Research Article 18: Post-colonialism 7

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel, MBL; D. Com; D. Phil

Post-colonialism is the study of the impact of colonial rule on colonised people and how it impacted on their culture, economy, religion, government, etc. The key to post-colonialism, as to colonialism, can be found in the presence of any form of oppression. It is often a reaction to what especially the victims of colonial rule would regard as a variety of different injustices.

Post-colonialism is mostly based on a description of the colonial past, often by writers from the colonies; a tradition of gaining insight and knowledge by learning from the past. Ironically it was academics from colonial powers that mostly studied and wrote about the social and political power relationships between the colonial powers and their colonies. This, however, gradually changed as colonies regained their freedom and started delivering their own academics, writers and researchers.

Post-colonialism is a set of approaches to the interpretation and understanding of colonialism that draws both continuities with, and challenges, the grand narratives of colonial rule.

Political power, cultural identity and culture are often the focus of post-colonial studies. The purpose of such studies is often the redress of injustices of the past and regaining cultural, intellectual, political, national and judicial independence and autonomous status.

Both qualitative and quantitative research methods can be used to do research in post-colonialism.

Feminism, critical race theory, ethnomethodology and post-modernism are closely associated with post-colonialism in the sense that all these paradigms can be used to investigate oppression.

In a feministic vein, post-colonialism is seen as an effort to subjugate women. In a critical race-theory vein, an attitude of superiority towards people of a different culture, gender, language, or colour are often indications of post-colonialism that can, and often should be researched with the aim of achieving equity and growth.

In an ethnomethodological vein, post-colonialism focuses on common-sense reality as it plays out in interaction between people, i.e. social life.

In a post-modernistic vein, it is believed that independence and freedom are Western ideologies used to colonise foreign cultures.

Post-colonialism is a good example of a paradigm that exposes discussions and arguments about paradigms in books, to some extent, and magazine articles, to a much larger extent, a rather unsettling disagreement amongst academics about the true meanings of concepts, in this instance, paradigms. Different writers discuss paradigms from different perspectives and in different contexts, making it difficult to generalise about which paradigms are in opposition to which others and in terms of what criteria they differ. The disruptive nature of post-colonialism is yet another characteristic that it shares with post-modernism.

Post-colonialism, for example, differs from colonialism in the sense that it focuses more on the results of colonialism rather than the nature of colonialism as a philosophical point of view. It, furthermore, can be said to be in opposition to any of the scientific paradigms in the sense that it focuses more on the study of and subjective interpretation of social interaction, whereas scientific paradigms, such as positivism, focus more on statistical analysis. Both, however, explore social reality. That is why claims to opposition or association between paradigms should be qualified, or at least understood as being true in a specific context and in terms of specific criteria. This means that the same paradigm can be associated with and opposed a second paradigm. Even this, however, is not perfectly accurate because every opposition or association should be qualified.

Some writers focus on the disappointing results of colonialisation, for example, inequalities, cultural conflicts, fragmentation and refugee problems, while others emphasise the benefits of colonialism, for example, educational systems, infrastructure and technology as elements of post-colonialism. These, however, are often sensitive issues that lead to conflict and heated arguments.

Because of its historical nature (colonies belong in the past) research in post-colonialism leans heavily on written documents when fieldwork might have delivered more accurate and authentic findings. Written documents invariably require a measure of deconstruction, which should not be a problem seeing that it is typical of virtually all qualitative research.

Some academics feel that most literature on colonialism is written by countries that were colonial powers. This, however, is rapidly changing as academics in colonies of the past increasingly write about topics such as colonialism, racism, discrimination, equity and justice.

Post-colonialism is also criticised for its obsession with national identity. Some researchers feel that national identity is a rather fluid concept that changes over time and, therefore, does not justify any claims to what could have been, or what could not have been, if a country was not colonised.


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About Hannes Nel

CEO and owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd. Academic background: B. Mil.; BA Honnours; MBL; D. Com; D. Phil Published 10 books with two more in the pipeline.

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7 thoughts on “Research Article 18: Post-colonialism

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Hannes,
    interesting – when I post here – I see a little green box with edit on it.

    So I see Reply Post Edit author Name & box author.

    Can you take a print screen of that screen that you wanted to edit so I can take it up with our technical person.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hannes, thank you. On your comments on race.

    For me, there are two parts to it:
    It is a social construct with no scientific founding – and so constructing research on variations of skin colour is problematic. BUT it has become real – so whether we look at the apartheid classifications (also no scientific founding), or watch CNN media reports of citizens of different skin colour, and how they talk of skin colour.

    Then the issue of superiority – globally, it seems to be growing worse rather than better: whether based upon the highly suspect classification of race, or gender – variations of which are also problematic, and variations of religious belief …..

    On your last sentence – I take the word respect.

    I have on my To Do list to start a discussion. I was asked to comment on the NSDP 2030 – one of the comments I included was the need for respect by the parties – SETAs, private providers, public providers. We cannot work together successfully unless we appreciate the challenges of each party and agree to respect each party.

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    Hello again, Sylvia, The article about professor Ackermann is interesting. However, as is always the case with articles that are limited to a small number of words; arguments are not sufficiently corroborated or motivated. The linear narrative is typical of a modernist approach to research, as is the logical reasoning behind her conclusions. Prof Ackermann, however, mostly touched on critical theory issues, such as skin colour, hair, harassment. Observable traits are difficult to reconcile with scientific (quantitative) research. In terms of values, can racism be labeled “scientific”? Personally, I don’t think so. Racism is per definition subjective. Good for professor Ackermann to call it a “terrible history” of knowledge and research. In my subjective opinion, we might one day discover and prove that racial differences is no justification for one group being superior to another, but this will probably require of us to accept that one set of values, customs, culture, priorities, etc. are not inferior to others.

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    Hello Sylvia, Redress, in my opinion, is not only a good example of what can result from post-colonial research but also a good example of the difference between colonialism and post-colonialism. Colonialism as a paradigmatic approach to research often, though not always, was used by colonialist researchers. Consequently, it often was an effort to justify colonialism. Such researchers also tended to adopt a rather superior attitude towards the indigenous people of the colonies, and they followed an etic approach. Post-colonialism, as you rightly wrote, is often aimed at redress of historical injustices, written by citizens of countries that used to be colonies (sometimes also “outsiders” with integrity and a healthy sense of justice and fairness). Researches making use of post-colonialism mostly follow an emic approach.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Thank you Hannes.
    Interesting – our Constitution speaks of redress – which I think is generally seen as redress for apartheid exclusion – but in addition to the legacy of apartheid, there is also an intertwining of colonialism influences. Something that is evident in a number of skills development related issues.