POSTMODERNISM AND POST-COLONIALISM: ISSUES OF. COMMONALITY AND DIFFERENCE
The intersection of postmodernism and post-colonialism explores many of the issues around identity, nationality and difference. McRobbie (1994) and Yeatman (1994) both reflect on the interconnections between postmodernism and postcolonialism in understanding both the political and cultural complexity of the contemporary world. Yeatman (1994:3) contends that ‘Acceptance of the reality of the postmodern condition means a relinquishing of a nostalgic holding on to modern(ist) standards of reflection and critique’. Further, she notes that postmodernism’s emancipatory politics is ‘pragmatic’, ‘oriented to the contemporary politics of movements which have adopted and reshaped the modern(ist) imaginary of self-determination’ (Yeatman 1994:6). The parallels between postmodernism and post-colonialism are most clearly demarcated when they operate critically. As Yeatman (1994:9) notes, the following connotations are brought together: a reformulation of the institutional infrastructure of modern capitalism within a postmodern frame of reference; a rejection of the ‘univocalism and monoculturalism’ of the modernist rationalist project; and the authorisation of ‘a democratic politics of voice and representation’ establishing ‘creative forms of positive resistance to various types of domination’ (ibid.).
The interdisciplinary matrix of cultural studies has provided a framework within which feminist, postmodernist and post-colonialist theoretical debates have coalesced. McRobbie’s (1994) work contextualises debates around post-colonialism and postmodernism in the context of cultural studies. She contends that ‘culture is a broad site of learning’ and recognises that cultural studies represents potentially rich ‘sites of opposition’ and ‘sites of resistance’, where disciplinary boundaries are broken down, as well as the barricades between ‘the academy and the experiences of everyday life’. Popular cultural forms and practices often claim to be representatively postmodern even though they may be forms and practices which never passed through any recognisable modernist phase. Popular culture has been defined as a ‘site of resistance’ and ‘site of struggle’ by many cultural critics and theorists. McRobbie (1994:66) notes that ‘Postcolonialist writing acknowledges the work found in and produced by the intersection of art and popular culture’. However, she goes on to note that if the
postcolonialist experience shares anything in common with the postmodern experience, then it must be a postmodernism which is much more than an overstylized posture adopted by those who can afford to abandon politics. Instead, it is a way of making out a new set of convergences and divergences round certain critical questions about the society in which we live.
Feminist and post-colonialist theorists share this ambition in their engagement with postmodernism.
While all three frames of reference have distinct ‘political objectives and ambitions’, the ‘intensification of theoretical interest’ (Ashcroft etal. 1995:117) in them all has led to some confusion and overlap in understanding. All three have challenged earlier epistemologies which ‘presupposed a foundation ofundislocatable binaries—centre/margin, self/other, coloniser/colonised’ (1995:86). For example, as Ashcroft et al. (1995:117) note, ‘the major project of postmodernism – the deconstruction of the centralised logocentric master narratives of European culture, is very similar to the post-colonial project of dismantling the Centre/ Margin binarisms of imperial discourse’.
Similarly postfeminism and post-colonialism share an analysis of oppression in which both have distinct yet parallel theoretical histories and concerns. Ashcroft et al. comment:
Feminist and post-colonial discourses both seek to reinstate the marginalised in the face of the dominant, and early feminist theory, like early nationalist post-colonial criticism, was concerned with inverting the structures of domination, substituting, for instance, a female tradition or traditions for a male-dominated canon. But like post-colonial criticism, feminist theory has rejected such simple inversions in favour of a more general questioning of forms and modes, and the unmasking of the spuriously author/itative on which such canonical constructions are founded.
(Ashcroft et al. 1995:249)
The intersection of postfeminist, postmodernist and post-colonialist theoretical debates has challenged existing disciplinary boundaries and paradigms and established a new political and cultural agenda for the 1990s.