Postcolonial Sociology: Volume 24

Cover of Postcolonial Sociology

Table of contents

(20 chapters)

Postcolonial theory has been widely influential in the humanities. But its influence on social science and sociology in particular has been minimal. This special volume of PPST brings together leading scholars to ponder the possibility of a “postcolonial sociology.” Chapters consider whether or not postcolonial theory is compatible with sociology. They offer postcolonial readings of canonical sociological thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Robert Park. They explore the relationship between knowledge and colonial power. They offer critical perspectives on the sociology of race; they ponder the implications of postcolonial theory for global sociology; put sociology, area studies, and postcolonial studies into dialogue; deploy and rework key postcolonial concepts such as hybridity; and excavate postcolonial sociologies in India and Mexico. In bringing these essays together, this volume of PPST is among the first attempts in North America to craft new sociologies informed by postcolonial criticism.

What is “postcolonial sociology”? While the study of postcoloniality has taken on the form of “postcolonial theory” in the humanities, sociology's approach to postcolonial issues has been comparably muted. This essay considers postcolonial theory in the humanities and its potential utility for reorienting sociological theory and research. After sketching the historical background and context of postcolonial studies, three broad areas of contribution to sociology are highlighted: reconsiderations of agency, the injunction to overcome analytic bifurcations, and a recognition of sociology's imperial standpoint.

So-called classical sociology took shape during perhaps the high point of a world dominated by imperial states. In the “west” the British, French, and German empires, along with a surging America, claimed political and sometimes territorial control over wide stretches of the globe. Beyond Europe and the United States, while the Ottoman and Qing empires were in there last days, new states were staking out their imperial claims such as Japan and Russia. The tension between a reality of empire and an ideal of sovereign nation-states eventually exploded in WWI. Curiously, much of this dynamic, especially the global power of empire, went theoretically unnoticed by the makers of modern sociology. This chapter explores this theme through a sketch of the failure of this theoretical reckoning in Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.

Sociological conceptualizations of capitalism, modernity, and economic development as due only to factors endogenous to Western Europe have been prominent targets of postcolonial criticism. Instead of an over-the-board condemnation of classical sociology as a whole or of the work of one classic in particular, the present article zooms in on Max Weber's theory of ethnicity from a postcolonial perspective in order to pinpoint the absences, blind spots and gestures of exclusion that Weber's classical analysis has bequeathed to the sociology of social inequality more generally and to the sociology of race and ethnicity in particular. Through a reconstruction of Weber's conceptual and political take on race and ethnicity, the article links Weber's general social theory with his particular views on racial and ethnic matters and reveals both as historically and politically situated. To this end, it starts with a brief look at Weber's theory of modernity as an indispensable prerequisite for an analysis of his approach to race and ethnicity and subsequently discusses his chapter on Ethnic Groups, his treatment of the “Polish question” in the 1890s and of the “Negro question” in the United States in the 1890s. Using Weber's canonical treatment of ethnicity as a test case, the article ends by suggesting that postcolonial critique can prove sociological theory more generally as built upon unwarranted overgeneralization from a particular standpoint constructed as universal.

This essay uses the sociology of race in the United States (as it pertains to the study of African Americans) as point of entry into the larger problem of what implications and impact the body of theory known as “postcolonialism” has for American sociology. It assesses how American sociology has historically dealt with what the discipline (in its less enlightened moments) called the “Negro Problem” and in its more “enlightened moments” called “the sociology of race relations.” The first half of the essay provides a sociological analysis of a hegemonic colonial institution – education – as a means of providing a partial history of how, why, and when American sociology shifted from a more “global” stance which placed the “Negro Problem” within the lager rubric of global difference and empire to a parochial sociology of “race relations” which expunged the history of colonialism from the discipline. The second half of the essay applies postcolonial literary theory to a series of texts written by the founder of the Chicago school of race relations, Robert Ezra Park, in order to document Park's shift from analyzing Black Americans within a colonial framework which saw the “Negro Problem” in America as an “aspect or phase” of the “Native Problem” in Africa to an immigration/assimilation paradigm that tenaciously avoided engaging with the fact that Black resistance to conflict in America might be articulated in global terms.

Sociology is often pitched as the social science discipline most obviously in need of postcolonial deconstruction, owing to its ostensibly more transparent Eurocentrism as a formation. For this reason, even postcolonial scholars working within the ambit of sociology are reluctant to play up its analytical strengths in addition to exposing its ideological deficits. Without underestimating the profound impact of the growing body of postcolonial theorizing and research on self-reflexivity within sociology, this paper points up some key ways in which the structure of comprehension within postcolonial critique itself is characteristically sociological. Alternatively, if that latter conclusion is to remain in dispute, a number of core epistemological and socio-theoretical problems must be accepted as being, still, radically unresolved. Consequently, a more dialectical grasp of sociology’s role within this domain of enquiry and style of intellectual politics is needed. I develop these considerations by critically engaging with three recent currents of postcolonial critique – Raewyn Connell's advocacy of “Southern Theory”; the project of “reinventing social emancipation” articulated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos; and the “de-colonial option” fronted by Walter D. Mignolo.

This essay seeks to extend the original gambit of this forum, of thinking possible modes of postcolonial sociology, unto a more relational terrain. It takes as its point of departure the vexed status of history in sociology and the hermeneutic suspicion of comparison in postcolonial theory. Any potential rapprochement between postcolonial theory and sociology must engage with the deeply incongruent status of history and comparison across these fields. I attempt to bridge this divide historically by revisiting an anti-imperial internationalist sociology forged in interwar colonial India. I seek thereby to show what Pierre Bourdieu called a “particular case of the possible” and to participate in ongoing efforts to “provincialize” sociology.

In this chapter I argue that the search for a sociological postcolonial critique of modernity should not restrict itself to academic sociology. In Latin America a strong tradition of essayists has at times assumed genuinely sociological tasks. As I have argued elsewhere (Kozlarek, 2009) the Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz should be read in this fashion.In what follows I try to show that what could be termed Paz's sociological critique of modernity is essentially related to his critique of the teleological understanding of modernity that expresses itself in modernization theory. In a second step I argue that Paz's alternative sociology resembles a comparative sociology in which different experiences in the processes of modernizations are compared. Finally, I mention Paz's historical reconstruction of colonial and postcolonial experiences, and close with his description of pathological forms of social interaction that colonialism inscribed in the cultural fabric of everyday life.

While sharing fundamental similarities with other colonial and post-colonial experiences, Latin America has a unique history of having been the proving ground for early Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects, of having experienced a relatively long duration of – but also historically early end to – these projects, and of negotiating a particular and complex trajectory of internal and external post-colonial relations. What can the study of this distinct colonial and post-colonial experience contribute to a broader program of postcolonial sociology? Conversely, what can a revitalized postcolonial sociology contribute to the study of Latin America? This article develops provisional answers to these questions by reviewing major currents in South and North American scholarship on the Latin American colonial and post-colonial experience. Some of this scholarship self-consciously identifies with broader movements in postcolonial studies; but much of it – both historical and contemporary – does not. By bringing together diverse strands of thought, this article sheds new light on what postcolonialism means in the Latin American context, while using the comparative leverage that this set of often overlooked cases provides to contribute to a new program of postcolonial sociology.

As a fountainhead of postcolonial scholarship, Edward Said has profoundly impacted multiple disciplines. This chapter makes a case for why sociologists should (re)read Edward Said, paying specific attention to his warning about the inevitably violent interactions between knowledge and power in historic and current imperial contexts. Drawing on Said and other postcolonial theorists, we propose a threefold typology of potential violence associated with the production of knowledge: (1) the violence of essentialization, (2) epistemic violence, and (3) the violence of apprehension. While postcolonial theory and sociological and anthropological writing on reflexivity have highlighted the former two dangers, we urge social scientists to also remain wary of the last. We examine the formation of structures of authoritative knowledge during the French Empire in North Africa, the British Empire in India, and the American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan during the “Global War on Terror,” paying close attention to how synchronic instances of apprehension (more or less accurate perception or recognition of the “other”) and essentialization interact in the production of diachronic essentialist and epistemic violence. We conclude by calling for a post-orientalist form of reflexivity, namely that sociologists, whether they engage as public intellectuals or not, remain sensitive to the fact that the production and consumption of sociological knowledge within a still palpable imperial framework makes all three violences possible, or even likely.

Sociologists have tended to construct theories of identity based on unitary notions of social location which avoid conceptualizing disjunction and contradiction and which therefore fail to capture certain characteristics of the postcolonial condition. This paper engages in a postcolonial re-reading of sociological theories of practice (in particular, Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus). It does so through an analysis of the historical development of the field of health and healing in South Africa. From the beginning of the colonial enterprise, biomedicine resisted amalgamation with other forms of healing and insisted on a monotherapeutic ideology and practice whereas indigenous healing accommodated not only biomedicine, but invited pluralism within and across cultural and ethnic differences. As such, a bifurcated and parallel system of healing emerged, whereby Black South Africans practiced pluralism and white South Africans utilized biomedicine in isolation. This disjuncture became acrimonious in the post-apartheid era as the state attempted to forge a united health system and battle the AIDS epidemic. Despite the historical and contemporary bifurcations within the field of health and healing, people living with AIDS continue to subscribe to a hybrid health ideology. There is, therefore, a structural disjuncture between the realities of consumption within the field of health and healing and the logic of the field as it is articulated in the symbolic struggle raging in the field of power. The field of health and healing is characterized, therefore, by a simultaneous bifurcation and hybridity – which is reflected in HIV-infected South Africans’ beliefs and practices. In order to make sense of this puzzling disjuncture and its impact on subjects’ trajectories of action, this paper draws insight from Pierre Bourdieu's theory of habitus and Homi Bhabha's conceptualization of hybridity – transforming each of them through their synthesis and application to the postcolonial context.

This article addresses the way in which perceptions about the globalized nature of the world in which we live are beginning to have an impact within sociology such that sociology has to engage not just with the changing conceptual architecture of globalization, but also with recognition of the epistemological value and agency of the world beyond the West. I address three main developments within sociology that focus on these concerns: first, the shift to a multiple modernities paradigm; second, a call for a multicultural global sociology; and third, an argument in favor of a global cosmopolitan approach. While the three approaches under discussion are based on a consideration of the “rest of the world,” their terms, I suggest, are not adequate to the avowed intentions. None of these responses is sufficient in their address of earlier omissions and each falls back into the problems of the mainstream position that is otherwise being criticized. In contrast, I argue that it is only by acknowledging the significance of the “colonial global” in the constitution of sociology that it is possible to understand and address the necessarily postcolonial (and decolonial) present of “global sociology.”

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Political Power and Social Theory
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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