Postcolonial Studies Books and Coursework

Postcolonial Studies Books and Coursework

This Canadian Postcolonial Studies course was offered Autumn 2013 and lists many books for reference.

Postcolonial Studies is the core course for students studying for the MA in Cultures of Empire, Resistance and Postcoloniality. The module aims to introduce students to some of the key texts and major concepts within the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, through critical readings, literature and film. Students from other MA programmes are invited to take this course as an option module if their programme allows them to do so.

The schedule of weekly seminars is as follows:

Week 2: Formations of postcolonial theory – David Attwell

How did ‘postcolonial theory’ as it came to be known in the 1980s – an offshoot of what had already, and equally problematically, come to be known as ‘poststructuralism’ – turn into the variegated field that would more accurately be described today as ‘postcolonial studies’? How has this intellectual movement changed and developed since its inception, and what pressures, internal and external to it, have precipitated its development? Where does it seem to be going? In our first class, we will explore these questions and try to identify the key contexts and histories of postcolonial studies, with a view to understanding the critical formations, past and present, that inform our own practices.


1. All students research definitions of key historical terms for brief discussion: mercantilism; colonialism; imperialism; neo-colonialism.

2. All students read:

i) On the field of postcolonial studies:
Robert Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction, Chapter 1, ‘Colonialism and the Politics of Postcolonial Critique’, pp. 1-11 and Chapter 5, ‘Postcolonialism’, pp. 57-69
ii) On the ‘Third world’ origins of poststructuralism:
Young, Chapter 27, ‘Foucault in Tunisia’, pp. 395-410, and Chapter 28, ‘Subjectivity and History: Derrida in Algeria’, 411-426
iii) On the materialist critique of postcolonial theory:
Benita Parry, ‘Problems in current theories of colonial discourse’, in Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique
iv) On subaltern studies:
Ranajit Guha, ‘Chandra’s Death’, in Subaltern Studies V and ‘The Prose of Counter-Insurgency’, in Selected Subaltern Studies

3. Students select for brief presentation and discussion one of the texts within the formations or force-fields of postcolonial theory above. Presentations should be descriptive rather than analytical at this stage.

Additional suggested readings within each sub-field:

(i) The field of postcolonial studies: Graham Huggan, introduction to The Postcolonial Exotic

(ii) ‘Third-world’ origins of poststructuralism: Fredric Jameson, ‘Periodizing the Sixties’, in The Ideologies of Theory, Essays 1971-1986: Vol. 2, Syntax of History

(iii) The materialist critique of postcolonial theory: Anne McClintock, ‘The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Post-colonialism’, in Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory (eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman); Aijaz Ahmad, ‘Introduction’, in In Theory.

(iv) Subaltern studies: Priyamvada Gopal, ‘Reading subaltern history’ in Neil Lazarus, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography’, in Selected Subaltern Studies; Dipesh Chakrabarty, introduction and chapter 3, in Provincializing Europe; Robert Young, ‘India III: Hybridity and Subaltern Agency’, in Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction.

Week 3: Orientalism and its reception – Ziad Elmarsafy

Edward Said’s Orientalism was not warmly received when it was published. Praised by some, suspected by many others as just another faddish addition to the already vast body of criticism inspired by ‘French theory’, and dismissed by more than a few as an unintelligible distortion of the facts, the book that would later be credited with founding whole domains of inquiry was not the object of universal praise. Worse yet, many of the critical voices came from the left and the Middle East, the areas whose representation Edward Said made it his business to investigate and correct.

In this seminar, we will return to the ironic epigraph of Orientalism – ‘They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’ – to see how those who are represented in Orientalism have received Said’s arguments and reacted to them.


Orientalism (all)
Sadek Jalal Al-‘Azm, ‘Orientalism and Orientalism in Reverse’ in Jon Rothschild, ed., Forbidden Agendas.
Michel Foucault, ‘The Order of Discourse’
Baber Johansen, ‘Politics and Scholarship’

Recommended background reading:

Sabry Hafez, ‘Edward Said’s Intellectual Legacy in the Arab World’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 33:3 (April 2004): 76-90.
Fred Halliday, ‘Orientalism and Its Critics’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 20:2 (1993): 145-163.
Albert Hourani, ‘Islam in European Thought’ in Islam in European Thought.
Zachary Lockman, Contending Visions of the Middle East (Cambridge UP, 2004), especially the last two chapters. Available as an e-book through the university library website.

Edward Said, Out of Place;
Maxime Rodinson, La Fascination de l’islam

Week 4:
This week we will continue our assessment of Edward Said’s intellectual legacy by situating Orientalism within the broader Said canon, and in particular next to his ideas about “worldliness” and the responsibilities of the contemporary intellectual.

Edward Said, The World, the Text and the Critic: Introduction (“Secular Criticism”), Chapter 1 (“The World, the Text and the Critic”) and Chapter 10 (“Traveling Theory”)

Edward Said, Humanism and Democratic Criticism

Timothy Brennan, ‘The Illusion of a Future: ‘Orientalism’ as Traveling Theory’, Critical Inquiry, 26:3 (2000): 558-583.

Timothy Brennan, ‘The Critic and the Public: Edward Said and World Literature,’ in Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation, ed. Hakem Rustom and Adel Iskandar (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010), 102-20.

Recommended additional reading:

Ziad Elmarsafy, Anna Bernard and David Attwell, eds, Debating Orientalism.

Erich Auerbach, ‘Philology and Weltliteratur,’ translated by Edward W. Said and Maire Said, The Centennial Review 13 (1969): 1-17.

Edward W. Said, ‘Permission to Narrate: Edward Said writes about the story of the Palestinians,’ London Review of Books 6, no. 3 (16 February 1984): 13-17.

Although it is not directly associated with postcolonial studies, Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis deeply influenced Said’s thought and should be required reading for any student of literature.

Week 5: Irishness, Coloniality and the Creation of Authenticity – Matt Campbell

This seminar will consider some of the political, cultural and linguistic concerns shaping the construction of a national literature in colonial Ireland, paying particular attention to the movement known as the Irish Revival. Between (broadly) 1880 and 1910, small groups of Irish writers tried to create ‘authentic’ representations of Irishness by drawing on ancient Celtic myths and popular folklore. Our readings will lead us to pay particular attention to the question of translation, which is central to their endeavour. We will examine a range of texts in English which are characterised by an innovative approach to translation and to English syntax, and we will discuss the debates about language, nationhood and culture which shaped their emergence.

Primary texts will be available as handouts due to their short length. I will email you to let you know when they are available for collection and where you can collect them from.

Primary texts (reading them in this order may be helpful)
Douglas Hyde, ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicizing Ireland’ (1892).
Declan Kiberd, ‘Love Songs of Connacht’ (from Irish Classics).
Excerpts from Douglas Hyde, Love Songs of Connacht (1893).
Terence Brown, ‘Cultural Nationalism 1880-1930’ (from The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing Vol. 2).
J.M. Synge, Riders to the Sea (1904).

Recommended background reading:
Sinéad Garrigan Mattar, Science, Primitivism, and the Irish Revival (see the introduction and the chapter entitled ‘The Rise of Celtology’)
Declan Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, 2nd ed.
George Watson, Irish Identity and the Literary Revival, 2nd ed.

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother?’: Abolitionist discourse and the ‘Negro Question’ – Jim Watt

In this seminar we will begin with a discussion of the complex and fascinating poem ‘Slavery’, written by the Tory evangelical Hannah More in 1788, as the campaign to abolish the Atlantic slave trade began to gain momentum. We will then go on to consider what happens to the abolitionist rhetoric of ‘brotherhood’ after the emancipation of slaves in Britain’s sugar colonies in 1834, looking in particular at Thomas Carlyle’s 1849 ‘Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question’, and John Stuart Mill’s rejoinder ‘The Negro Question’ of 1850 (photocopies of all these works will be provided). With reference to this material, we will think about ideologies of empire and discourses of race in the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries, and also consider some competing accounts of the abolitionist movement in recent histories of the British Empire.

Suggested secondary reading:

Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism
Simon Gikandi, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism
Catherine Hall, White, Male, and Middle-Class: Explorations in Feminism and History
Marcus Wood, Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography

Week 8: Postcolonial Studies and Human Rights – Claire Chambers

While postcolonial literary studies generally places emphasis on geographical, historical and cultural specificity, there is an increasing trend towards analysing texts that emerge from postcolonial contexts under the rubric of the universalizing discourses of the human, and, particularly, human rights – presenting critical challenges to both postcolonial studies and human rights. The latter has been mobilised in anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles, but its links with European political discourse, emphasis on universality, and association with humanitarian intervention is also subject to critique from within the field of postcolonial studies. Both postcolonial studies and human rights also generate a range of questions around the issues of national culture, the state and citizenship. And the shift towards an emphasis on the human in critical discourse occurs in the context of debates about the nonhuman and the inhuman as much as the role of human rights or a resurgent humanism. In this session we will begin to chart the terms of these debates by introducing basic ideas about human rights, exploring the tensions between ‘human rights talk’ and postcolonial studies, and analyzing the concept of human rights in relation to the history and culture of Pakistan.

Required Reading
1. Introduction to human rights:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Jamil Ahmad, ‘The Sins of the Mother’(short story). Granta 112: Pakistan: 273-83.
Rukhsana Ahmad (ed. and trans.), We Sinful Women (Urdu poetry). London: Jonathan Cape, 2003 (excerpt).
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Saving Face (film documentary).
Ron Dudai, ‘Advocacy with Footnotes: The Human Rights Report as a Literary Genre’. Human Rights Quarterly 28.3 (2006): 783-95.
Reports from Amnesty, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, OHCHR, Asian Human Rights Commission, Masihi Foundation, Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women’s Human Rights (excerpts).
Maha Khan Phillips, ‘Forget the Sound Bites, Focus on the Reality’. Published as ‘La Femme Pakistanaise Victime de l’islam, Un Discours qui se Vend Bien’, Liberation, 13 September 2012 (English translation to be provided as a handout)

Additional Reading:
Khurshid Iqbal, The Right to Development in International Law: The Case of Pakistan. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.
Alessandro Portelli. ‘Oral History as Genre’, in The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
Joseph Slaughter. Human Rights Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form and International Law. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.
Neluka Silva, ‘Islam, Politics and Marginal Groups: Representation of Zia-ul-Haq’s Regime in Literature’, in The Gendered Nation: Contemporary Writings from South Asia. London: Sage, 2004.
Richard A. Wilson, ‘Representing Human Rights Violations: Social Contexts and Subjectivities’, in Richard A. Wilson (ed.), Human Rights, Culture and Context: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Pluto, 1997.
Joseph Slaughter, Human Rights Inc: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (New York: Fordham, 2007)

Week 8: Memory, Testimony and the Paradoxes of Witnessing – Alice Hall

This seminar will explore the intersection between memory studies and postcolonial studies through a focus on Rothberg’s notion of ‘multidirectional memory.’ We will take questions posed by Laub and Felman about the relationship between the writer and the witness, between literature and testimony, as a starting point for our discussion. This material will be used to open up wider debates about silenced populations, authenticity and authorship.
Students are asked to bring to the seminar an example (perhaps a short quotation or an entire text that they can talk about) of postcolonial writing that engages with these questions of memory, testimony and witnessing.

Required Reading
Michael Rothberg, ‘Introduction’ in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, ‘Foreword’ and ‘Chapter 2: Bearing Witness or the Vicissitudes of Listening’ in Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (London: Routledge, 1992).

Further Reading
Anita Rupprecht, ‘Making the Difference: Postcolonial Theory and the Politics of Memory’ in Temporalities: Auto/biography in a Postmodern Age, ed. Janet Harbord and Jan Campbell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 35-52.
Anne Whitehead, Memory (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009).
Marianne Hirsch and Nancy Miller, eds., Rites of Return : Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

Week 10: Postcolonial Feminisms; Feminist Postcoloniality – Claire Chambers

Some of the most important work in postcolonial theory and criticism has considered issues of gender and sexuality as well as those of race, nation, and empire. (Western, liberal) feminist scholarship has often been criticized for its universalizing, in fact, colonizing tendencies. Spivak and Mohanty, for example, make a crucial case in arguing for a more nuanced feminism that admits that ‘woman’ is no longer a stable term. Furthermore, these theorists point out that women’s apparently transhistorical, marginalized voices are not easily recoverable by feminist researchers (who have themselves somehow escaped this position). However, the narrative against feminism can also be critiqued for its tendency to universalize, and to treat the term ‘feminism’ itself as a stable, transhistorical critical and political position. It is in the intersections between critical positions that some of the most interesting work appears and, in this seminar, we will debate the importance of crossing and challenging artificial borderlines between the two apparently separate theoretical groups.

Turning to a key text celebrated by both feminist and postcolonial critics, Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India, and recalling the discussion of nation and national identity from Week 7, we will discuss the novel’s critical reception, and its attempt at ‘gendering the nation’ of India/Pakistan. Students will critically engage with Sidhwa’s and her protagonist, Lenny’s, unusual, ‘outsider’ perspective on Partition, and develop an understanding of women’s predicaments in the racialized and religious violence precipitated by the moment of decolonialization in India, 1947.

Required Reading:
Bapsi Sidhwa, Cracking India (1991)
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism’ (1985) Chandra Talpade Mohanty, ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’ (1984)
Neluka Silva, ‘Introduction’. In The Gendered Nation: Contemporary Writings from South Asia (2004)

Suggested Secondary Reading:
Anthias, Floya and Nira Yuval-Davis (1989) Woman—Nation—State. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Bose, Sugata and Ayesha Jalal (1997) Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. London: Routledge.
Gunne, Sorcha and Zoe Brigley Thompson (2012) Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation (Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures). Abingdon: Routledge.
Jayawardena, Kumari (1986) Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. London: Zed.
McClintock, Anne (1995) Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context. New York: Routledge.
McLeod, John (2000) ‘Postcolonialism and Feminism’. In Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 172 – 204.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade et al. (eds) (1991) Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Parker, Andrew et al. (1992) Nationalisms and Sexualities. New York: Routledge. Look in particular at the essays by Ketu H. Katrak and R. Radhakrishnan.
Stoler, Ann Laura (2002) Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Young, Robert J. C. (1995) Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Culture, Theory and Race. London: Routledge.

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