Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK
This article offers an overview of postcolonial theory and its main concepts. Key concepts discussed include the notion of the ‘other’; neo-imperialism and the relevance of Foucault’s term ‘governmentality’ in the discussion of global governance; and the epistemological adoption from both postmodernism and poststructuralism. As the theoretical underpinning for my own PhD research, the article further explores the relevance of this paradigm for a single project in the field of International and Comparative Education.
Keywords: Postcolonialism, African Education
Postcolonial theory first developed within the study of literature and culture by writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe (wa Thiong'o, 1981; Achebe, 1977). The central argument of postcolonialism is that the effects of colonialism and imperialism are still being felt today among those countries that were colonised. Postcolonial theory is most often used ‘as a critical idiom; through which to analyse discursively the continuing legacy of European imperialism and colonialism and to uncover the oppositional discourses of those who have struggled against its lingering effects’ (Tikly, 2004, p. 173). Those working within a postcolonial framework should view the relations between North and South with these political implications in mind and through the eyes of those most directly involved (Crossley & Tikly, 2004, p. 148). Hickling-Hudson describes the postcolonial perspective as one which is ‘concerned with how cultures have been influenced by the legacies of colonialism, the culture wars that result from challenges being made to those legacies and the difficulties and ambivalence involved in change’ (Hickling-Hudson, 2004, p. 290). The ‘post’ refers both to its focus in countries that were once colonial but are now in the period after settler colonialism; it also points to its connection theoretically with many of the themes of both postmodernism and poststructuralism.
From a postcolonial conceptual standpoint, my PhD thesis explores local stakeholders’ perceptions of quality in education in Kenya. I am particularly interested in the lack of mechanisms for local stakeholders’ in education to contribute to the formulation of policy. For the past six years, I have been heavily involved with a grassroots project in Kisii, Kenya which invests in key resources in rural secondary schools. In this time, I have witnessed the haphazard nature of policy implementation and the lack of both time and resources that restrict Head teachers’ ability to respond in practice. The Kenyan Government appears to be more accountable to their donors than to its citizens; a point that is not well received among the Kenyans I know. The voices, values and priorities of these Kenyans, living in a ‘postcolonial condition’, are at the heart of the research that I do. This article will discuss the main concepts espoused in postcolonial theory and tie these to my own research. First, the notion of the ‘other’ is covered; focusing on the texts of Said’s Orientalism and Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa (Said, 1988; Mudimbe, 1988). I will then turn to the idea that imperialism is still alive and well (often referred to as neo-imperialism) and the relevance of Foucault’s term ‘governmentality’ in the discussion of global governance (Tikly, 2004; Hoogvelt, 2001). This will lead into a discussion of the main ways in which postcolonial theory draws upon both postmodernism and poststructuralism.
Said, Mudimbe and beyond
The formulation of a particular, and discrediting, image of an ‘other’ for self and communal validation is certainly not a recent phenomenon. In the fifth century BC, Herodotus was writing about the ‘barbarians’ that he encountered on his travels away from Greece, contradicting these from the ‘civilised’ and ‘democratic’ Athenians (Waterfield, 1998; Mudimbe, 1994). One only needs to read the accounts of Alexander the Great’s expeditions through Persia to Southern Asia, to witness how keen Arrian is to describe all that is new and explicitly both ‘other worldly’ and ‘inferior’ to what they already know (de Selincourt, 1971). This is not to say that all non-Greeks simply became a homogenised ‘other’; the Scythian was certainly not the same as the Indian. However, what was important was the ways in which authors could construct their difference to Greeks in a hierarchical way and validate their occupation, and often destruction, of foreign societies.
The construction of the ‘other’ then is a specific way to create meaning for society – it is a contrasting image of just what that society is not (or what it does not want to portray itself to be). This is what Said describes as Orientalism – ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient’ (Said, 1988, p. 3). This draws on Foucault’s definition of discourse as a ‘group of statements which provide a language for talking about ... a particular topic at a particular historical moment’ and Gramsci’s definition of cultural hegemony (Said, 1988, p. 5). The central thesis is that the Occident controls the knowledge produced regarding the Orient and creates such knowledge to construct a particular image of this contrasting place. This knowledge serves to legitimate the deployment of Western power. For Said, it is not a coincidence that colonialism and Enlightenment thinking came hand in hand. As the Enlightenment’s universal thirst for knowledge and will for totalising and positivistic narratives grew, it fed Orientalism’s will to power (Williams & Chrisman, 1994). Comaroff and Comaroff describe the construction of Africa in the mindset of eighteenth century Britain, in a similar way, as ‘a by-product of the making of modern European self-consciousness’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1997, p. 689).
Although Orientalism is not without its critics, the thesis has been used as a basis for postcolonial theory in highlighting the power-knowledge constructs that limit and define relationships between West and East; or in this case between ex-coloniser and ex-colonised. The binary oppositions present in colonial discourse are clearly shown in the quote below.
Let us ... contrast piety with atheism, the philosopher with the rude savage, the monarch with the Chief, luxury with want, philanthropy with lawless rapine: let us set before us in one view, the lofty cathedral and the straw hut, the flowery garden and the stony waste, the verdant meadow and the arid sands. (William Burchell, 1824 in (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1997, p. 688)
For postcolonial theory, Said’s discussion of representation as a ‘historical fact of domination’ is of particular note. One example Said takes is of Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan whose image became a prevailing model for an Oriental woman. She had no say in the way in which she was represented – she was simply what Flaubert chose her to be (Said, 1988, p. 6). Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, philosophy and the order of knowledge charts the history of the portrayal of Africa in the Western world and uses similar notions of otherness to Said’s Orientalism (Mudimbe, 1988). As Mazrui reminds us, for both Mudimbe and Said, the other is perceived as ‘exotic, intellectually retarded, emotionally sensual, governmentally despotic, culturally passive and politically penetrable’ (Mazrui, 2005, p. 69). Mudimbe’s discussion of ‘epistemological ethnocentrism’ is particularly illuminating (Mudimbe, 1988, p. 15). He presents a series of examples of Western explorers, missionaries and later colonisers who, within the parameters of colonial discourse which had already been defined, reaffirmed how Africa would become known (and it can be argued continues to be known). The emergence of the disciplines of anthropology, philosophy based on the self and natural biology also allowed such discourses to take on the authority of scientific knowledge and philosophical claims. A central aim of postcolonialism is to counter such prevailing models and present (rather than represent) postcolonial voices and ‘truths’.
Said and Mudimbe’s texts both offer excellent insights to the discourses that shaped the way in which the Orient and Africa were ‘invented’ and the ‘epistemic violence’ that imperialism inflicted upon colonised countries (Spivak, 1999). Postcolonial theory takes such theses one further and analyses how the effects of colonialism have continued into the postcolonial period. For some authors, the colonial creation of an elite, educated in the Western system, has ensured that colonial discourses continue to have relevance today.
We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, and opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population. (Macaulay, 1835 in (Spivak, 1999)
The quote above from Macaulay is used by Spivak to highlight this. Colonialism is not simply seen as a system of land control but a deep-seated process which engulfed all areas of society. As Hall explains ‘there is a false and disabling distinction between colonisation as a system of rule of power and exploitation and colonisation as a system of knowledge and representation’ (Hall, 1996, p. 254). There is a clear link with education. For example, Loomba discusses how colonial epistemologies were closely linked to institutions, including schools, and how these discourses served to maintain a level of power and control over the colonised subjects (Loomba, 2005). Tikly and Hickling-Hudson have both shown how the colonial education system, and with it the implications for knowledge production and control, in large parts remains in many postcolonial countries (Tikly, 1999; Hickling-Hudson, 2004). One area of particular note is the postcolonial discussion about language. In Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi wa Thiong’o explained his postcolonial reasoning for writing in his own language, Gikuyu, rather than English and encouraged other African writers to embrace their local language in their art. By celebrating African languages, wa Thiong’o hoped to ‘decolonise the minds’ of young Africans who were subconsciously seeing the colonial language as superior (wa Thiong'o, 1981).
Global governmentality and Neo-imperialism
Foucault coined the term ‘governmentality’ as a symbiosis of the terms ‘governing’ and ‘mentality’. He linked forms of government with the rationalities (of governing) which justify and legitimise the form of government adopted. Foucault emphasizes the relationship between the government of the state (politics) and the government of the self (morality). It is not simply about the political control of citizens but the ways that they are controlled and their conduct shaped (Lemke, 2000, pp. 2-3). This concept has been adopted in many analyses of policy making. The thesis which specifically relates to my work is Tikly’s 2004 article which adopts governmentality as a tool to analyse the continued ‘imperial’ presence in low income countries (Tikly, 2004). Tikly explores the ways in which discourses of development are embedded in an emerging ‘global governmentality’ as they represent an extension of a specifically Western and liberal view of government to postcolonial settings. The article focuses upon the relationship between education and the new imperialism and the ways in which development discourse had legitimated a global push towards universal primary education for all. Crucially, it is deemed to be a global push to which postcolonial countries could offer little resistance or response. Relating back to Foucault’s governmentality, one of Tikly’s more interesting arguments is that discourses of social good and human capital have both justified and legitimised the dominating presence of development agencies in the policy making of postcolonial countries.
Said’s conceptualization of imperialism is often quoted in works on postcolonial theory and global governance. For Said, imperialism means ‘the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; colonialism, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory’ (Said, 1993, p. 6). Parry takes this one step further and the following quote sums up the postcolonial view of neo-Imperialism: ‘colonialism is a specific, and the most spectacular, mode of imperialism’s many and mutable states, one which preceded the rule of international finance capitalism and whose formal ending imperialism has survived’(Parry, 1987, p. 34). This concept of neo-imperialism has important implications if we return to Foucault’s power-knowledge relationship. If multi-lateral agencies, and ultimately the USA and ex-colonising states, have control over the policy formulated (or the knowledge constructed), postcolonial peoples continue to be subject to ‘epistemological violence’ (Spivak, 1999). Wane argues that Eurocentric discourses ‘serve the purpose of justifying the neo-colonial agenda’ (Wane, 2008). Much of this literature challenges the universalising effects of globalisation. The quote below from Rivzi articulates the value of postcolonial theory for analyses of the impact of globalisation in low income countries:
Not least because they draw attention to the false universalism of globalisation and show how contemporary social, political, economic and cultural practices continue to be located within the processes of cultural domination through the imposition of imperial structures of power (Rivzi, 2007, p. 257)
This aspect of postcolonial analysis is of particular note for my thesis because much of the literature concentrates upon the role of the ‘education for development’ agenda. There has been a tendency among the multi-lateral organisations to uncritically transfer policies from one country to another, usually with little consideration for contextual differences between the two countries. In Samoff’s words, there has been a global diffusion of Western ideas so that thinking about education has become ‘almost universal, dominated by a set of imperial assumptions concerning economic progress, with notions of human capital and development becoming part of a broader discourse of capitalist triumphalism’ (Samoff, 2007, p. 57). Thus, development discourses, underpinned by large donations, dominate educational policy making in low income countries.
In my own research, the overriding influence of international agendas and their underpinning development rationales in the policy making of low income countries is one of the central aspects of my conceptual framework. Using the specific example of the implementation of FSE in Kenya, I aim to expose the direct links between how quality is defined in national policy documents with that in current international discourse; especially that espoused by the donor agencies who give money to the Kenyan government. Furthermore, my research will resonate with the international and comparative literature that argues persuasively that context matters (Crossley & Watson, 2003). I will document the diverse and contextualized views of local stakeholders in Kisii highlighting that what is deemed to be important in education cannot be generalized even at this small-scale level; let alone on a global scale. In line with the global movement towards education for all, Kenya introduced Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003 and there has been a great increase in the number of children enrolled in primary school. As witnessed in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and more widely, access has been achieved at the expense of quality (Kagia, 2005; Wedgwood, 2007). Classrooms are overcrowded, resources sparse and many teachers untrained (Kamunde, 2010). One of the key messages from this literature is that what counts as a quality education is relative. The need for closer attention to local priorities and realities, rather than international concerns is one of the underlying premises of my research.
Furthermore, I argue that local voice is not present in the educational policy making decisions of the Kenyan Government because the Kenyan government is looking outwards to the discourses from the West. This is situated both within a colonial (and postcolonial) history of looking up to a Master and the present day reliance on donor assistance (Ochieng', 1990). As King has argued, national priorities have often been compromised by the need to rely on external funding Development (King, 2007). Put differently, it could be said that local knowledge or opinion is deemed ‘less worthy’ than the international discourses – a statement that purposively situates my research within a neo-imperial analysis.There is little difference between this and the discourses that framed the invention of Africa and the Orient discussed earlier. Take the example of the dominance of human capital theory in much of the development literature, especially within the World Bank. Using rates of return analysis, developed by highly regarded economists, scientific data was produced to support the argument that primary schooling should be the priority in low income countries. This analysis was an important development in the move towards the Education for All agenda and has been used to justify a particular method of development in many low income countries. The echoes of ‘epistemological violence’ are there to be heard.
Postmodernism, Poststructuralism and Postcolonialism
‘I don’t know what you mean by glory’, Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously, ‘Of course you don’t – till, I tell you. I meant that there’s a nice knock-down argument for you’. ‘But glory doesn’t mean a nice knock-down argument’, Alice objected. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less’. ‘The question is’, said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is’, said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be Master – that’s all’ (Carroll, 1998, chap. 6)
I have found the above quote from Alice Through the Looking Glass to be very useful in understanding poststructuralism and the contribution that it makes to postcolonial theory. Agger helpfully explains the difference between poststructuralism and postmodernism with the former, put very simply, a theory of knowledge and language and the latter one of society, culture and history (Agger, 1991). There are many aspects of poststructuralism which are beyond the realms of this article since they are not relevant to postcolonialism in my research. However, the central denial of structuralism’s binary oppositions is, perhaps surprisingly given the dichotomous nature of much of Said’s thesis, of crucial importance. Binary oppositions are described by Derrida as ‘the pairs of opposites on which philosophy is constructed’, with the privileged term given in opposition to the latter term, its ‘other’. The privileging of one term over another, often described as logocentrism, constructs notions of superiority (Norris, 2002). Derrida uses the concept of ‘differance’ to expose these contrasts inherent in Western philosophy (Derrida, 1985). Perhaps Derrida’s most important contribution to poststructuralism which has been heavily used within postcolonial theory is the methodology of deconstruction: ‘every text is a contested terrain in the sense that what it appears to ‘say’ on the surface cannot be understood without reference to the concealments and contextualisations of meaning going on simultaneously to mark the text’s significance’(Agger, 1991, p. 112) Deconstruction can help reveal the values and interests suppressed beneath the surface of the text and the knowledge presented. The clear implication for postcolonial theory is the encouragement to probe fully policy texts for the Western ideologies and beliefs that they purport. Deconstruction can also help to break down binary oppositions and reveal multiple, and often submerged, voices. It allows a postcolonial theorist to break down the imbalanced dichotomies where certain knowledge and values are privileged over others which can give more epistemological control to postcolonial peoples.
There are clear connections between the prioritisation of local voice with the postmodernist’s scepticism with the grand narrative. In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard announced his incredulity toward metanarratives such as Marxism and encouraged the ‘discarding of the lived and world-historical grand narratives through which modernity constituted itself’ (Serequeberhan, 2006, p. 88). Lyotard maintained that one cannot tell large stories about the world ‘but only small stories from the ... subject positions of individuals and plural social groups’ (Agger, 1991, p. 116). If modernity was the time of the macro-narrative, postmodernity is thus characterised by an abundance of micro-narratives. One of the main criticisms of postmodernism is that, although it is helpful to highlight the importance of context and subjectivity, it fundamentally creates exaggerated relativism. Surely not all communities, people or nations are entirely different from one another? Postcolonialism does not tend to be tarred with the same brush here since few postcolonialists would espouse relativism; rather that it seeks to hear micro-narratives to break down the power structure represented by the meta-narrative. Hickling Hudson et al. in the introduction to Disrupting Preconceptions: Postcolonialism and Education summarise this succinctly by saying that ‘truth and knowledge rest on the power to produce, regulate, circulate and consume information’ (Hickling-Hudson, Matthews, & Woods, 2004, p. p.5). In postcolonial thinking, then, there is a move towards multiculturalism and a recognition that knowledge can and is produced in postcolonial communities. This shift is one of the more recent developments within postcolonial theory. One of the critiques of Decolonising the Mind is that wa Thiong’o only recognises two binary epistemologies – one of imperialism and one of resistance. Postcolonial studies are beginning to emphasise cultural complexity that means that the world is no longer structured along binary axes. In Kenya, say, there will be a huge difference in the epistemological claims that a member of the elite may make compared with a poor, rural woman without a formal education. These people may have very different worldviews. What they know is contextualised in their own experiences, of which being postcolonial is just one of them; as is being in a country deemed to be ‘developing’. Thus, it is ‘how differential experiences of the world are framed by the discourses and practices constitutes the experience of being a woman or person of colour at a given historical moment’ (Agger, 1991, p. 117).
An important aspect of my analysis will be to highlight the differences between national education policy and local realities. In doing so, I will be using a postcolonial approach which ‘means recognising the silences, gaps and omissions within and between hegemonic systems of knowledge so as to being to unearth alternative ways of knowing the world’ (Tikly, 2004, p. 193). I am conducting an ethnographic case study to document one particular selection of local and postcolonial ‘voices’. My site is one rural community in Kisii, Western Kenya and I aim to construct a locally grounded quality educational framework. The purpose of the research is to compare and contrast this with that identified in national FSE policy to see whether secondary education is meeting the needs and hopes of those it seeks to help. Thus, I will be comparing three discourses of global, national and local, while recognising that there is cultural complexity within each of these. As Rivzi reminds us, one of the strengths of postcolonial theory is to challenge dominant discourses while recognising that ‘relations between global and local are always complicated and ambiguous and require detailed ethnographic case-by-case analyses’ (Rivzi, 2007, p. 261).
By way of a conclusion, I would like to turn to the implications of a postcolonial worldview for the methodology that I have chosen. I recently reviewed an article by Hickling-Hudson in which she announced in the introduction her explicitly postcolonial perspective (Hickling-Hudson, 2004). However, further reading revealed that her methodology of semi-structured interviews and much reflective thinking of her own reflected very little of her theoretical positioning. Although I plan to adopt many aspects of the interpretivist paradigm in my methodological approach, I am also keen to conduct research in a manner which is compatible with postcolonial theory. This will be evident in my emphasis on local voice and the use of specific methods, such as ‘photovoice’, which will probe fully the real perceptions of my participants. Alongside this, I am also keen to ensure that the many aspects of power-knowledge relations are at the front of my mind throughout the planning and carrying out of my research. I cannot separate myself from my distinctly non-postcolonial self, nor would I wish to, but I can ensure that I am aware of the impact that this will have on my findings. Davies and Harre have said that ‘much qualitative research has maintained a colonizing discourse of the ‘other’ by seeking to hide the researcher under a veil of neutrality or objectivity … a situation in which the interests, concerns and power of the researcher … remain hidden in the text’ (Bishop, 2005, p. 117). By adopting a postcolonial approach, I will try to ensure that my qualitative research does not suffer this critique.
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