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Latin American postcolonial theories
Santiago Castro-Gómeza a Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia

To cite this Article Castro-Gómez, Santiago(1998) 'Latin American postcolonial theories', Peace Review, 10: 1, 27 — 33 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10402659808426118 URL:

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and historiography. They were acquainted with both the world of colonized nations. could be rectified through revolution and the popular sector's seizure of power. the humanities. and philosophy—fields of study that had been developed by European modernism since the 19th century. anticolonialist narratives never pondered the epistemological status of their own discourse. These popular sectors. not the bourgeoisie. it was thought. Economic dependence. The discourses emerged from influential university chairs held by refugees or sons and daughters of foreigners and immigrants. All of these maladies. However.Peace Review 10:1 (1998). These individuals were socialized in two worlds differing in language." those who would carry out the project of "humanizing humanity. these people considered themselves to be "Third World intellectuals of the First World. ethnology." which in turn would be realized within colonized nations themselves. as well as the environments created by Asian and African independence movements. religion. especially those in Britain and the United States. The critique of colonialism was understood as a rupture from the structures of oppression which had impeded the "Third World" from realizing the European project of modernity. At a time when postmodern. and the world of industrialized countries in which they live and work today as intellectuals or academics. During that period academic circles popularized a type of discourse which emphasized the revolutionary rupture from the capitalist system of colonial domination. which they or their parents abandoned for some reason or another. postcolonial theorists articulated a critique of colonialism which substantially differs from anticolonial narratives of the 1960s and 1970s. D eparting from institutionally accepted studies such as anthropology. literary criticism. Working within the geopolitical spaces opened by the Cold War. 27-33 Latin American Postcolonial Theories Santiago Castro-Gómez Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 During the late 1970s a new field of investigation called "postcolonial studies" began to consolidate itself in Western universities. and socio-political organization. and feminist theory enjoyed a privileged position in the intellectual Anglo-Saxon world. the growing poverty of the majority of the population." thus defining the form in which they began to reflect on problems relating to colonialism. the destruction of cultural identity. Such criticism arose from methodologies pertaining to the social sciences. What postcolonial theorists began to realize is that the very language of 1040-2659/98/010027-07 © 1998 Carfax Publishing Ltd . structuralist. this discourse focused on the fortification of national identities of colonized countries and the construction of a society free from class antagonism. would be the true "subjects of history. traditions. and the discrimination of minorities were all phenomena considered to be "deviations" from modernity.

It is perhaps Edward Said who has had the most impact in postcolonial discourse. also criticized the institutional mechanisms that produced representations of the "other" and projected it as an entity easily obscured by modernity's ethnological." such as in the creation of objects and subjects of knowledge. This means that no sociological theory can "represent" objects found outside the totality of signs that configure the institutionality of knowledge in modern societies. In order to legitimate itself. centers of investigation." "alterity." "exteriorized" space which agreed with the reconfiguration of intellectual strongholds experienced by institutions responsible for creating new knowledge. and linguistic discourses.28 Santiago Castro-Gomez modernity. publishing houses." such as magical realism. could not leave behind the space in which these disciplines reiterated the hegemonic language of modernity in colonized countries. maker of the world. showing where truth was constructed and how it circulated and was administered by determined instances of power. center and periphery. succeeded in strengthening the binary system of classification inherent to metropolitan apparatuses that produce knowledge. thereby following the line of thought delineated in the 1970s by European theorists like Michel Foucault. In many metropolitan universities "marginality. liberation theology. This French philosopher had studied the rules that outlined the truth of a discourse. Following the thesis of Jacques Derrida. another central figure in postcolonial discourse. is replaced by vestigia hominis. and the political sciences. Said elaborates on this and explores the way Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 . The once sacred space of the world. Furthermore.) that a theory's "effects of truth" are produced." Said emphasizes the connections between imperialism and the human sciences. the Indian philosopher Gayatri Spivak affirms that no socially diagnostic discourse can transcend the homogenizing structures of modern rationality. with which anticolonialists expressed themselves. It is always anticipated that scientific knowledge is codified within the interior of a fabric of signs that regulate the production of "meaning. Anticolonialist narratives discursively generated a "marginalized. the European project of colonial expansion needed to create the metaphysical self-image of conqueror: that of "Man" as god. economics. is essentially located within the totalizing practices of European colonialism. In studying the diverse textual formats with which Europe produces and codifies knowledge about the "Orient. considered to be vestigia Dei. (actualized in universities. Third World critiques of colonialism. narratives theoretically based on sociology. in reality object of and subject to technical manipulation. anthropological." From this point of view. etc. historiographic. the powerful and the meek. the politics of interpretation define the frontiers that separate one scientific discipline from another and assign determined parcels of knowledge." then. civilization and barbarism. such as the divisions between the oppressors and the oppressed." and "Third Worldism" were even converted into new fields of academic investigation capable of mobilizing a considerable amount of financial assistance. the emphasis of anticolonial narratives on opposition. It is from a certain "politics of interpretation. and any other subjects that could be classified within the space of "otherness. The institutional implementation of these new objects of knowledge/investigation demanded the importation of "practical examples" from the "Third World. owner and master of his own historic destiny. geographic. The Indian philosopher Homi Bhabha.

identified with the historian Ranajid Guha. Dipesh Chakrabarty. According to the subalternists. and ethnological discourses about the "other." Rural insurrections. thinkers in the United States like Walter Mignolo. but efficaciously recuperated by Gandhi. archaeological. and contrasting identities. The postcolonial criticism of Said. as evidenced by representations of the "other" generated by the social sciences which bureaucratic rationality politically administers. the homogenizing schemes of sociological and historiographic discourses ignored and subsequently left their protagonist position unwritten. were understood as manifestations of a recently acquired (social and moral) "consciousness. later compiled under the name "subaltern studies. Guha." According to the aforementioned authors." uring the early 1980s a group of Indian intellectuals. which employed distant examples of anti-imperialist struggles of the "Third World" in order to politically legitimate itself "at home. written agendas. The demystification of anticolonialist nationalism also includes a harsh critique of the imperial rhetoric of English Marxism. In other words." and "Latin American Studies" in particular. have traditionally functioned as D Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 . which made the masses. including literature and historiography. The works of this group. essentialist narratives still subject to colonial epistemologies which obscure cultural hybridizations. by dint of their oppression. and Norma Alarcon began to reflect upon the political function of Latin American studies in the North American university and society. In the early 1990s. such as demonstrations. Partha Chatterjee. They adopted Indian criticism and established a postcolonial restoration aptly named "Latin American Studies. functioned as strategies of subalternization in the hands of the educated elites of India. warranted the production of a series of historical. the movement used the exact same discursive figures that had succeeded in legitimating European overseas colonialism. Ileana Rodriguez. Alberto Moreiras. morally superior to the colonizers.Latin American Postcolonial Theories 29 in which European colonialist societies discursively constructed an image of non-metropolitan cultures. and well advised programs of political action." Since the Indian masses lacked the socio-historical literacy in which to base their politically subversive activities." critiqued the anticolonial. and other nationalist leaders. this reliance on a supposed "moral exteriority" contained the Christian rhetoric of victimization. nationalist discourse of the Indian political class and the official historiography of the independence movement. Nehru. all humanistic studies. sociological. They are. India's fight for independence amidst the threat of British domination was presented in the narratives as a process rooted in the "universal ethic" fleeced by the colonizers. and other authors considered such narratives to be colonialist constructions projected on to the Indian people by social scientists. John Beverley. varied spaces. especially those found under their territorial control. and political elites. One may then conclude that the narration of the independence • movement mirrored the Christian—humanist project of universal redemption. Bhabha. "Area Studies. and Spivak stresses the persistence of colonial legacies within modern systems. According to Guha. historians. noticed Said's critical study. Ranajid Guha. from its territorial boundaries to its traditional culture. The limitless power European imperialist forces exercised upon every aspect of a locality. as Spivak would say.

humanist epistemologies. Spanish. find themselves symbiotically incorporated in literature programs present in almost all universities. peasants. They seek to formulate a critique of modernity's epistemological strategies of subalternization in hopes of moving toward the locus enuntiationis (the site of enunciation) from which subaltern subjects may articulate their own representations. Beverley reveals that the institutional organization of such literature programs follows the hegemonic ideology of imperialism. encouraged the neocolonialist project of the nation state. In many universities Latin American literature exists as a subdivision of the "Romance languages. the financial aid programs for the modernization of the "Third World. Sarmiento. on the other hand. and sociological representations." The humanities were converted into the space from which the subaltern is Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 ." Like Guha.S. the authors exercised a "politics of representation. Thus. and French literature departments exist because Spain. Latin Americanism. and Marti. In the following pages I would like to examine closely the specific premises of two members of the group: John Beverley and Walter Mignolo. the same elites who. etc. Indians. The emergence of the United States as the triumphant power during the Second World War. are not given whole departments. acted from a privileged position secured by literature and the humanities." while at the same time literatures from Romania and Poland are studied within the context of "Slavic Languages. economic. English. Latin American nationalism emerged from a disciplinary logic that "subalternized" a series of social subjects: women. Similarly to the misrepresentation of India.30 Santiago Castro-Gomez discourses inscribed in a bureaucratic—academic rationality that homogenizes the social. to name a few canonical examples. the insane. Literature and all other humanistic fields of study appeared to be structurally inscribed within exclusive hegemonic systems. Beverley posits that literature was an example of the elites' humanistic training. "packaged. Intellectuals like Bello. presented as a series of literary. Authorized by their privilege." the political struggle against the expansion of communism in the southern part of South America—all of these factors must have acted as empirico-transcendental conditions of possibility for Latin Americanist discourse in North American universities. Following Foucault's thesis. structurally conceals difference. that is. homosexuals. with their emphasis on the centrality of intellectuals and erudition. and sexual differences of Latin American societies. Beverley's criticisms are mainly directed toward the type of literary and humanistic discourse which predominates in Latin American literature departments in the U. blacks. is identified as a disciplinary mechanism in accord with the imperialist interests of North America's foreign policy. Polish and Romanian literatures. philosophical. In fact. the consolidation of theoretical representations of Latin America produced from the human and social sciences. political. since the 19th century." the postmodern globalization of the American way of life during the phase called "late capitalism. Beverley argues that structures of the university apparatus offer professors and students material that is already reified. and other Indian authors. England. Viswanathan. the United States' "official historiography" of Latin America." into rigid canonical schemata that have defined Latin American literature. and France had important empires.

These are differentiated voices capable of representing themselves. Liberated from his/her "will of representation. a critique of the epistemological legacies of colonialism. like Bhabha and Spivak. thinks that this model corresponds to a very specific locus rooted in India's British colonial legacy." Some members of the Latin American Group of Subaltern Studies adopt the Indian model of postcolonial theorization and use it to assess Latin American colonial situations. in Against Literature (1993). a "psychoanalysis of literature. and is shown the "correct" path from which he/she should base his/her political revindications. In Literature and Politics (1990) he advanced that literary theory is not a mere superstructural reflection of the economic sphere. as they are reproduced by North American academia. however. Mignolo tries to investigate the "local sensitivities" that accommodated the emergence of postcolonial theories in Latin America." which should raise the intellectual's consciousness regarding what Spivak calls the "epistemic violence" attached to his/her heroic fantasies." from which his/her interests are represented. which defines the true territories of knowledge about "Latin America. Instead of converting Indian postcolonial theory into a model exportable to other peripheral zones. he presents the university as an institution in which almost all hegemonic and counter-hegemonic societal struggles occur. In his magnificent book The Darker Side of the Renaissance. Beverley considers criticism of humanistic discourses that deal with Latin America as liberating therapy. W alter Mignolo also comments on the authority of the canon in North American universities. Mignolo wishes to investigate fully the relationship between imperialism and knowledge. Later.Latin American Postcolonial Theories 31 Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 discursively "produced." the site where social conflicts more closely affect his/her own life. Mignolo advances that between 1950 and 1975 (the "third phase of capitalism's global expansion") the enunciation and production of theoretical discourses were localized within the "First World. The struggle signals another type of extra-academic. "Third World" countries were recognized only as receptors of such scientific knowledge. how it manifests itself in the scientific practices of imperialist countries. The critique of the "teaching machine" is politically relevant because it annuls the legitimacy of modernity's universalizing paradigms. The paradigms rendered European colonialist practices as irrelevant in modern processes responsible for organizing knowledge." the literary critic may be capable of efficaciously acting within the boundaries that Michel de Certau calls a "micropolitics of the mundane. non-literary practice that resists representation in the "critical discourse" of intellectuals. this Argentine . Beverley understands struggle as a deconstruction of the humanistic discourses that formed the patriarchal subject and the modern bourgeois. Mignolo." in technologically and economically developed countries. the university. The subaltern is thus assigned a place in the temporal succession of history. as is the case with Rigoberta Menchu and the Zapatista Army of Liberation. When Mignolo talks about "postcolonial theories" he refers to. John Beverley seeks to break from the humanistic view concerning intellectuals in order to arrive at post-representational forms of theory. but rather a discourse involved in social formation through its presence within the educational apparatus. Basing his assertions on the theory developed by Carl Pletsch concerning the geopolitical division within intellectual projects.

While postmodern theories express the crisis of modernity's project within Europe (Foucault. historiographical. When the social scientist (or philosopher) biographically or ethnically identifies himself/herself with a determinate excluded Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 . These strategies cannot be interpreted as mere "pathologies.32 Santiago Castro-Gomez thinker proposed to demonstrate that during the 16th century. But. the following question may be posed: What guarantees that the epistemologies of Latin American social science and philosophy (treated by the aforementioned authors) did not also play a subversive/subalternizing role. Enrique Dussel. Rodolfo Kusch. like "America." "Latin America. Lyotard. Bhabha. the slavery of blacks from Africa. Mignolo reveals that modern science produces objects of knowledge. ipso facto. like India (Guha. broke with the privileges of colonial discourse long before Guha established his Indian Group of subaltern studies and before Europe and United States began to discuss postmodernism." "The West Indies. Spivak) and the Middle East (Said). Naturally. which in turn motivated Latin America to move toward a technologically modernized society." which functioned as colonialist strategies of subalternization. The theoretical knowledge of these authors is "postoccidental" because they expressed a critical response to what Jameson refers to as the social and scientific project of modernity in its new stage of imperialist globalization. What these three theoretical constructions have in common is their dissatisfaction with the globalization of new technological developments after 1945 and their profound skepticism about what Habermas calls "the unfinished project of modernity. as well as in previous writings. and Roberto Fernandez Retamar succeeded in epistemologically dismantling the colonialist and hegemonic discourse of modernity. Raul Prebisch. postoccidental theories began to emerge in Latin America after 1918. In fact. the time when Europe began to lose hegemony over global power. Edmundo O'Gormann. Leopoldo Zea." According to Mignolo's research. for the subject who interprets. is possible. Darcy Ribeiro. linguistic. postcolonialism. after Dussel. is "naturally" the origin of postoccidental theories. In this work. Theorists like Jose Carlos Mariategui. involved in colonialist relations of power. Fernando Ortiz. like those from the United States and Europe? Mignolo wonders if an interpretation of texts produced in pluricultural spaces. what occurs once the old European colonialist agenda is dissolved and the balance of the world order established during the Cold War falters? Mignolo posits that three types of theory stemming from different loci of enunciation will emerge and epistemologically exceed the colonial legacies of modernity. and postoccidentalism. and the massacre of Jews in Europe." but rather as palpable proof that modernity was an intrinsically colonialist and genocidal project. as well as for the texts that are interpreted. postcolonial theories deal with the crisis from the colonial perspective of countries that had attained their independence after the Second World War. calls the "three big genocides of modernity:" the destruction of Amerindian cultures. Hermeneutics is an exercise that facilitates the comprehension of colonial situations or legacies. They are: postmodernity. Derrida) and the United States (Jameson)." or "the Third World. Latin America. with its long tradition of failed modernizing projects. Latin America had already produced theories that. and geographical knowledge was directly linked to the beginning of European expansion. modern science has been accomplice to what Mignolo.

Selected Subaltern Studies. 1994. political) that bind him/her to his/her own lifestyle. 1993. Spivak (ed. being directly tied to the homogenizing imperatives of the technical. Said. The Location of Culture. and their institutional role is reduced to the subalternization of the "other. In contrast to events in Europe and the U. R. modernity. 1996. Santiago Castro-Gómez teaches at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. Colonialism functions as a globally identified pre-philosophical space. theoretical." This amounts to removing the social foundation upon which the critique of the system is based. 1988. "Posoccidentalismo: las epistemologías fronterizas y el dilema de los estudios (latinoamericanos) de área. Against Literature. H. Mignolo posits that a major part of social science and philosophy in Latin America has manifested itself as a "pluritopic hermeneutics" which breaks away from the objectifying epistemologies of colonial science. Bhabha. I am not very convinced by the way in which postcolonial theorists relate the sociological knowledge of experts (in the human and social sciences) with the rationality of abstract systems (capitalist economy and the bureaucratic—administrative apparatus). to a lifestyle underpinned by the experience of colonial marginalization.). "On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India. Guha. then what Gadamer called a "fusion of horizons" is produced: the interpreter does not approach his/her object as a disinterested observer. W. G. Cultural y Tercer Mundo. Mignolo. Ch. Beverley. . London: Routledge. The Darker Side of the Renaissance. González Stephan (ed. 1994. New York: Columbia University Press. Subaltern studies appear to read globalization. J. Colombia. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh. 1995. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in P. Moraña (ed. Crítica Culturaly Teoría Literaria Latinoamericana.)." in M.S. if this were so. Caracas: Editorial Nueva Sociedad. It appears that knowledge has a purely instrumental function. Orientalism. and the development of expertise systems in a mystifying form.). Western Conceptions of the Orient. Mignolo.Latin American Poskolonial Theories 33 Downloaded By: [American University Cairo] At: 07:49 11 October 2010 community." in B. "¿Posliteratura? Sujeto subalterno e impasse de las humanidades. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 72070 Tuebingen. Chrisman (eds. E. much to its chagrin. rather he/she brings along all the prejudices (ethical. J. W. Imperialism's politico-economic interests permeate the social sciences. Subaltern studies treat these processes as if they were agents invested in an omnipresent "imperial reason. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. Guhan and G. I think it is unquestionable that subaltern studies have discovered important aspects of the ways in which colonial legacies of modernity continue to be reproduced in First World academic settings. Spivak. in this case. Literacy." Yet. He recently published a book entitled Crítka de la Razón Latinoamericana. 1978.). However. Williams and L..Territorialityand Colonization. 1996. Translated by Christina Lloyd RECOMMENDED READINGS Beverley. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. as Max Weber demonstrates. it remains unclear how Mignolo's hermeneutics escapes the straitjacket imposed by colonial epistemologies to mysteriously become reflexive knowledges. is its incapacity to represent its own locus enuntiationis. It is for this reason that the weakest point of subaltern studies. a "cultural tradition" from which an interpretation of Latin American perspectives is possible. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul." in R. Germany. Correspondence: Stoecklestrasse 22-A. New York: Oxford University Press.