This essay looks to answer a number of important questions about the term ‘the post-colonial’. It shall look what it actually means and when the term came about. It will look at who were affected by colonialization and how they were affected, and what has happened to these countries since decolonialization. We will so discuss whether there is such a thing as ‘the post-colonial’ or if it’s just a buzz term made up by geographers.
As you can see from the map above, the majority of the world by the 1900’s was colonialized in some shape or form, with the largest empires belonging to the French, the British and the Spanish. Colonialization had occurred for up to 300 years before hand with European countries moving in and out of countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. We will look at how these colonialized areas of the world are now dealing with the after affects of a colonial past.
‘In July 1997 the British handed over control of their last major colony, Hong Kong. Britain’s Guardian newspaper described the handover of Hong Kong as the end of an era of European empire building that began five centuries ago, ‘the eclipse of an empire that lasted more than 400 years ago’.’ (Cloke et al, 2005: 334)
Officially the term ‘the post colonial’ came into human geography July 1st 1997; this was because the last European colony fell. The city of Hong Kong was given back to China after 156 years of British colonial reign. (Guardian, 1997:1) However saying this post-colonialism had been discussed widely by human geographers main years before hand. Post colonialism looks at what has occurred since the fall of the major European empires.
‘Post-colonial studies developed as a way of addressing the cultural production of those societies affected by the historical phenomenon of colonialism.’ (Ashcroft 2001:7)
Seeing most of the world was colonialized, human geography looks to see what is happening in these areas and what action needs to be taken to help the people that are still suffering from the colonial control of their country.
Colonialism was the best way for the European countries to show their world dominance. They went into countries and exploited their resources and people whilst gaining political and economic control of the country. This process first occurred over 400 years ago and countries are still feeling the effects.
‘Under European colonial rule, the resources of the invaded, conquered and settled territories were exploited for imperial profit; and cash cropping and other European agricultural practices usually replaced hunting and subsistence farming, thereby damaging established ecosystems, reducing soil fertility, or even, as in the case of the Sahara, resulting in desertification.’ (Huggan & Tiffin, 2007:1)
One of the most important issues in post colonial studies today is the idea of ‘development’, principally the lack of development of certain heavily exploited ex colonial areas. The main area for most development agencies is Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.
‘One in five people (around 1.2 billion) live on less than $1 per day. Nearly 70 per cent of these utterly impoverish people live in South Asia and Sub-Sahara’ (Dicken, 2004:21)
Over exploitation of resources isn’t the only reason for the problems in these countries, political control is a major factor as well, particularly in Africa. This problem occurred because of the process of decolonialization. Decolonialization happened largely after the Second World War. This was due largely because of pressure from the USA and Russia. They pressured the European countries to relieve control of their colonies, mainly so they could further their own interests by the means of informal economic and political control. (Crotty, 2001:160) With the European countries leaving the areas the ex colonial countries had to set up their own political ruling. Most of the post-colonial countries have boarders based on their old colonial boarders.
‘It has long been conventional wisdom that boundaries inherited from colonialism are fragile because they contain diverse societies. Yet the post-colonial state in Asia, largely based on such boundaries, is distinguished by its resilience. (Leifer, 1992)
Leifer says that the new political boundaries have brought together communities who were very separate before they were colonialized. Now they’re not living under imperial political control of the European countries but under their own government. This means they have to get along with each other politically or economic instability will occur. Economic instability is seen at its greatest in Africa where tribes have not been able to get along since decolonialization.
Clampham (1998) argues that ‘insurgencies derive basically from blocked political aspirations, and in some cases also from reactive desperation.’ He says that because communities have to live together then there is always going to be rebellion when one group takes charge over another. However Spivak (1993:60) would disagree with this. He says that,
‘Those of us …from formerly colonialized countries are able to communicate with each other, to exchange, to establish sociality, because we have access to the culture, in words of the ethical philosopher Bernard Williams, a measure of ‘moral luck?’ I think there can be no question that the answer is ‘no’. This impossible ‘no’ to a structure, which one critiques get inhabits intimately, is the deconstructive philosophical position, and everyday here and now names ‘post-coloniality’ is a case of it. (Quoted in Ashcroft 2001:6)
Spivak is talking about people brought up in the Caribbean with lots of others who were taken from their homes because of the slave trade. They made close nit thriving communities who depended on each other and helped each other. Everyone is from different tribes and countries and yet they didn’t see the need to fight but instead work together, to make a life in their new surroundings. They understand they all need each other to live. Also, seeing the Caribbean was colonialized the locals of the islands also understand the views of the people from the African colonialized countries. The major point here though is the idea of ‘moral luck’ which Ashcroft explains,
‘The concept of ‘moral luck’ is a strategic suppression of the liberatory capacity of the colonized societies. Much more interesting than the ethical conundrum, the ‘deconstructive moment’ in which the post-colonial subject lives within the consequences of imperial discourse while denying it, is the political achievement. In post-colonial engagements with colonial discourse there has been a triumph of the spirit, a transformation effected at the level of both imaginative and the material, which has changed the ways in which both see each other and themselves.’ (2001:6)
The peoples of the Caribbean celebrate the fact they were colonialized and see it as good fortune rather than a bad thorn in their past that has affected the way they live today. They see the differences and the values in each other and use these to work together. Now if the rest of the colonialized world took this view then there wouldn’t be any problems. This view of good fortune is also taken by D’souza.
‘Much as it chagrins me to admit it — and much as it will outrage many third-world intellectuals for me to say it — my life would have been much worse had the British never ruled India.
How is that possible? Virtually everything that I am, what I do, and my deepest beliefs, all are the product of a worldview that was brought to India by colonialism. I am a writer, and I write in English. My ability to do this, and to reach a broad market, is entirely thanks to the British. My understanding of technology, which allows me, like so many Indians, to function successfully in the modern world, was largely the product of a Western education that came to India as a result of the British.’ (2002)
He argues that his way of life was all down to what the British, gave his ancestors. India became independent from the British Empire in 1947 but the skills and the technologies given to them still live on. The British helped the nation to develop, this is turn made them more money and gave the locals skills to live life well. Even though there is great poverty in India, the British occupation did help them greatly. By 2026 they are expected to have the 4th largest economy in the world behind China, USA and Japan.
So why if India and the Caribbean are thriving, economically and socially, why is Africa in so many problems?
Mkandawire (2002:187) says that conflict and problems in post-colonial countries ‘is derived from an individual’s calculation of self-interest and personal gain.’ He says that an individual sees an opening and exploits it so serve his or her best interest. This is the under lying problem because everyone wants something different and there is no democratic authority to control how people behave. In the African countries their colonial occupiers pulled out too quickly leaving them no support and this lead to turmoil.
So far in this essay we have looked at looked at what the ‘post-colonial’ is, how and when it occurred and who is affected by it. We have seen that geographers view post colonialism in differently. Some see it as purely negative, leading to war and rebellion and others see it as reward and something to celebrate. There is another view however as Huggan explains:
‘Postcolonial studies, though never fully accepted within the academy, has become distinctly fashionable; ‘postcolonial’ is a word on many people’s lips, even if no one seems to know quite what it means'(2001:1)
He argues that people throw around a term in any old fashion even though there is no real definition for it. It’s a word that sounds good a makes you seem that bit more intellectual. Ashcroft agrees with Huggan but argues that any meaning that post-colonialism had is becoming lost by saying:
‘The increasingly unfocused use of the term “post-colonial” over the last ten years to describe an astonishing variety of cultural, economic and political practices has meant that there is a danger of it losing effective meaning altogether.(1995:2)
We can distinctly see that ‘post-colonialism’ is a word that many people use to describe the modern day consequences of the last 400years of European exploration and expansion. However if we’re not careful the world will become meaningless. As Huggan said, it’s a word that has no real academic definition but human geographers are still keen to use it. It is a buzz word that the academic elite are slowly accepting and this could become a major problem unless someone really attacks and defines the phrase ‘the post-colonial’.