pOSTCOLONIALISM tODAY : tHEORETICAL CHALLENGES AND PRAGMATIC ISSUES
A Multidisciplinary Conference. Toronto, September 26-28, 2002
"Post-colonialism" loosely designates a set of theoretical approaches which focus on the direct effects and aftermaths of colonization. It also
represents an attempt at transcending the historical definition of its primary object of study toward an extension of the historic and political notion of
"colonizing" to other forms of human exploitation, normalization, repression and dependency. Post-colonialism forms a composite but powerful
intellectual and critical movement which renews the perception and understanding of modern history, cultural studies, literary criticism, and political
The purpose of this conference is to address the theoretical challenge of its diverse meanings and uses, and to assess its epistemological significance in the context of the interdisciplinary construction of contemporary knowledge. The conference also will endeavour to examine and discuss the relevance of the critical methods and strategies of post-colonialism to the praxis of explanation, education and emancipation in the context of globalization and empowerment
"Colonialism" is a term that critically refers to the political ideologies which legitimated the modern invasion, occupation and exploitation of inhabited
lands by overwhelming outside military powers. For the local populations, it implied the forceful elimination of resistance, the imposition of alien rules,
and the parasitic utilization of natural resources including manpower. This term appeared in the context of Marxism and became a cornerstone of the
discourse of resistance during the 20th century. It was meant to counter the positive connotations attached to the use of "colonization" -- understood
as a legitimate "civilizing process" often reinforced by a religious agenda -- by calling attention to its actual economic motivations and denouncing its
"Post-colonialism" appeared in the context of decolonization that marked the second half of the 20th century and has been appropriated by contemporary critical discourse in a wide range of domains mapped by at least half a dozen disciplines. However, in spite of some two decades of definitional debates, this term remains a fuzzy concept stretching from a strictly historical definition to the more encompassing and controversial sphere of its contemporary kin-terms similarly prefixed by a morpheme that indicates temporal succession while suggesting transcending perspectives (post-structuralist, post-modern and the like).
Indeed, on the one hand, "post-colonial" may refer to the status of a land that is no longer colonized and has regained its political independence (e.g., post-colonial India). In this sense, "post-colonialism" will pertain to the set of features (economic, political, social, etc) which characterizes these countries and the way in which they negotiate their colonial heritage, being understood that long periods of forced dependency necessarily had a profound impact on the social and cultural fabric of these societies (the post-colonial condition). It may also apply to the former colonizers in as much that both extended contacts with the alien societies they conquered, and the eventual loss of these profitable possessions, deeply influenced the course of their economic and cultural evolution.
On the other hand, "post-colonialism" may designate, and denounce, the new forms of economic and cultural oppression that have succeeded modern colonialism, sometimes called "neo-colonialism". The term tends to point out that cooperation, assistance, modernisation and the like are in fact new forms of political and cultural domination as pernicious as the former imperial colonialism or colonial imperialism were: the devaluation of autochthonous ways of life and their displacement by the ethos of dominant nations which are technologically more advanced. Obviously, these two senses are intimately linked but foreground different aspects of a single process: the cultural homogeneization of ever larger areas of the globe.
This process raises several kinds of conceptual and pragmatic problems. One of the most challenging is to understand the historical conditions in which this new analytical tool emerged and how its epistemological impact transformed policies and practices not only in the academic agenda and beyond but also in the management of representation. Crucial questions in this respect bear upon the source of the authoritative voices, whether they originate among the former colonizers or the former colonized and using whose discourse, whether they use the rhetoric of atonement or the rhetoric of resentment, whether they promote strategies of true empowerment or opportunistic strategies of protracted control.
Another important issue is the extent to which the contemporary notions of colonialism and post-colonialism can legitimately help conceptualize all past colonizations and their political, economical and cultural consequences. Are these notions valid epistemological tools to better understand the past? Do such conceptual extensions result in defusing the ethical questioning of modern European colonization. Does post-colonial discourse describe "normal" processes of cultural change through conquest and domination or does it engage human responsibility in the novel context of global awareness? Can multi-voiced reassessments of history impact upon the present or is the critical discourse of post-colonialism a mere epiphenomenon that is a symptom of broader and deeper interacting forces?
Questions relating to colonial medicine and science more generally will constitute another point of focus. Indeed, colonial medicine may be used as a prism through which to examine a host of postcolonial topics: from social control to ways in which colonial medical frameworks were subverted; from the place of the body in the colonial project to the construction of a colonial discourse on tropical diseases and their causes, to forms of colonial knowledge. In short, by dissecting colonial medical discourses and practices, one can shed light on the political and ideological agenda of colonialism and its postcolonial legacies.
The formulation of this conference project was prepared by two symposia, held in Toronto in 1999 ("Global Justice and Cultural Diversity" and " Postcolonialism in Science, Medicine, Economics and Culture"). A first outcome of this symposium was to inspire the theme of a conference on global justice and postcolonialism at the National Museum of Mankind in Bhopal (India) in December 1999. The Toronto conference of October 2002 will be followed by an international seminar on postcolonialism at the Kottayam campus of the Mahatma Gandhi University (Kerala, India), organized by the School of Social Sciences (Director: Dr. Rajan Gurukkal firstname.lastname@example.org).