Postcolonial Agency

Postcolonial Agency: Critique and Constructivism

Simone Bignall
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by:
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Postcolonial Agency
    Book Description:

    This book complements and balances the attention given by postcolonial theory to the revitalisation and recognition of the agency of colonised peoples. It offers new conceptual scaffolding to those who have inherited the legacy of colonial privilege, and who now seek to responsibly transform this historical injustice. Simone Bignall attends to a minor tradition within Western philosophy including Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson and Deleuze, to argue that a non-imperial concept of social and political agency and a postcolonial philosophy of material transformation are embedded within aspects of poststructuralist social philosophy.Postcolonial Agency provides readers with a significantly new understanding of the processes of social transformation faced by many societies as they struggle with the aftermath of empire. It does so by engaging readers with respect to their affective communities and their concrete ethics of relationship, providing them with a valuable new way of conceptualising practices of postcolonial sociability. It is of interest to students in political and postcolonial studies, cultural studies, critical theory and Continental philosophy.Contributing to contemporary philosophical inquiry about desire, power and transformative agency, Postcolonial Agency constitutes a timely intervention to debates in poststructuralist, postcolonial and postmodern studies. Beginning with a critical treatment of the dialectical notions that dominate much postcolonial theory, Bignall then outlines a constructive and transformative theory of practice by drawing from Foucault and Deleuze. The resulting rapprochement between poststructuralism and postcolonialism coincidentally provides a fresh perspective on the political potential of Deleuzian thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4244-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    Critiques of colonialism and of associated forms of imperialism – territorial, cultural, epistemological and so forth – are well established and provide ongoing fuel for the deconstructive task of decolonisation. However, certainly in the former imperial centres, conceptual tools for imagining modes of constructive agency suited to the reconstruction of post-imperial forms of society remain woefully underdeveloped. For example, in their collaborative work on Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that ‘the multitude’ must ‘confront directly and with an adequate consciousness the central repressive operations of Empire. It is a matter of recognising and engaging the imperial initiatives and not allowing...

  5. I Critique
    • 1 The Problem of the Negative
      (pp. 29-59)

      In the first two chapters, I will critique the way postcolonial theory usually presents the problem of postcolonisation.¹ My main objective is to consider how postcolonial theory utilises two of the most influential organising concepts in modern and contemporary political theory. These are firstly negation, which privileges the possibility of critique and the potential for transformation in social analysis; and secondly recognition, which underlies various forms of ‘identity politics’ and claims for equality. I will trace the influence of these two concepts from their early expression in Hegel’s philosophy, through Sartre and Fanon, to much current postcolonial theory. The discussion...

    • 2 Postcolonial Appropriations
      (pp. 60-99)

      Like other postcolonial theories, this work is concerned with the legacy of colonial dominance in the social relations and institutions of the present. Postcolonial theory has in fact developed in response to this basic problem, and might best be characterised as aiming to find an appropriate solution by conceptualising and evaluating methods for the transformation of societies and cultures shaped by colonialism. An important aspect of this project is the critical destabilisation and deconstruction of the cultural authority of the colonising subject. A second aspect is the conceptualisation of social transformation in terms of the political agency of the ‘subaltern’...

    • 3 The Problem of the Actual
      (pp. 100-128)

      The dialectic models the ontological basis of a philosophy of becoming – of the formation and transformation of being – which privileges the roles played by difference in the practices of critique and negation. The dialectic also gives a model of human interdependence in the form of one’s reliance upon others with respect to subject formation and social harmonisation. Oriented and structured by the (temporary or teleological) goal of ontological synthesis and the resolution of conflict, the dialectic is driven both by a final cause (ideal unity) and by an immanent cause (real difference), which together define a motivating force of causal...

  6. II Constructivism
    • 4 Power/Desire
      (pp. 131-154)

      Central to the creation of a postcolonial concept of agency is the need to reconsider the nature of power and desire, which together constitute the conditions and the impetus for social action.¹ The first aim of this chapter is to present an alternative perspective on power, not conceptualised in relation to mastery. This is found in Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche, and in Foucault’s elaboration of this in Discipline and Punish and the History of Sexuality. However, Foucault’s analysis is largely limited to the constitutive effects of power upon the subject, and the scope for constructive agency is often not understood...

    • 5 Subjectivity
      (pp. 155-191)

      Directed transformative political practices, such as postcolonisation, require the collective deployment of a strategy.¹ Strategy is selfconsciously expressed from a position of subjectivity. The subject is thus the cause of transformative action, which is organised via the strategy it expresses. However, according to Deleuze and Guattari, a subject emerges only as an effect of its becoming. A subject – like all forms of being – is a virtual assemblage, made actual. But how can a subject then be a cause of its own becoming, when it is actually an effect of this process? What makes a body a ‘self’, an active agent...

    • 6 What is ‘Postcolonial’?
      (pp. 192-230)

      A particular understanding of historical process as ‘actualisation’ arises from Deleuzian ontology. Actualisation contrasts with the dominant view of history as a dialectical process of progressive harmonisation caused by the generative negativity of desire/lack conceived in relation to a transcendent state of ideal perfection. While similarly driven by causal desire, actualisation is motivated by the immanent positive force of desiring-production, which involves bodies in an open-ended process of becoming. The purpose of the present chapter is now to ask: in the absence of a projected final harmony, what might be understood by the notion of ‘the postcolonial’ in history? In...

  7. Conclusion: Postcolonial Agency
    (pp. 231-237)

    This work began with the idea that ontology shapes agency. I argued that the generative or causal force of negativity that is central to the movement of the dialectic and commonly underpins other philosophies of transformation including critical theory and deconstruction, is problematically associated with difference and desire. This association results in a representation of difference in essentially negative terms, and an imperial or possessive inclination of self to other. Grounded in the causal negativity of difference, critique is then associated with a politics of negation, which ambiguously positions bearers of difference as the active agents of change, but simultaneously...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 238-252)
  9. Index
    (pp. 253-260)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-264)