While reading Shahjahan (2011)

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If there is any ambiguity about the differences in meaning between the terms: anticolonial and postcolonial, Shahjahan takes time to explain and justify the language he uses. In doing so he positions himself within an important debate:

Towards an anticolonial framework

In this paper, ‘anticolonial theory’ refers to schools of thought in postcolonial studies that embrace materialist, psychoanalytical, culturalist, poststructuralist, and anticolonial formulations (Young 2001; McLeod 2007). This theory foregrounds the multiple incarnations of colonialism in the contemporary context and bridges epistemic and material realities to oppose, dismantle, and transform social relations stemming from the colonial past (Fanon 1963; Smith 1999; Dei 2000; Grande 2004; Kempf 2009).

I use the term ‘anticolonial’ rather than ‘postcolonial’ due to the questionable way the latter signifier has been dominantly represented and taken up in the Western academy, as well as the critical theory that it has excluded in its body of thought. In the Western academy  ‘postcolonial theory’ commonly refers to postructuralist and culturalist formulations of theorizing on colonial practices and histories (frequently identified with the works of Homi Bhabha, Gyatri Spivak, Edward Said, Robert Young, Stuart Hall, and Dipesh Chakrabarty; see Loomba 1998; McLeod 2007). Furthermore, the ‘postcolonial’ has been predominantly used as a signifier to replace the old label of ‘Third World’ or a descriptor to designate the end of formal colonial administrations around the globe (McLintock 1992; Shohat 1992).

An anticolonial framework moves beyond such labels and includes more. I use anticolonial theory to include decolonial theorists from Latin America (e.g. Dussel 1985; Mignolo 2003; Morana, Dussel, and Jauregui 2008; Quijano 2008) whose formulations of colonialism have been ignored or overlooked by mainstream postcolonial studies that have mostly focused on the experiences in British and French empires. In addition, by anticolonial thought, I incorporate perspectives of Indigenous scholars (e.g. Alfred 1999; Smith 1999; Grande 2004; Stewart-Harawira 2005) that are often overlooked in dominant formulations of postcolonial theory.

What struck me when reading this paper (I am still half-way through) is the care with which the writer explains his key concepts.  The words he uses, he uses with absolute clarity about what they mean, why he uses them and why he makes the choice between the most immediate alternatives.

The decision to use the word ‘anticolonial’ rather than ‘postcolonial’ is premised upon wanting to establish a position for himself and for the paper he writes within a particular debate. Anticolonial falls within postcolonial studies. So it is closely aligned. It is clear who the different writers are that think and work within a field of study that forms the basis his interest. He uses the dominant school of thought as a basis to carve out his own line of thinking. We are clear then that in using the term ‘anti’ colonial, he is not just being contrary. It’s a less frequently used term but this is not its attraction. He is deliberate in choosing to align himself, adopting a position that speak from the margins with those ‘whose formulations of colonialism have been ignored or overlooked by mainstream postcolonial studies’ and ‘Indigenous scholars [who] are often overlooked’.

In these few paragraphs explaining key terms, we have a good sense of the stance the writer takes in relation to his material.

Riyad Ahmed Shahjahan (2011) Decolonizing the evidence‐ based education and policy movement: revealing the colonial vestiges in educational policy, research, and neoliberal reform, Journal of Education Policy, 26:2, 181-206


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