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Living History, Performing Coloniality

Towards a Postcolonial Ethnography

Sitara Thobani

The self-reflexivity of anthropologists entails engaging with the forceful critiques emanating from within the discipline with regard to its relationship to the colonial project. However, the question remains as to what a postcolonial ethnographic project might look like. That is, while anthropologists engage with critiques from postcolonial studies in theory, how might they do so in practice? I address this question in my article by examining contemporary performances of Indian classical and Contemporary South Asian dance in Britain. An historical analysis of the trajectory of Indian classical dance reveals an intimate relationship between colonial, Orientalist and Indian nationalist discourses. Investigating contemporary performances in the U.K. can thus provide a fascinating glimpse into how discourses of coloniality are reiterated in the present. Focusing on performative narrativisations of the dance's history and its constructions of an idealised femininity, I show how ethnographic research can usefully excavate contemporary practices to better understand the capacity of coloniality both to endure and transform in its contemporary articulations.

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Lazy Labor, Modernization, and Coloniality

Mobile Cultures between the Andes and the Amazon around 1900

Jaime Moreno Tejada

This article examines two distinct yet overlapping cultures of mobility in turn-of-the-century Ecuador. On the one hand, there was a modernizing culture that sought to implement utopian modes of transportation between the Andes and the Amazon. On the other hand, there were indigenous porters and pilots, who had nonhegemonic ideas about mobility and labor. This article argues that (1) indigenous labor was based on the performance of colonial habits, which I refer to as coloniality; (2) within this framework of spatial practice, native bodily rhythms could be interpreted as successful tactics of everyday resistance; and (3) the conflict between Indians and non-Indians reveals a universal, modern tension between machine and humanlike mobilities.

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Colonial Visions

Egyptian Antiquities and Contested Histories in the Cairo Museum

Christina Riggs

During the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, the antiquities museum in Tahrir Square became the focus of press attention amid claims of looting and theft, leading Western organizations and media outlets to call for the protection of Egypt’s ‘global cultural heritage’. What passed without remark, however, was the colonial history of the Cairo museum and its collections, which has shaped their postcolonial trajectory. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Cairo museum was a pivotal site for demonstrating control of Egypt on the world stage through its antiquities. More than a century later, these colonial visions of ancient Egypt, and its place in museums, continue to exert their legacy, not only in the challenges faced by the Egyptian Antiquities Museum at a crucial stage of redevelopment, but also in terms of museological practice in the West.

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Samuel Kalman

Few scholars today question the binary relationship between imperialism and violence, and French historians are no exception. In recent years, a multitude of studies have appeared concerning the violence inherent in the conquest of the nineteenth-century Gallic empire, the maintenance and defense of the colonial system, and the decolonization process—massacres and torture during the Algerian War, for example. Such works often reflect Etienne Balibar’s definition of “structural violence”: an essential component of a repressive system, maintaining unequal social relations while defending “the interests, power positions, and forms of social domination.”1 This hegemony took various guises at different times throughout the history of French imperialism, operating in tandem with assaults on the indigènes (the term adopted by the authorities for natives). It could involve surveillance and intelligence gathering, security forces, and judicial-penal institutions employed to harass and control the colonized. Yet it also resulted from the forced pacification of native peoples (Alice Conklin refers to this policy as an “act of state-sanctioned violence”) and the imposition of the indigénat—the loose collection of rules that granted extraordinary police and disciplinary powers to the colonial administration, along with the imposition of forced labor and taxation.2 The ultimate defense of this system, and indeed its brutal apogee, emerged during the wars of decolonization, in which tens of thousands of the colonized were killed in Algeria and Indochina, while countless others were subjected to torture and incarceration.

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Imperial Nostalgia; Colonial Nostalgia

Differences of Theory, Similarities of Practice?

Patricia M. E. Lorcin

The concept of nostalgia in relation to empire is usually analyzed as a longing for former imperial and colonial glory, thus eliding the full spectrum of hegemonic practices that are associated with empire. Focusing on the postindependence narratives and practices of France and Britain, this article distinguishes between imperial nostalgia and colonial nostalgia, arguing that the former is associated with the loss of empire—that is, the decline of national grandeur and the international power politics connected to economic and political hegemony—and the latter with the loss of sociocultural standing or, more precisely, the colonial lifestyle.

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Making a Colonial Culture?

Empire and the French Public, 1880-1940

Edward Berenson

Tony Chafer and Amanda Sackur, eds., Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France (New York: Palgrave, 2002).

Pascal Blanchard and Sandrine Lemaire, Culture Coloniale: La France conquise par son Empire, 1871-1931 (Paris: Autrement, 2003).

Claude Liauzu and Josette Liauzu, Quand on chantait les colonies (Paris: Syllepse, 2002).

Patricia Morton, Hybrid Modernities: Architecture and Representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000).

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Capacity-building projects in African higher education

Issues of coloniality in international academic collaboration

Hanne Kirstine Adriansen and Lene Møller Madsen

This article studies issues of coloniality in so-called capacity-building projects between universities in Africa and Scandinavia. Even fifty years after independence, the African higher education landscape is a product of the colonial powers and subsequent uneven power relations, as argued by a number of researchers. The uneven geography and power of knowledge exist also between countries that were not in a direct colonial relationship, which the word coloniality implies. Based on interviews with stakeholders and on our own experiences of capacity-building projects, this article examines how such projects affect teaching, learning, curriculum, research methodology and issues of quality enhancement. We analyse the dilemmas and paradoxes involved in this type of international collaboration and conclude by offering ways to decolonise capacity-building projects.

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Fictionalising Post-colonial Theory

The Creative Native Informant?

Anastasia Valassopoulos

How can a novel be both a Harlequin romance (the equivalent of a British Mills and Boon book) and an example of post-colonial counter-discourse? In the same stroke, how can Spivak proclaim herself not learned enough to be interdisciplinary? Surely interdisciplinariness has become an integral part of post-colonial theory and investigation and to proclaim oneself not erudite enough is to put the practice of casual interdisciplinary action into question on ethical and scholarly grounds. And yet post-colonial studies thrives on its interdisciplinary methods and we are certainly not all philosophers, social scientists or professional politicians. In fact, it is possible to argue, as I intend to do here, that postcolonial literary works can also be interdisciplinary, thereby challenging us to reveal the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the field itself. In this case, breaking rules is not difficult and, yes, much can be learned from this action. So, as well as demonstrating a post-colonial textual analysis indebted to an interdisciplinary approach, as this special issue calls for, this article will further reveal how, often, writers themselves are already involved in utilising an interdisciplinary approach in their fiction. This can make it difficult to separate the authors’ intentions; are they writing in their capacity as authors, critics or both?

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Beyond Colonial Tropes

Two Productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Palestine

Samer Al-Saber

This article documents two Palestinian productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that took place in Ramallah at Ashtar Theatre in 1995 and Al-Kasaba Drama Academy in 2011. This exploration demonstrates how Shakespearean plays have become a medium for international collaboration and exchange between European and Palestinian theatre training institutions. Recognizing that the works of Shakespeare have been used as a tool to further British imperialist ambitions, and drawing upon the author’s own experiences as director of the 2011 production, this article examines the ways in which these two contemporary productions both acknowledge this colonial heritage in Palestine and use it to further the mission of training emerging actors.

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Sol Neely

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2014), written and directed by Mi’kmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, is primarily presented as a residential school “revenge fantasy.” Some critics and reviewers of the film value it for its pedagogical possibilities, arguing that the film occasions opportunity for dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences about the legacies of the residential school system. Yet, numerous decolonial scholars and activists understand that dialogue alone cannot effect the quality of decolonial justice needed in the wake of genocide. This article approaches the film as a saturated phenomenon and examines the kinds of radical phenomenological transformation that must occur, especially among non-Indigenous audiences, for decolonial imperatives to become legible. Beyond developing a more comprehensive historical panorama of the violence and legacies of the residential school system, this article calls for a kind of translation of experience occasioned by the film, one that dramatically subverts and transforms modalities of consciousness on which coloniality is predicated.