“Postcolonial Perspectives on and within Development (Studies)” Working Group

RE: Responding to the Viewpoint article on “The case for colonialism”, September 2017

To the editor-in-chief, Third World Quarterly, Shahid Qadir

Mr Qadir, your statement in response to the Viewpoint article on "The case for colonialism" has outraged us almost as much as the original article. Academics need to be open to controversy. It is at the core of what we do that we not only tolerate any dissenting views but also engage with provocative and exploratory thought. As serious and responsible academicians, we should challenge ourselves and others to debate critically and discuss diverse views and assumptions.

However, by inviting anti-colonial responses to Mr Gilley's article you reduce and miniscule entire historical legacies with their attendant cruel, violent and anti-humane strands to a mere academic exercise, a debate that can be argued and counter-argued. This is an act of symbolic violence against academia. If academy is to allow each and every strand of thought as debate-worthy, everything or anything, however atrocious in its design, can be justified. According to this logic we might see a "Viewpoint" in TWQ making a case for holocaust or any other horrendous human experience as something to debate about. We say a unanimous no to such exercise.

What is at stake is the very core of rigorous academic conduct. How many papers, books and pieces have argued within the stream of critical theory that social reality is not and cannot be value-free? By extending authority to Mr Gilley's article, you are attempting to make it value-free, something that needs to be contested at all costs.

Do we as researchers and, more importantly, as humans, want to be part of an academic world where we "argue" for the sake of arguments as if it were a mere exercise, or do we realize the importance of the arguments we are making and their normativity in shaping realities?

For the EADI Working Group on Postcolonial Perspectives on Development

William Robert Avis, University of Birmingham

Arda Bilgen, Center for Development Research Bonn

Ana Carballo, University of Melbourne

Yvonne Franke, University of Göttingen

Wendy Harcourt, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University in The Hague

Nadji Khaoua, University of Annaba

Johanna Kivimäki, University of Jyväskylä

Uma Kothari, University of Manchester

Paola Minoia, University of Helsinki

Hillary Musarurwa

Franziska Müller, University of Kassel

Aftab Nasir, Center for Development Research Bonn

Pauline Ngirumpatse, University of Montreal

Anindya Sekhar Purkayastha, Kazi Nazrul University

Anna Salmivaara, University of Helsinki

Julia Schöneberg, University of Kassel

Karin Astrid Siegmann, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University in The Hague

Aram Ziai, University of Kassel

In past decades critique of Western development interaction has been proposed from different positions (Hart 2001, Nederveen Pieterse 1998, Rist 1997). Development (studies, theory and practice) has reached an impasse (Kiely 1995). While development approaches generally have focused on growth and poverty, Postcolonial Studies explore structures of power and the (re-) production of knowledges. On first sight, Postcolonial Studies and Development Studies do not appear to have practical connections. Nevertheless, despite of existent divergences, there are several convergences that provide opportunities to connect the generally separated fields of research in order to move beyond the impasse.

What are the core questions?

The time is ripe to fundamentally rethink and reconfigure structures and conditions that implement and perpetuate inequalities and boundaries. Postcolonial perspectives offer a viable starting point for drawing up an universal global agenda for sustainable change.

What are our aims? What do we want to achieve as a group?

The activities of the Working Group aim to explore and establish spaces for postcoloniality within development studies that:

• enable the acknowledgement of multiple knowledges

• seek strategies for decolonizing development knowledge

• explore the relation of Postcolonialism and Development policy

• discuss Postcolonial Perspectives on the SDGs

The group is not limited to postcolonial perspectives, but welcomes collaborators working on decolonial and other related theoretical approaches.


Webinar: EADI Working Group on "Ethiopians in Zhengistan - Decolonising Development Policy"

Read more: Webinar: EADI Working Group on "Ethiopians in Zhengistan - Decolonising Development Policy"
23 Jan 2018

3rd Webinar of EADI Postcolonial Working Group, 16 February, 3pm (Berlin time)

Aram Ziai will speak about "Ethiopians in Zhengistan - Decolonising Development Policy"

Frugal Innovation and Development Research

18 Jan 2018

European Journal of Development Research, Volume 30, Issue 1, January 2018

edited by André Leliveld, Peter Knorringa. Introduction

About this Working Group

The Subject Matter

Positioned in the centre of Postcolonial Studies, colonialism is framed as a project that installed a dichotomous system in order to legitimize and justify Western intervention. Departing from the assumption that colonialism basically and fundamentally “reshaped existing structures of human knowledge” (Loomba 2008, 57), proponents of Postcolonial Studies strive for a “conceptual reorientation towards perspectives of knowledge [by aiming to force] alternative knowledges into the power structures of the West” (Young 2003, 7). In this context, a critique of the universality of Western knowledge is inevitable. The aim is to establish spaces where the universality of these epistemologies can be attacked and contested by local knowledges. Breaking structures of coloniality needs to be considered from two viewpoints. On the one hand, there is the externalization of coloniality and respective epistemology on part of the former colonizer, whereas on the other hand this is also internalization of ascribed inferior “quality” of locally relevant epistemologies of a particular nation. It can be observed in post-colonial states that colonial structures have been internalized, and are functioning in colonial ways even if the colonizer has left as in many African or South Asian Societies. For example, the way an individual is perceived in European and non-European countries is very much linked with and dependent on the notions of citizenship prevalent in the West and the Rest. Chatterjee (1993), in his seminal work, argues that the “citizen” as a normative category that originates from Europe’s experience of individual rights, differs from the way the individual is perceived in developing countries. Individuals are considered as subject to be governed, instead of being citizens to be served (Chatterjee, 1993). This subject vs. citizen dichotomy, in its very nature, is colonial and was implied by the colonizers. Although the colonial legacies ended for many countries in the second half of the last century, the power structures, with their attending inequalities and pre-established epistemologies of distinct, dichotomous categories remained alive, got internalized and are still feeding into the complex web of unequal interactions happening between the developed and developing nations. This relationship dynamic of coloniality is also an aspect Postcolonial Studies should deal with.Development theory, although by no means a homogenous notion, deals with the applicability of concepts and practices. It is a part of social sciences that has its origin in theories of economic growth. The roots of Postcolonial Studies lie in cultural sciences and linguistics. Its critique is fundamentally theoretical and abstract. Likewise, the aims of both approaches differ. The reason for this is Development Studies’ focus on growth and economy and the contrasting understanding in Postcolonialism to focus on historical and cultural constructs. The binary of developed/undeveloped and North/South and the widespread conceptualization of development as a process that can be captured with indicators is a critical toehold for Postcolonialism.Postcolonial authors apply their critique on the level of discourses and models of representation. They formulate critique towards concepts, ideologies and practices that are manifested in mainstream Development action. Questions of socio-economic inequalities are often neglected. This negation of the relevance of concrete material inequalities offers only an incomplete picture. A common critique therefore is that “development studies does not tend to listen to subalterns and postcolonial studies does not tend to concern itself whether the subaltern is eating” (Sylvester 1999, 703).Central in both fields is the knowledge of and about the relationships and the concrete enactment of them between countries of the Global South and the North. However, Sylvester argues that “of the two fields Postcolonial studies has the greatest potential to be a new and different location of human development thinking if it can overcome a tendency to look into intellectual rather than practical projects of development” (Sylvester 1999, 703).


Chatterjee, Partha 1993: The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Post-colonial Histories, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

Hart, Gillian 2001: Development critiques in the 1990s: culs de sac and promising paths, Progress in Human Geography 25,4, pp. 649-658.

McClintock, Anne 1992: The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term “Post-Colonialism”, in: Social Text, No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), pp. 84-98.

Melber, Henning 2016 (forthcoming): Knowledge is Power – and Power Affects Knowledge. The Challenges for Research Collaboration in and with Africa, Africa Development.

Nederveen Pieterse, Jan 1998: Alternative, Post- and Reflexive Development, Development and Change, Vol. 29, pp. 343-373.

Loomba, Ania 2008: Colonialism/Postcolonialsm, London: Routledge.

Sylvester, Christine 1999: Development studies and postcolonial studies: disparate tales of the “Third World”, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 4, S. 703-721.

Rist, Gilbert 1997: The History of Development from Western Origins to Global Faith, London: Zed Books.

Young, Robert J.C. 2003: Postcolonialism: A very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Aftab Nasir

Center for Development Research (ZEF)
Bonn, Germany

Julia Schöneberg

EADI and University of Kassel
Tel: (+49) 228 26 18 101

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