EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Strategic uses of colonial legacies in postcolonial encounters

Location Queens 1.18
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Chiara Pussetti (ICS-ULisboa) email
Lorenzo Bordonaro (Universidade Federal de Sergipe (SE), Brazil) email
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Short Abstract

The purpose of this panel is to put together original contributions from any context exploring the contemporary vitality, uses and transformations of colonial categories, highlighting how this legacy has shaped postcolonial contexts and encounters and has been creatively reworked by them.

Long Abstract

The purpose of this panel is to put together original and path-breaking contributions from any context exploring the contemporary vitality, uses and transformations of colonial categories, highlighting how this legacy has shaped postcolonial contexts and encounters and has been creatively reworked by them. This implies considering the colonial and the postcolonial in terms of continuity, however problematic, rather than in terms of rupture and neat separation. From our perspective, the colonial legacy is not the residue of a heavy and violent past which local consciousness and politics could not remove despite their efforts. Rather the relationship with the colonial (as ideology, state structure, policies) is a relevant issue for contemporary postcolonial identities both for people living in former colonies (and for those among them migrating to Europe) and for those living in former metropoles. In all kinds of postcolonial encounters, we claim, aspects of colonial discourses are included, embodied, transformed and displayed. The categories of colonialism can on the one hand be strategically appropriated and used, conferring agency and voice on subaltern actors, becoming a social critical locution and a space for resistance; in this sense we are particularly interested in exploring how colonial legacies can become weapons in local semiotic battlefields, producing new differences, identities and social distinctions. On the other hand, though, these very categories can be re-enacted in migratory and transnational contexts reproducing discriminatory attitudes and institutional racism. In these highly problematic situations, the issues and paradoxes generated by the reproduction of colonial paradigms, especially in institutional settings (hospitals, prisons, schools, etc), are then applied to the maintenance and reproduction of existing structures of inequality.


(Neo-)colonial encounters: new migration – old practices? The case of migrant domestic workers in Portugal

Author: Christiane Hellermann (University of Bremen)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper combines theoretical and empirical perspectives. It aims to understand and examine Portugal as a post-colonial society by analysing current daily-life practices and linking them to the (colonial) past.

The employment of migrant domestic workers becomes more and more common and popular in Southern Europe, similar to many other European countries. In the last decade, the issue of domestic work became (again) a hot topic for feminists, and it recently started to be also of academic interest. How far can it be productive to situate this discussion in a historic context that links current practices and experiences to a colonial past? Portugal as former colonial power and myth, and as a (somehow) 'post-colonial' space at the Western margin of the European Union offers an interesting perspective on this complex topic.

My paper looks at the existence and the revival of colonial and feudal patterns in the thinking and behaviour of the urban middle and upper class in Portugal. Therefore, the situation of the empregadas domésticas, the domestic workers, will be analysed. In the past, mostly Portuguese women from poor rural areas worked as domestic servants, nowadays immigrant women take on their place. They come predominately from Brazil and Eastern Europe (esp. Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania). The fact that the majority of these migrant women has studied and worked during many years in their professions as e.g. engineers, doctors, economists and teachers, is largely ignored by the employers ('os patrões'): Those see and treat domestic workers like brainless servants from uncivilised, 'underdeveloped' countries. Paternalistic behaviour is reinforced, colonial practices repeated.

From cultural diversity to mental illness: colonial legacies in psychiatric settings

Author: Chiara Pussetti (ICS-ULisboa)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper - drawing on the life stories of African migrants interned in a Portuguese psychiatric hospital - proposes a reflection on the unaware reproduction of colonial paradigms in institutional settings, with the effect of maintaining and re-enacting persisting structures of inequality. Based upon a two years fieldwork, this presentation underlines how the interpretation, diagnosis and treatment of "mental health" in migrants can frequently be influenced by colonial legacies, also in "culturally sensitive" psychiatric programs. These legacies - incorporated, despite the best of intentions, as a constitutive element of diagnosis and treatment into the therapeutic practices of psychiatric counselling - pathologize experiences and behaviours of marginalized people of non-Western origins, (re)producing discriminative attitudes and institutional racism. The frequent failure of therapeutic interventions in these settings, could be interpreted therefore as a consequence of the partial obscuration or silencing of the voices of the migrants speaking about their very afflictions, lived experiences and discontents, in a context of persisting colonial power relations.

Youth and the ambiguities of global modernity: the experience of marginality in the Archipelago of the Bijagós (Guinea Bissau)

Author: Lorenzo Bordonaro (Universidade Federal de Sergipe (SE), Brazil)  email
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Long Abstract

Drawing on a 5 years long research on youth culture in Bubaque, Archipelago of the Bijagós, Guinea Bissau, my paper will focus upon three main issues. First, I will briefly pinpoint the genealogical link between the notions of 'civilisation', 'modernity' and 'development', highlighting the continuities between colonial and post-independence national and international policies in Guinea Bissau. Secondly, I will highlight how the discourse of 'development' and the institutions of modernity are appropriated by the young, and how they articulate with local social dynamics, bolstering and giving new shape to intergenerational conflicts. Finally - despite acknowledging the resilience of agency of young people - I will point up that the very discourse of development the young display triggers self-perceptions of marginality and peripheriality, as it conveys the idea of a unlinear evolution having at his apex the Euro-American urban civilisation, and placing Africans at the margins of this supposed common human destiny. What is more, albeit the optimistic fairytale linking 'globalization' with equity, development and participation and despite the emergence of novel centers of global capitalism, the young in Bubaque realize day after day that the new world order creates marginality as much as connections, often merely deepening and reorganization existing patterns of uneven geographical development established in the colonial era.

Colonial boundaries in contemporary Africa: the Bakassi Peninsular in Nigeria-Cameroon border relations

Author: Geoffrey Nwaka (Abia State University, Uturu)  email
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Long Abstract

Many critics complain that the current boundaries of African states make little sense; that most of them are arbitrary and sometimes ambiguous since they were based on dubious treaties with local chiefs or on bilateral agreements between European powers that had limited knowledge of the historical antecedents and human geography of the regions partitioned. The European-designed boundaries created several artificial state of various sizes and shapes - some too small, others too large or landlocked, and in the process split over 200 culture areas, and lumped together peoples of diverse cultures who had little or no pre-colonial experience of shared governance. Ironically, the Organization of African Unity (now African Union) and the foreign and domestic policies of most African countries have since independence tended to defend these boundaries, ostensibly to maintain stability and to respect "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state". The political leaders of these states appear more anxious to preserve their position and influence, while the smaller states fear that to question the colonial boundaries could lead to a new form of imperialism and re-colonization. Sadly however, the preservation of the inherited boundaries has led to persistent instability and violent conflicts within and between African states. Enormous resources have been expended on armament for 'internal security'; millions of lives have been lost and widespread humanitarian emergencies have been caused by civil and genocidal wars to suppress secessionist struggles or to contain movements for ethnic self-determination.

Proposals abound on how modern Africa should respond to the dilemmas of colonial borders, and turn them from rigid barriers between countries to flexible frontiers of mutual contact and cooperation. While some still urge African leaders to repudiate or otherwise renegotiate the boundaries, others advocate minor administrative adjustments that do not necessarily involve change of sovereignty. On the other hand some recommend the urgent review of the non-African concept of citizenship embodied in the Constitutions of many African countries, while yet others propose the establishment of continental, regional and local mechanisms to promote trans-border cooperation, and ensure that 'the partitioned Africans' of the marginalized border areas receive better attention. There is, of course, the expectation that the growing tempo of regionalism, continental integration and of globalization in general will progressively make the borders less constrictive and contentious, and thus reduce the potential for conflict. Unfortunately, the on-going border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula, and the large number of similar conflicts elsewhere in the continent suggest that some of these hopes and expectations may be too optimistic because the inherited borders appear to be acquiring increased prominence and rigidity in the light of new strategic and economic considerations such as the prospects of mineral discovery. The paper examines critically the evolution of the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon in the light of the conflicting arguments and the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice that the disputed Bakassi Peninsula belongs to Cameroon, and not to Nigeria.

Nationalist ideologies and folk-anthropologies: colonial legacies and their transformation in the Ivory Coast

Author: Armando Cutolo (University of Siena)  email
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Long Abstract

In the mid-1990's, in the context of the "war of the elites" caused by succession to president Houphouët-Boigny (who died in 1993), Ivory Coast has witnessed the birth of a new ethno-nationalist ideology, the "ivoirité". This was conceived by academics and intellectuals of the entourage of Henry Konan Bedié (president ad interim until the elections of 1995) as an instrument for the political fight against his adversary Alassane Ouattara, accused to be a "foreigner" of "burk-inabé" origin. Ivoirité was a conceptualization of citizenship based on the rhetorics of (relative) autochthonous origins, strictly related to what has been defined, by its ideologists, as the "problem of foreigners" in Ivory Coast. Among its explicit objectives was the definition of an ivorian "us" as opposed to a "them" (the strangers), in order to defend the ivorian identity and sovereignty, seen as menaced by a migration that had reached the proportion of almost one third of the population of the country. In the same years, and in the climate of social tensions created by political competition and economic crisis, local communities (ethnically, regionally, culturally defined) started to claim their ivoirité through a plurality of discourses. Autochthony; historical anteriority of settlement in the ivorian territory; pretended essential links between a specific ethnic, religious or cultural identity and the construction of the Ivorian national identity: all have been used as rhetoric devices in the arena of the politics of identity, giving birth to a folk-anthropology of citizenship that has played a specific ideological role in the subsequent Ivorian conflict.

The aim of the paper is to show how categories displayed in the ideology of "ivoirité" and in the folk-anthropology above mentioned, have colonial origins. These can be detected not only in the ethnological classifications (those of Delafosse, Tauxier etc.) connected to the colonial "politique des races", but also -and in the first instance- in the continuity of the economic development and population politics conceived and imposed to ivorian society by colonial authorities and postcolonial ruling elites, until the beginning of the nineties. In this light, the ideology of ivoirité and his rhetorics reveal themselves as a product of the last transformation undergone by a colonial system of differences and inequalities that has never left public discourse and that has determined the substan-tial constitution of postcolonial Ivory Coast. A transformation towards a modern -and biopolitical- conception of citizenship.

Who is indigenous in Altai? The legacy of Soviet ethnic categories in contemporary Siberia

Author: Ulrika Persson-Fischier (Uppsala University)  email
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Long Abstract

In the Republic of Altai, there are three public ways of defining who is indigenous. The first definition claims there are no indigenous peoples in Altai, the second that there are some indigenous peoples in Altai and the third that there are only indigenous peoples in Altai.

The Soviet Union was never a colonial state in the classical sense, but it functioned in a similar way. Not only did the Soviet Union incorporate territories and peoples into it, also when implementing socialism it treated many of its citizens in its periphery in a similar fashion as did other colonizers. One of the great challenges of the Soviet power was to control the many different peoples in the Union. To this end, ethnic categories were important tools. Systems of ethnic categorization were used to legitimize coercion, at the same time as they appeared to allow ethnic diversity. In Russia today, these ethnic categories and underlying systems of understanding are used in different and competing ways, to deal with some of the problems of the post- Soviet legacy.

In Altai, ethnic categories originating in Soviet ideology and practice are used to legitimate, on the one hand, the newly received status as Republic, which is the highest form of autonomy for a subject within the Russian Federation. On the other hand, ethnic categories are used to argue for indigenous minority rights for a small portion of the population in Altai, according to criteria stemming from Soviet ideology and practice. In addition, in the last few years, a third definition of indigeniety, originating in an international discourse on indigenous peoples has gained ground in Altai. This definition distances itself from the post-Soviet legacy all together.

The interaction between the actors upholding these three definitions of the indigenous in Altai have complex effects that have been the source of open conflict between actors, as well as constituting potential alternative tools for pragmatic use. Important actors in this interaction are foreign, Moscow-based and republican anthropologists, who act as upholders of all three definitions of the indigenous in Altai.