Saturday, August 25, 2007

Criticism of Post-Colonial Historical Methodology

Criticism of Post-Colonial Historical Methodology

Dipesh Chakrabarty, a member of the Subaltern Studies Group and Arif Dirlik, a critic of postcolonial historical accounting, have sought to examine less the histories being produced by postcolonials, than postcoloniality itself as s system of knowledge and representation.

Chakrabarty argues, in a self-reflective tone, that the postcolonialists (more specifically the Indian historians) have failed in their attempts of writing "history from below" because the essential idea of Europe - here he refers to the idea with all its accompanying notions of modernity and progress as opposed to any geographical reference - continues to be the dominating discourse of their works. The idea of "Europe as a silent referent in historical knowledge" is how he describes it and such assumptions are inherent in the institutions of higher learning. Indeed, for Charkrabarty, there appears to be no redemption capable for these scholarly institutions, to which he seems to attribute a permanent imperialist stranglehold whereby no fair postcolonial accounting of India's past can ever be achieved within their realm.

Arif Dirlik, for his part, argues that postcoloniality as a study is itself a mere representation - a developed and sophisticated discourse - of a history from below, whose practitioners are the products of elite power systems that they themselves benefit from but yet do not acknowledge so. In other words, Postcoloniality has become an end for itself with elite Indian historians perpetuating the very system of hegemonic values that they claim they are reversing, historians he adds, who bear no similarity in scholarship and tone to the majority of historians in India. Dirlik succeeds in utilizing these same postmodern techniques of analysizng power and discourse against the postocloniasts themselves and correctly outlines the dangers of academic homogeinety.

Dirlik also shows how the postcolonialist ideological imperatives of giving the subaltern classes agency for which these scholars feel is their due, ends up overemphasizing the local to the detriment of acknowledging the historical agency of the colonialist meta narratives such as Capitalism. But despite Dirlik's severe criticism, his analysis is remarkably similar to Chakrabarty's when he states that "I think it is arguable that the end of Eurocentrism is an illusion because capitalist culture...has eurocentrism built into the very structure of its narrative;" in other words, he is giving theoretical backing to the postcolonialist marginalization of capitalist meta narratives.

The recent attacks on postcolonial histories, if taken on the whole, demonstrate the shifting sands upon which the work of the historian rests upon. While such debates often spawn new methodologies of their own, they can also serve to de-legitimize the process of historical investigation and the search for new ways to tell our collective histories. It is this willed ignorance that must be guarded against for the sake of history itself...or the telling of history.

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