamed, Abdul, and David Lloyd, eds., The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. NY: Oxford University Press, 1990. A theoretically informed collection of articles from a two-volume special issue of Cultural Critique examining representational strategies in and strategic contexts for literatures of US domestic and international "Third World" writers. See especially pieces by Kaplan, Mani, Radhakrishnan, Rabasa and Rosaldo.

  • Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic.Cambridge, Harvard UP, 1993. Rich analysis of the quadrilateral trade of transnational culture among Africa, Britain, the Caribbean, and the United States that rethinks the positioning of a host of modern intellectuals.

  • Trinh, Minh Ha. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1989. A formally innovative text that is at once feminist postcolonial theory and an autobiography of this Vietnamese-American film-maker/scholar.

  • Calderón, Héctor, and José David Saldívar, eds. Criticism in the Borderlands. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. Collects many of the most influential essays in theory and criticism of Chicano/a literature and culture from postcolonial, neo-Marxist, feminist, and new historicist vantage points. Includes a useful select, annotated bibliography.

  • Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. NY: Vintage, 1992. Brilliantly illuminates the "Africanist" presence as structuring subtext in classic American literary and cultural texts.

  • Saldívar, José David. Dialectics of Our America: Genealogy, Cultural Critique and Literary History.Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991. Makes strong argument via Latin American and Chicano/a literatures for a decentering of the United States as "America" and recentering of "American" literary and cultural studies in a North/South hemispheric dynamic.

  • ------. Border Matters: Remapping Anerican Cultural Studies. Berkeley: U.C. Press, 1997. Excellent set of essays placing American Studies, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Postcolonial Studies into dialogue around a series of readings of Chicano and multiethnic cultural texts.

  • Amy Kaplan, and Donald Pease, eds. Cultures of United States Imperialism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. Ground-breaking collection of essays attempting to re-place American Studies in the context of studies of imperialism and postcoloniality. See especially Kaplan's lucid introduction.

  • Buell, Lawrence. "American Literary Emergence as a Postcolonial Phenomenon." American Literary History 4 (1992): 411-42. Suggestive but at points problematic argument for viewing early United States literature as marked by the postcolonial relation to England. Can be read as obscuring the more central role of U.S. as imperial and neocolonial power, even amidst its postcolonial moments.

  • Desmond, Jane, and Virgina Domínquez. "Resituating American Studies in a Critical Internationalism," American Quarterly48 (September 1996):475-90. Strong, lucid argument for a rethinking of American Studies in relation to other "area studies" in order to better locate the field in the larger terrain of a critical trans- and inter-nationalism that undercuts American exceptionalism.

  • Lowe, Lisa. Immgrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics..Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1996. Brilliant use of postcolonial, marxist, critical race and feminist theory to analyze the complicated interrelations of Asian immigrant, Asian American and dominant communities in the U.S. Using the example of Asian immigration in its various waves, Lowe exposes the historical construction of dominant notions of U.S. nationhood and citizenship in dialectical relation to those it would exclude or only partially include within those categories.

  • Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner, and Other Essays.Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1996. Powerful, wide-ranging collection of essays developing an anti-colonialist, pro-sovereignty approach to Native studies.

  • Vizenor, Gerald. Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance.Hanover, NH: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1994. Brilliantly re(de)constructivist collection of essays by a postcolonial, postindian poet, fictionist and critic. Invents an alternative critical language for Native studies.

  • Warrior, Robert. Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1995. Uses the work of John Joseph Matthews and VineDeloria, Jr. to initiate brilliant rethinking of American Indian intellectual traditions that skilfully unites indigenous resources, sovereignty issues and contemporary cultural theory.

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