DEADLINE EXTENDED, CFP: Postcolonial Economies: Genealogies of Capital and the Colonial Encounter (edited collection)

deadline for submissions: 
December 31, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Maureen Fadem (CUNY) and Michael O'Sullivan (Chinese U HK)
contact email: 

Regarding an ongoing research project at Columbia University, Barnard student Sabrina Singer reflected that when she walks around the campus, now, she wonders: “What else is history going to forget?”[1] The research Singer and her colleagues are doing looks at the historical ties between the institution now educating them and the historical institution of slavery. We were prompted to similar reflections having visited Yale’s Peabody Museum and an exhibit there of Elihu Yale’s gemstones collection. Included in the display is a painting of Yale: he is pictured with a large unfinished diamond ring symbolizing Britain’s dominance over India. The exhibit inadvertently prompts questions touching the economic legacy of a place like Yale, rooted in imperialist plunder and enslavement given its principal benefactor; Yale worked for the British East India Company as magistrate of Madras, India. He was famous there not only for his rapacious amassing of gemstones but also for the public hanging of a six-year old Indian child.

The economic history of Yale’s founding and its founder involves multiple debts, not just resources (gemstones, in this case) but human bodies and the lives those bodies might have lived had they not been colonized or enslaved or violently ended. At a time when economists (Piketty 2014; Stiglitz 2013) and educationalists are re-imagining universities as transnational corporations “perpetuating” and “exacerbating” inequalities and a “caste system” (Guinier 2015; Mettler 2014; Stevens 2007), it is perhaps no surprise to find the roots of these institutions lodged deep in historical slavery and other forms of exploitation and oppression. What do the economics of Yale’s transnational and transcontinental work for the British East India Co. mean in terms of the trajectories of wealth and privilege that connect to and extend from the institution?  Founded and fueled by forms of corrupt funding, what has the capital originating with Yale enabled or foreclosed in the time since? The political context of Yale’s origins also extends to and marks, for example, other Asian regions created through the colonialist trade routes of the British East India Co. Institutions in these regions, established under colonialism, were benefactors of the Yale corporation. The Yale-in-China Association, through donations from the Ford Foundation and other U.S. organizations, helped establish the New Asia College in Hong Kong – a “refugee college” established by Chinese intellectuals determined to preserve traditional Chinese learning and values in the face of the Communist victory in the mainland - in the fifties.[2]

We take Yale and Columbia as object lessons for a broader inquiry. This project addresses not merely the context of the university but political history itself and the colonial economics of border politics, the control of trade, and enslavement and indentured servitude as industrial praxes. This is both a regional and a revisionist study that asks why we have not looked at economic genealogies more generally in our research on postcolonial history and postcoloniality, or more rigorously assessed the roots of wealth and poverty, run cost-benefit analyses for the colonizer and the colonized, looked at the economics of the geopolitical annexations that occurred with decolonization in places like Ireland, India or Hong Kong? It may indeed be, as Joe Cleary recently argued, because postcolonial theory has for too long privileged “modernist-associated terms such as hybridity, polyphony, pastiche, irony, and defamiliarization rather than realist-associated conceptual categories such as historical transition, class consciousness and totality” (2012 265)?

These questions impel the postcolonial critic toward an ethical project that unpacks systems of economic disparity, an examination of the international sites and systems permitting or forestalling the generation of wealth and structuring its distribution, not least with regard to the international power relations that propel systems of education. Historians are calling for such revisionist readings at a time when resurgent imperialist populism drives independence movements in the British Isles. Brexit has incited independence and unification debates in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that are today less nationalistic than economic. British M.P., historian and novelist Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire (2017) looks, for instance, at the damaging impacts of two-hundred years of British domination over South Asia. He tabulates the costs not merely of human suffering and loss or of cultural colonialism but foregrounds also a well-honed economic accounting. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has done with regard to the American context, Tharoor is making a case for (postcolonial) reparations. He calls for symbolic forms of repair for India from a United Kingdom currently reeling from Brexit. Hong Kong’s own decolonisation has failed to quell a nostalgia for colonialism that is slowly being diluted in the face of vast Chinese economic designs for the Pearl River Delta Region. The Philippines and Japan also weigh up economic and colonial histories and obligations in light of new fiscal interventions in the Asia-Pacific by China. Retrieving labor and economic histories helps unpack the continued sustenance of Eurocentrist theory in the Asia-Pacific at a time when the European project itself is teetering.

As states, universities, and liberal discourses face calls for reparations, renegotiations and redress in the face of a revisionist revival of economic histories, the field of postcolonial studies responds by recognising scholarship examining the growth and (re)distribution of capital as needed, timely and promising. In the scholarship constructing colonial history and postcoloniality one finds an abundance of work dealing with the consumption and perpetuation of Eurocentrist cultural hegemony but little analysis of the roots of amassed property or of protracted poverty, of paid and unpaid labor or paid and unpaid production costs, of legacies of inheritance and pedigrees of capital, and of the control of resources and trade as foundations for that hegemony. This project takes as a founding premise that postcolonial studies has paid scant attention to economic flows; it aims to revisit sites of oppression well-documented in terms of theories of orientalism, alterity and racial and ethnic oppression in order to trace the underlying financial genealogies, strategies of precarity, and literary narratives of exploitation that are more readily entertained by today’s econocracy.

Such an examination foregrounds systems of consumption and exploitation that create and sustain socio-economic inequality and political disenfranchisement across the longue durée. The reconstruction of such an account—a postcolonial epistemology of property and poverty—is also, ultimately, a history of political systems, educational systems, and the location(s) of culture (Bhabha 1994). This project starts, therefore, also from the assumption that culture cannot be judiciously unpacked if extricated from the sources and distribution of capital. It reads colonialism as, first and foremost, an economic undertaking, views it intersectionally through historiographical, economic, racial and postcolonial frames. Valuing the critical contributions of subaltern historiographers, this study attends to the experiences, legacies and subjectivities associated with generating economic growth and dominance and producing economic poverty and powerlessness. Thus we acknowledge—rather than rejecting, as Vivek Chibber does—the essential tenets of subaltern studies while bringing that together with the polemic offered in Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital—his general contention, in Žižek’s words, that “postcolonial theory [has] ignored the larger context of capitalist relations.”

Indeed it has. We propose, then, a postcolonial criticism that provincializes Europe and the U.S. (Chakrabarty 2007) by bringing the types of analyses urged by Chibber and Cleary together with the historical materialist perspectives of subaltern studies. The retrieval of historiographies of poverty and prosperity leads to an ethics touching the violence of capital and its proliferation or dearth and reveals the deafening resonances of its legacies. What might a postcolonial criticism look like that establishes a scholarly, intellectual and theoretical rationalization for reparations and reads empire through an economic-historical lens?

The collection answers that question by unpacking genealogies of capital in/and the colonial encounter in locations across the globe and from multiple disciplinary viewpoints. We seek chapter proposals of no more than 1000 words by Dec. 31st, 2017, with full chapters of 7000 - 8000 words due by April 30th, 2018. The editors are in discussions now with one of the world’s leading academic publishing houses. They anticipate that this theme will generate a range of papers that cut across the disciplines and are interdisciplinary. Potential topics may include (but are not limited to):

×        literary, economic, historical / historiographical, sociological, linguistic, or political science treatments

×        perspectives of trade / national resources

×        legacies and imperialism / inheritance and imperialism

×        the economic other

×        political security and insecurity, sustainability, security and colonial economic flows

Path: p categories (up to 5)

×        decolonizing capital

×        academic histories or looks at education and cultural capital or comparative education

×        reparations, broadly defined and most especially within contexts of modern empire

×        the question of complicit science

×        legacies of the East and West India Trading Companies

×        memor(ies) and postcoloniality

×        economic flows of diaspora and hybridity or traveling monies, colonial circuits

×        the political economics of subalternity or postcolonial piracy, criminality, plunder

×        economies of nation, nationalisms, national identity, of cosmopolitanism(s)

×        the materiality of economic colonialism and/or postcolonial power relations

×        re-engaging work of key postcolonial thinkers in terms of its relevance for/to postcolonial economies, or, more broadly, the contemporary intelligentsia and (the possibility of) materialist postcolonial interventions

×        vicissitudes of “human rights” vis-à-vis wealth distribution

×        property (intellectual, real), theft of, indebtedness for

×        perspectives of media / new media

This collection is edited by Dr. Maureen Ruprecht Fadem (City University of New York) and Dr. Michael O’Sullivan (Chinese University of Hong Kong). Submit abstracts and short CV’s, and any questions to mfadem@kbcc.cuny.edu and osullivan@cuhk.edu.hk


[1] The video is on the bottom right of this page: https://columbiaandslavery.columbia.edu/

[2] http://www.yalechina.org/history