- Postcolonial Studies and Beyond
Few topics are likely to clear a room more quickly than a proposed consideration of the contentious rise and frequently predicted demise of postcolonial studies on the grounds of imprecision, ahistoricity, irrelevance, or obsolescence. Old hat, all that, and typically prone to generating more heat than light. There is remarkable consensus by now about the limitations and obfuscations of the term, even if the term's complications are usually accepted as unfortunate but by now unremarkable impedimenta that nevertheless do not really impede discussion at all. Refreshingly, this volume steers clear of all those old chestnuts and embarks on a more interesting assessment of the field's current state and its "most promising new developments" (back cover). New areas for postcolonial research such as "media studies, environmental studies, religious studies, linguistic and semantic analysis, autoethnography, and the sociology of global cinema" are identified alongside attention to the longue durée of globalization, its relationship to systems of exploitation, and the belatedness of globalization theory (5). Willing to move "beyond the usual suspects," the editors ask for a remapping of what is understood as the usual discursive domain of postcolonial studies (3). In doing so, moreover, they refuse to foreclose on subsequent evolutions in its scale and scope as they emphasize its processual evolutions. Although unable to eschew the elegiac note entirely, the essays in the volume are devoted, by and large, more productively to a consideration of the work that remains to be done in order to reap better, more meaningful harvest for our times from the lines of inquiry set in motion by the field of postcolonial studies.
The result is a remarkably thoughtful focus on identifying the kind of work that retains "what was most valuable in postcolonial critique" (7). An inquiry into what was most valuable yields epistemological questions about "forms of dominance and resistance," "the constitution of the colonial archive," representation, race, class, gender, sexuality, "ethnographic translation of cultures," and "the search for alternative traces of social being" (13). These questions suggest a methodology of sorts, but, more provocatively, they suggest that postcolonial studies, often accused even by its own practitioners of having swelled to a point of meaninglessness, actually does have a specific object of analysis. This specificity, however, is not predetermined but emerges through an investigative project of uncovering; the analytic object of postcolonial inquiry turns out to be a function of the trademark method and critical technique of postcolonial studies.
Although the editors' thoughtful introduction does not fully develop these exciting implications for defining the method and object of the field, the beginnings of a consideration of questions of method and the mutuality of method and analytic object are amply in evidence. Thus, although one might conclude from the essays in the collection that postcolonial studies is valuable because it furnishes the methods and tools to understand empires old and new, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the field is valuable because it remains critically open to the evolving shape and dimensions of empire, what is old, and what is new. In assigning the field this generative character, the editors successfully dispatch narrowly conceived concerns and quarrels about definition, scale, scope, and relevance and identify a meaningful durable legacy for postcolonial studies, even when, perhaps particularly when, it goes by other names in other disciplines. One comes away understanding that one will recognize the work of the field not by its self-definition as postcolonial inquiry but through a characteristically critical strain and sense of historical urgency. Far from arguing for an ascetically slim and wieldy shape for postcolonial studies—the burden of so much postcolonial criticism in the past—this modality explores the benefits of an even baggier, expanded temporal and spatial scope for the field that is nonetheless rendered coherent by method and integrity of analytic purpose. Less is not more suggest many of the essays, together calling for postcolonial studies to stretch further, back, forward, and deeper in a bid...