EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(IW08)

Anthropology and postcolonialism

Location Wills G27
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30

Convenors

Vassos Argyrou (University of Hull) email
Rik Pinxten (University of Ghent) email
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Short Abstract

Long after colonialism, Europe remains ideologically dominant despite all efforts to decentre it. This workshop invites anthropologists to take stock and rethink fundamentally key theoretical and cultural assumptions.

Long Abstract

If postcolonialism still retains some meaning, this must surely be related to the fact that, half a century after colonialism, Europe, and more broadly the European intellectual tradition, remains the source of all legitimate significations including those borrowed, given the stamp of approval and authorised for circulation. And this despite all efforts to the contrary both within and outside Europe, and notwithstanding recent theories about multiple modernities, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism, which to a very large extent are symptomatic of European ideological dominance. Poststructuralism, whose avowed aim was to decentre the West, has come and gone without any decentring taking place; postcolonial theory seems to have largely exhausted itself, having produced little more than the anaemic figure of the hybrid; while a second wave of criticism in this and related fields appears to have come to the daunting realisation that resistance is caught up in power and inevitably reproduces it. Although anthropology constitutes a critique of ethnocentrism by virtue of both its underlying assumptions and its discursive practices, it has largely shied away from becoming involved in the broader theorisation of postcolonialism. After decades of criticism of European dominance and little real progress, the task becomes more urgent and compelling than ever before. This workshop invites anthropologists to take stock and rethink fundamentally key theoretical and cultural assumptions. Questions to be raised could include, but are not limited to, the following: Can Europe decentre itself? What is at stake in the desire for self-decentring? How far are Europe's Others complicit in their own domination, and can this be avoided? What sort of alternative epistemologies, ethics and imaginings might be possible? Is there a place for indifference in the struggle for cultural difference? Papers must be theoretically informed and critically oriented. Playfulness is welcome.

Chair: Vassos Argyrou
Discussant: James Carrier

Papers

Eurocentric interpretations of art versus multicultural practices

Author: An van Dienderen (Ghent University)  email
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Long Abstract

Artists and cultural agents relate to the diversity in our culture in often-innovative ways, challenging Eurocentric interpretations of art, oriëntalism, paternalism or other forms of discourse in which the "other" is reduced to a problem related historicized category. Through fieldwork during art processes I aim to research the paradoxes between Eurocentric interpretations of art and the multicultural practices. The selection of the practices refutes essentialist and marginalizing tendencies. It is not based on the origin of the artist (i.e. the ethnic-cultural descent) but on the relevant ways in which his/her practice relate to the diversity in our society. By presenting examples of several art agents, coming from various structures, such as community work, opera, theaters located in Brussels and Flanders, I aim to demonstrate that Cultural Diversity is not a project, a category that could be attached to existing categories of western art and taste, but that the diversity in our society forms a rich challenge to reinterpret art in ways that connects with a multicultural, postcolonial, gendered and glocalized network society.

German postcolonial history as a point of self-reflection

Author: Cassandra Ellerbe-Dueck (Southampton University)  email
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Long Abstract

Key Words: Germany, Africa, Post-colonial History, Periphery, Self-Reflection

Germany and "Black" Africa have occupied two very different historical realities.

These differences are closely linked to political as well as economic roles played by both actors within the world historical trajectory. Germany is a component within the dominant center of the world's socio-economic system, and "Black " Africa occupies a position along the periphery of this center, whose epicenter system emerged over five hundred years ago during Western European expansion and imperialism. The continent of Africa was divided, "unevenly" distributed amongst the European powers, and its postcolonial future molded during the notorious Berliner Westafrikakonferenz (1884/85-Berlin Congo Conference). Since this period, the African-European relationship has been one that has moved between paternalism, neo-colonialism and "hidden" domination" (Smith & Glaser: 1994). Germany played and continues to play an important role in European policies regarding Africa, despite its limited involvement (1885/86-1919) as a colonial power. However, the memory of Germany as an active participant in the colonization of the African continent occupies a marginal space within the German collective memory. Lack of sufficient engagement with German colonial history and I will add, a critical analysis of German post-colonial history (although this is now changing) has contributed not only to the marginalization of colonial history within the German collective memory of today, it has also contributed to the perception of Germans of African diasporan descent, i.e. Afro-Germans , as borderline figures.

I argue that the socio-political peripherization of Africa that began over five hundred years ago continues to influence cultural readings and notions of "belonging" in relation to persons of African descent residing in Germany. Moreover, I contend that the German post-colonial discourse (in the German case) perhaps needs to embark upon an epistemological concept that approachs the socio-historical trajectories of such African derived resident populations as a point of self-reflection and not only as a discourse of opposition.

Unthinking eurocentrism, colonialism and anthropology

Author: Justin Kenrick (University of Edinburgh)  email
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Long Abstract

Anthropologists thrive on mapping how, why and by whom, some patterns of difference-making gain power over others, whilst often losing sight of the hierarchical structures of academic livelihoods which seek to solidify as 'natural' those very forces and patterns which anthropological practice seeks to unpack as ideologically constructed. Rather than seeing 'Anthropology and Postcolonialism' as being primarily about the decentring of Europe and the complicity or otherwise of Europe's Others in their own domination, this paper examines the ways in which we can become complicit in our own domination by an ideology which pervades our academic practice because it permeates our everyday experience. The paper examines the way colonisation and resistance plays out in anthropologists' interpretations of the trajectories of those whom European societies call 'indigenous peoples'. In this particular example how can we avoid the traps of either freezing such people out of time, or asserting their agency but only within a frame of reference which predetermines the direction such agency must take. On the one hand the attempt to assert difference in order to assert the rights of dispossessed minorities can be perceived as essentialising difference, on the other hand the attempt to erase difference through denying indigenous peoples' rights is an erasure on terms set by the dominant party, and as such is an act of assimilation rather than a meeting of equals. How might the practice of anthropology enable us to move towards equality rather than shore up inequality?

Moslem women of the 'Orient': submission, subversion or alternative understanding?

Author: Fotini Tsibiridou (Macdeonia University)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper I am trying to examine the conditions under which Moslem women in the Middle East countries, are constructing postmodern female citizenship and womanhood by dealing with everyday reality. Considering the transformation of male power from the traditional to modern and postmodern era, women seem to move between controversial 'truths' and practices, constructed by powerful others as well as by subjected selves. However, a lot of differences exist in homosocial environments and class structured societies. In this paper, categories such as 'truth', 'domination' and 'oriental' are deconstructed, showing how the power relationships in a social and gendered milieu raise the different female experiences of womanhood in particular contexts. In order to 'understand' and 'describe' we will try to explore the limits of old and new analytical tools coming from anthropology, feminist and post colonial studies (see public/private, tradition/modernity, submission/resistance, subaltern/subversive). In this context we are looking for local constructions of 'alternative' categories of womanhood and feelings as practices of self-construction and citizenship declared through multiple hegemonies (local, male and Western). Such approaches give a chance to ordinary social subjects considered subaltern, not only to express their experiences, but also to create alternative discourses, à l'Oriental, over their civil and political rights. In this way women's practices can not only be conceived and understood as 'resistance to subjection', but also as 'serenity and self-esteem' achievements, or as 'alternative' subversion and protest strategies. Ethnographic data from different Middle East countries in addition to a systematic fieldwork self-experience from Oman are analyzed in order to understand experiences of womanhood as subaltern subjects and/or as alternative citizens à l'orientale in the 21st century.

Irish education and the postcolonial predicament

Author: Jeffrey Smith (University of Hull)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper presents an analysis of educational processes in the Republic of Ireland, in the context of efforts during the postcolonial era to forge a distinctively Irish form of schooling out of the existing system bequeathed by the departing colonial power. From the early years of the Irish Free State, in which there was a concerted attempt to 'decentre' the cultural hegemony of Britich colonial influence through the statutory 'gaelization' of primary education, a mood of 'Irish revivalism' propelled forward a multi-faceted project of cultural nationalism. Key influences underpinning this revival were the fetishizing of an 'authentic' Gaelic imaginary by leading scholars of the period and the major institutional part played in state policies and action by that singular marker of Irish cultural identity, the Catholic church.

The next fifty years saw Catholicism prove by far the most adhesive of these interconnected educational influences, adopting a leading role in school management that continues unabated today and distinguishes Ireland's school system as probably unique within the European Union. Meanwhile, cultural nationalism foundered in combining an austere authoritarian conservatism with a cultural protectionism that sat uneasily with a population increasingly coming to view themselves in terms of the 'nation beyond the seas'. More recently, new tensions have arisen between competitive individualist conceptions of schooling derived from the United States, and the more socially inclusive model emanating from Western Europe. A historical framework supplemented with contemporary ethnographic material illustrates how this east/west axis has been tactically deployed in shifting socioeconomic and political contexts to differentiate Irish education from its metropolitan neighbour in laying claim to 'modernising' processes that, for some postcolonial critics, are argued to be reproducing a set of reconfigured neo-colonial relationships.

The relevance of a non-colonial view on science and knowledge for an open perspective on the world

Author: Rik Pinxten (University of Ghent)  email
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Long Abstract

The so-called 'Methodenstreit" was wrongheaded, because both camps were guilty of the colonial attitude. They did not take into account the perspectives on knowledge and other traditions in any genuine way, let alone allow for conceptual openness. Without becoming exotic or unscientific we should be able to do that. The conceptual and epistemological problems involved as well as the methodological ones ( praxiology, performance theory) are scrutinized.