How can a country avoid cultural imperialism?

Europe between colonialism and decolonization

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Metzler

is Professor of the History of Western Europe and Transatlantic Relations at the Institute for Historical Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin and Director of the Affiliated Institute Center Marc Bloch.

Her main research areas are: Change in statehood since 1945; State and Terrorism as well as the History of Western European Societies in the Experience of Decolonization.

Decolonization was associated with a profound cultural change in Western European societies that is far from over. Forms of the narrator about imperial space changed, as did thinking about the knowledge-based foundations of identity. The change encompassed not only intellectual debates, but also youth cultures and everyday practices such as eating cultures.

The members of the French rap music band IAM come from different nations and oppose the accusation that their hometown Marseille is "foreign to them" because of the high level of immigration they see: the planet MARS, which impresses with its colorfulness, diversity and creativity. (& copy AFP / Getty Images)

Postcolonial literatures and theory building

Since the late 1940s, authors have spoken out in stories, poems and novels who discussed their experience of colonial rule, decolonization and often migration to Europe. The stories they told were less about the harsh material exploitation and political disenfranchisement during European rule, more often they spoke of the difficulties of getting out of a life situation "in between" (in between) to gain an identity of their own. Cultural diversity and hybrid identities, reassembled from different things - these were the leitmotifs of post-colonial narrative, which was otherwise extremely diverse. In 1989 British literary scholars endeavored with the anthology "The Empire writes back"For the first time a systematic inventory, but mainly came to the insight of how heterogeneous colonial experiences and memories were.

In post-colonial literature, very different writing traditions and narrative styles, topics and perspectives merge. The language ("creolization") also has a wider range of variants than the respective "traditional" national literature. In some cases, regional focal points follow the geography of the former empires: In Great Britain, authors mainly from India, Africa and the Caribbean enrich the literature; in France, influences from the Maghreb, the Caribbean and West Africa are noticeable. The works of Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Chinua Achebe, V. S. Naipaul, Wole Soyinka, but also Kamel Daoud, Boualem Sansal and Assia Djebar have long since achieved the status of classics.

What they process literarily has also found expression in the formation of theories in social and cultural studies. The postcolonial theory (postcolonial studies) is primarily devoted to the question of how cultural differences are constructed and transferred into power relations. Frantz Fanon was one of the first to criticize the hegemony of a white culture that blacks could not oppose ("Peau noire, masques blancs"/" Black Skin, White Masks ", 1952). In order to be visible at all, they wore" white masks ", and because they could not lead an authentic life, but always understood white culture as a leading role, they shaped inferiority complexes and neurotic existences They could only free themselves from this through violence, only through violence could blacks become independent subjects, he wrote in 1961 in his classic "The Damned of this Earth".

Edward Saids "Orientalism" and the "Subaltern Studies"
Edward became the central point of reference for postcolonial theory formation Saids Orientalism from 1978. There had already been criticism of how white forms of knowledge had been constructed as supposedly superior, for example by Alberto Memmis "Portrait du colonisé, portrait du colonisateur"from 1957. Said now systematically disclosed the knowledge-based foundations of European colonialism. The focus of his study was on oriental studies. Said used them to show how a Eurocentric perspective determined any preoccupation with" the Orient ", and even created" the Orient "in the first place By ascribing fixed characteristics to "the Orientals", Western scientists established and confirmed "the West" as a positive counter-image. From such ascriptions of "otherness" ("Othering"), said Said, that Europeans have won their identity.

Said's writing gave that Postcolonial Studies a lasting and powerful impulse. They experienced a tremendous boom since the 1980s. Three strands of discourse gained central importance: the Subaltern Studies, the question of hybridities and the pursuit of a truly global perspective.
Edward Said already had in "Orientalism"criticizes that it was always only Western speakers who talked about" the other "while" the other "always remained silent. This thread was seized by those who emerged in the 1980s Subaltern Studies on. Scientists grouped around the Indian historian Ranajit Guha and sought to counter the cultural hegemony of the white colonial rulers with the history of the colonized "from below". Initially the Italian writer, politician and Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci exerted considerable influence on them, they later also adopted the theories of the French philosopher Michel Foucault and French post-structuralism. Its supporters are of the opinion that language does not necessarily have to describe objective reality, but can consciously or unconsciously express distinctions and hierarchies and thus create them, as it were. Their focus also expanded regionally: While India was initially the focus of interest, in the 1990s the US scientists John Beverly and Ileana Rodríguez focused on the experience of Latin America.

The Subaltern Studies not only criticized that People of Color for a long time pushed to the margins of historiography and subordinated to the supposed agency of white people. Authors such as the British sociologist Stuart Hall, who comes from Jamaica, or the literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who comes from India, also fundamentally set their sights on the forms of knowledge production and theory building. In her influential essay "Can the Subaltern speak?"from 1988 Spivak shed light on the Eurocentrism of critical theories as well. She criticized the fact that, for example, Western feminist theory also ended up being one western Position from which it would be claimed to speak for the "subaltern" (Spivak's name for the colonized) - instead of letting them speak for themselves. Their knowledge, so argued Spivak and Hall, is marginalized because it is not recognized as knowledge.

The concept of hybridity and Europe as a "province"
The cultural scientist Homi K. Bhabha, who is of Indian descent and teaches in the USA, started with another point of common understanding of culture. He countered the idea that there are cultures that are closed to the outside world, of which one can only belong to one or the other or switch from one to the other, with the concept of hybridity. The encounter with another culture, as migrants have just experienced, does not simply lead to its adoption, but rather something completely new arises "between" the cultures. In this "third room", "hybrid identities" take shape, through them migrants find their status as subjects, through them the hegemonic white culture can be turned subversively.

Finally, a third current within the European Union turned against Eurocentrism Postcolonial Studiesthat demanded real global perspectives. The book "Provincializing Europe"(" Europe as Province ", 2000) from the pen of the Indian-born historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, who also teaches in the USA. He sought to open up ways for a global historiography in which Europe appears as one" province "among others and not the leading one Indeed, assuming the field of Global history since then experienced an enormous upswing. Global history does not mean making the whole world the subject of historical research, which is absolutely not possible. Rather, it is about asking what global contexts the specific topics examined stand in - in short, global history describes a perspective and not an object of historical research.

The Postcolonial Studies have firmly established themselves in academic life in Europe and the USA. Through their suggestions, the view of the world, of colonialism, as well as of decolonization and post-colonial relations, has changed considerably. With that goes the importance of Postcolonial Studies far beyond science: they influence literature, film and the visual arts, but also the way Europeans behave and perceive themselves in everyday life.