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The Enlightenment, Colonialism and its Discontents

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Kate Moles

on 1 April 2014

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Transcript of The Enlightenment, Colonialism and its Discontents

Colonialism and its Discontents
Edward Said
Postcolonial Critique of Sociology
Constructing the 'other'
The Colonial View of the World
"I have considered it not superfluous to give a short account of the condition of this nation, both bodily and mentally; I mean their state of cultivation, both interior and exterior. This people are not tenderly nursed from their birth, as others are; for besides the rude fare they receive from their parents, which is only just sufficient for their sustenance, as to the rest, almost all is left to nature. They are not placed in cradles, or swathed, nor are their tender limbs either formented by constant bathings, or adjusted with art. For the midwives make no use of warm water, nor raise their noses, nor depress the face, nor stretch the legs; but nature alone, with very slight aids from art, disposes and adjusts the limbs to which she has given birth just as she pleases. As if to prove that what she is able to form, she does not cease to shape also, she gives growth and proportions to these people, until they arrive at perfect vigour, tall and handsome in person, and with agreeable and ruddy countenances. But although they are richly endowed with the gifts of nature, their want of civilisation, shown both in their dress and mental culture makes them a barbarous people. For they wear but little woollen, and nearly all they use is black, that being the colour of the sheep in all this country. Their clothes are also made after a barbarous fashion.
Gerard of Wales, 1188
‘The objective of colonial discourse is to construe the colonised as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin … colonial discourse produces the colonised as a fixed reality which is at once an “other” and yet entirely knowable and visible.’ (Bhabha, 1998: .41;)
Apart from the categories themselves, the technology associated with the reclassification process was crude. Combs were sometimes used to test how curly a person's hair was. Horrell (1968) notes that barbers were sometimes called as witnesses to testify about the texture of the person's hair. One source mentioned expert testimony from the South African Trichological Institute (presumably an organization for the scientific study of hair). Affidavits were taken from employers, clergy, neighbours, and others to establish general acceptance or repute. 'The official may summon any living relative, including grandparents, and question them in a similar way' (Horrell, 1958, p.32). Complexion, eyes, hair, features, and bone structure were examined by board officials, and they could summon any relative and examine them in this way as well ... Horrell (1958) notes, 'It is reported that some were even asked "Do you eat porridge? Do you sleep on the floor or in bed?" Some Coloured people said that they had been told to turn sideways so that the officials could study their profiles' (p.62). Folk theories about race abounded; differences in cheekbones, even the notion that blacks have softer earlobes than whites, were taken seriously. A newspaper account notes that some coloured people had reported that 'the officials fingered the lobes of their ears - the theory is that Natives have soft lobes' (Sunday Times,1955). The same article reported that a coloured man was stopped by the police in the street and asked to which soccer club he belonged. He named a coloured team, and then was told, 'only natives play soccer, not coloureds.'

The "pencil test" was recounted by many who had undergone the reclassification ordeal. Sowden gives us the following passage, quoting at first from an old black women describing apartheid to him:

"If you're black and pretend you're Coloured, the police has the pencil test."

"The pencil test?"

"Oh, yes, sir. They sticks a pencil in your hair and you has to bend down, and if your hair holds the pencil, that shows it's too woolly, too thick. You can't be Coloured with woolly hair like that. You got to stay black, you see."

(Sowden 1968, 184)

'Nature has made a race of workers, the Chinese race, who have wonderful manual dexterity and almost no sense of honor... A race of tillers of the soil, the Negro; treat him with kindness and humanity, and all will be as it should; a race of masters and soldiers, the European race. Reduce this noble race to working in the ergastulum like Negros and Chinese, and they rebel... But the life at which our workers rebel would make a Chinese or a fellah happy, as they are not military creatures in the least. Let each one do what he is made for, and all will be well'

Ernest Renan,
La Réforme intellectuelle et morale
Colonialism Introduced
The term post-colonialism — according to a too-rigid etymology — is frequently misunderstood as a temporal concept, meaning the time after colonialism has ceased, or the time following the politically determined Independence Day on which a country breaks away from its governance by another state. Not a naïve teleological sequence, which supersedes colonialism, post-colonialism is, rather, an engagement with, and contestation of, colonialism’s discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies. . . . A theory of post-colonialism must, then, respond to more than the merely chronological construction of post-independence, and to more than just the discursive experience of imperialism.

Franz Fanon
Gayatri Spivak
Essentialism and Strategic Essentialism

Strategic essentialism is a “strategic use of positivist
essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest” ( Fuss 1994 : 99)
Embedded in the Enlightenment and aligned with particular understandings of modernity?
Eurocentric, essentialising and causal?

Colonialism, Postcolonialism and Sociology
1. Introduction
2. Colonialism and Ways of Seeing the World
3. Constructing the Other
5. Franz Fanon
6. Edward Said
7. Gayatri Spivak
8. Postcolonialism and Sociology
9. Conclusions
Full transcript