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Disciplines of Decolonization

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Organizer: Anjuli Gunaratne

Co-Organizer: Anna Thomas

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The primary question this panel poses is this: can we trace a global lexicon of decolonization? Our hope is to think, on a larger scale, about how the ideas that shaped the era of decolonization and the currently popular scholarly discourse of decolonizing inform each other and organize themselves disciplinarily through a global lexicon. What are the disciplines of these decolonizing iterations?


Minimally, we might think of decolonization as the dismantling of colonial structures of knowledge, government, culture, economics, and biology (to name a few). But decolonization did not always signify this. In a world of the UN’s consolidation and the Cold War’s escalation, decolonization named the transfer of power not its transformation. And yet, grappling with this tension between transfer and transformation, and their remainders, writings from the moment of decolonization say decolonize we must. For, as Aimé Césaire points out, if we read decolonization literarily, it must signify the “tearing out of colonialism at the root,” even though it is unclear whether this uprooting fosters a new form of rootedness or turns fugitivity and exile into a condition for expanding one’s consciousness (both culturally and politically).


As power is not an exclusively hierarchical relationship and because violence and exclusion do not take place on the level of epistemology alone, this panel seeks to investigate forms of decolonization that do not only name a break from colonial epistemologies. We invite papers that are thinking of decolonization outside both “transfer of power” narratives that equate “total freedom” with national independence as well as the scholarship of, to use Walter Mignolo’s phrase, “epistemic disobedience.” 


As Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have argued, in a settler colonial context, decolonization is not a metaphor. Yet rhetorics of decolonization have been leveraged as such throughout the second half of the twentieth century within and outside national and institutional contexts. The metaphorization of decolonization obscures the historical processes by which many former colonies entered independence; we seek papers that ask, what are these less visible scenes of power, resistance, and complicity?


In order to get past the transfer/break dichotomy, we invite considerations of other spatio-temporal configurations like Wynter’s demonic grounds, the bio-psychological reassemblage of Césaire’s social body shocked by colonial disorders, and the various uneven cartographies of memory, of time, of loss, and of space composed by Dionne Brand.  Papers considering literary figures, methodologies (aesthetic as well as scholarly), historical precedents, and comparative frameworks are especially welcome. 

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