Overview | Postcolonial and Diasporic Studies

Seminar overview

The aim of the ‘Postcolonial and Diasporic Studies’ seminar is to consider the current state of ‘postcolonialism’ as a critical perspective in cultural studies. Over the course of the day, we will explore the following questions: What is postcolonialism? What are the key concepts in this field and how have they adapted to changing global situations and cultural texts? How have some reactions to postcolonial studies produced theoretical perspectives that seek to explore contemporary moments of diaspora, migration and transculturality?

We will trace the development of the anglophone field from ‘commonwealth’ writers and their accounts of decolonisation through to popular theoretical debates in the 1990s and early 2000s. This portion will examine the most influential and commonly-cited postcolonial theorists and their interventions (Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha, Franz Fanon, Gayatri Spivak) as well as concepts that are conventionally associated with postcolonial studies (e.g. ‘writing back’, the subaltern, the Black Atlantic, hybridity). Throughout the session, we will also reflect on frequent criticisms voiced against postcolonialism. Notable amongst these is being aware of our own positionality as research students/readers in a Western European university. With this in mind, we will assess issues of privilege and exoticisation within the context of wider problems of diversity within the academy.

We will then explore new directions and current interventions in the field and how they have led to a rethinking of the ways postcolonial disciplines relate to global literature/culture more broadly. In this respect, we will consider thematic intersections and overlaps in postcolonial discourses with recent work in travel theory, transculturality, diaspora, multiculturalism, displacement and migration. Indicative of this corpus, the work by theorists such as Jasbir K. Puar, Avtar Brah, Paul Gilroy, James Clifford, Stuart Hall, Mary Louise Pratt and Sara Ahmed will be discussed. Much contemporary criticism of literature, film, and culture under the umbrella term of ‘postcolonial’ does not deal with processes of (de)colonisation or (de)colonised countries directly, but rather explores power relationships, structural xenophobia and society as a whole. The assumption behind much of this critical work is that the contemporary world is deeply shaped and affected by past histories of European colonialism. Theoretical frameworks that examine how different identity discourses relate to each other is increasingly important when thinking about diaspora and movement, and so we will think about how the inter-relations of flexible identity traits (sexuality, gender, religion, ethnicity, class or socio-economic status, etc.) affect postcolonial analyses.

Participants will have the opportunity to interrogate the wide range of themes, texts and theorists under the umbrella term ‘postcolonialism’ and reflect on how it fits into their own research.