This page was created by Sara Juntunen.  The last update was by Ellie Pedersen.

Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Old Definition and Its Problems

Postcolonial theory has been widely discussed among scholars. Before delving into the old definition, it is important to understand where the postcolonial theory originates from. The entire concept is rooted in imperialism, stemming from the Latin world imperium “which has numerous meanings including power, authority, command, dominion, realm, and, empire” (Habib 737). Imperialism was made popular by countries such as England and its overtaking of numerous colonies. As the world watched the oppression of newly established colonies, scholars and writers started writing about this new concept. Well-known writers such as Edward Said, Helen Tiffin, and Gayatri Spivak therefore created articles and literary works that attempted to categorize and study postcolonial theory.

Helen Tiffin was one of the first scholars who wrote down a definition of postcolonial theory, which appears in the introduction to The Empire Writes Back: “writing and reading practices grounded in some form of colonial experience occurring outside Europe but as a consequence of European expansion into and exploitation of ‘the other’ worlds” (qtd. in Duncan 323).  This definition was, and still is, recognized by a multitude of scholars in both postcolonial and literary theory. Tiffin focuses on the commonly used definition that a postcolonial situation happens only in continents such as Africa and Asia due to European expansion.

The concept of colonizer and colonized describes the relationship that exists between them and how the society is affected by their relationship. Postcolonial criticism through the old definition attempts to figure out this relationship and analyze the process of colonialism. With such a rigid and concentrated definition, scholars such as Bart Moore-Gilbert understand that “there has been increasingly heated, even bitter, contestation of the legitimacy of seeing certain regions, periods, sociopolitical formations and cultural practices as ‘genuinely’ postcolonial” (Duncan 320). Both sides of the discussion have valid arguments for what is deemed countries with postcolonial situations. Other parts of the world were also being colonized, but are not being categorized in Tiffin’s definition because she focuses more on colonies created outside of Europe. 

With Tiffin’s definition, scholars focus on a linear development of colonial process that “marks history as a serious of stages along an epochal road from the ‘precolonial’ to ‘the colonial’ to ‘the post-colonial” (Lloyd, “Regarding Ireland” 14). Therefore, it makes it seem as though these periods do not overlap during a colonial process. In addition, it claims that there is a clear divide between each of them. This linear development of the postcolonial causes a major problem, which is the problem of the definition of "post". Literally speaking, the notion of "post" is "after", but the old definition does not take into account that the change in the colonized’s culture and identity happens before the colonizers leave. When they leave, the colonized are set with the task of developing their new identity. But the true identity and culture change mostly happens at the point of the colonizer’s arrival.

Another problem with Tiffin’s old definition is that her narrow definition focuses only on non-European colonies even though there were plenty of colonies within Europe showing similar symptoms. Therefore, Dr. Dawn Duncan coined two terms illustrating the issues of race and place that are present in the old definition: continentalization and colorization. While the issue of race does play a part in certain regions of postcolonial theory, it might not be as essential in all aspects as supporters of the old definition claim it to be. Continentalization can be treated the same. While the cases of Africa and Asia do have a clear postcolonial discourse, the colonies of Europe also have similar postcolonial discourses, even if they are not easily found.

The old definition of postcolonial theory is most commonly accepted in the literary criticism world. This is mostly because scholars are reluctant to accept new ideas. Another reason could be that in the cases of colonies in Europe and the United States, many groups are ashamed of the treatment across these continents, especially since the use of racial stereotyping proves to be a matter of power perception rather than actual skin tones. When looking at the old definition, it is important to take all these issues into account, and whether or not the definition is outdated with the new knowledge now available.
Works Cited
Duncan, Dawn. “A Flexible Foundation: Constructing a Postcolonial Dialogue.” Relocating Postcolonialism. Ed. David Theo Goldberg and Ato Quayson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. “Postcolonial Criticism.” A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Print.

Lloyd, David. “Regarding Ireland in a Post-Colonial Frame.” Cultural Studies 15.1 (2001): 12-32. Web. 
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Heilig & Sara Juntunen
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