What are the differences between colonialism and post-colonialism?

The difference between colonialism and post-colonialism can be tricky and confusing. Colonialism generally refers to the period when European countries would formally take control of another country of black or brown people. Post-colonialism provides a framework to examine how such colonizing took place and the impact it has on how we see the world. Post-colonialism also notes that while formal colonization might be defunct, Europe and the United States can still tend to treat other countries like de-facto colonies.

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The difference between colonialism and post-colonialism has often stymied us. When we hear people talk about post-colonial theory or post-colonial thought, we have been known to go: “What do you mean by ‘post-colonial’?"

So let's just keep it basic and specific. Colonialism refers to the practice when countries formally took partial or complete control over another country, brought in its own people, and exploited that country’s citizens and resources for its own economic prosperity.

When we think of colonialism, we typically think of race. We think of a white, European country—like England, France, or Germany—taking over another country of black or brown people. For example, Algeria was once a French colony, and India was once a British colony.

After World War II, in 1949, the United States president Harry Truman declared,

The old imperialism—exploitation for foreign profit—has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair-dealing.

With leaders touting democracy, formal colonialism began to fade. Former colonies, like Algeria and India, fought their colonizers and won their independence.

Of course, this did not mean the end of the United States or European countries trying to dominate countries of mostly black and brown people. However, what began to emerge was white countries exerting their power in a different way.

That's where post-colonialism comes in handy. It's a way of noting that these countries no longer exert their control in the explicit context of colonies, yet they still continue to weld power in ways that are often harmful, deadly, and exploitative.

Post-colonialism also provides a framework to review the colonial legacy proper and investigate and interrogate its ideology and how those ideas and policies continue to impact and shape our world today.

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Broadly speaking, colonialism tells the story of powerful countries colonizing and controlling other lands from the point of view of the colonizers. These narratives exalt the virtues and sacrifices of the colonizers, emphasizing what they endured traveling often very long distances to foreign lands. This literature paints the contributions the colonizers make to other cultures as a positive force, often showing them bringing civilizing influences to "savages." A good example of a colonial story that also functions as origin myth for the United States is the saga of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Their arrival and survival is portrayed as a positive event, and their struggles, hardships, and sacrifices as noble and heroic.

Post-colonialism, broadly speaking, tells the story of colonialism from the point of view of the colonized. It often depicts colonization as brutal, exploitative, and extremely disruptive to pre-existing cultures. The colonizers are understood as unwanted invaders who destroy and oppress peoples who are not powerful enough to resist them effectively. This literature focuses on the struggles and survival of native peoples as seen from their sub-altern perspective. A post-colonial narrative about the Pilgrims might be told from the Native American point of view and describe the destruction and dislocation of tribal cultures as well as European attempts at genocide.

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As a literary term colonialism generally refers to literature associated with the period of European colonial expansion, which reached its zenith in the late 19th, and early 20th centuries. Classic examples of colonialist literature would include Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the poems and stories of Rudyard Kipling. More broadly, colonialism could refer to any notion that white European culture is inherently superior, and presents an absolute standard against which all others may be judged, and often found wanting.

Post-colonialism refers to the literature that emerged after the European powers began to decolonize their overseas territories. In the wake of independence new indigenous voices began to emerge, using stories, plays, and poems to articulate the various experiences that had been suppressed for so many years by colonial exploitation. Post-colonialism can be seen as a recognition that it's not just white Europeans who have important stories to tell; people of color across the globe also have something to say.

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I am not sure how to formulate definitions in terms of tenets. Colonialism and Postcolonialism refer to certain periods in history relative to the countries being discussed.

Colonialism is often discussed as the history of imperial expansion and colonization which was generally initiated during the age of exploration. Colonialism is usually discussed as a European domination of American, African and Asian lands. This is true, but this could also include examples like the Roman and Persian empires. Empires that have taken over other countries have often established colonies as a way of staking out territory. In literary analysis, colonialism refers to literature and criticism dealing with the periods of colonialization. This can be from the perspective of the colonized or the colonizers.

Postcolonialism refers to the time after these colonized nations have become independent. Since these nations still experience the effects of colonialism, a postcolonial interpretation can often include the events of colonialism. A postcolonial analysis of historical or literary documents usually focuses on the challenges faced by the once-colonized and now independent people. The challenges they face could be issues with identity, race, economics, politics and culture.

If you’re doing a historical study of India or A Passage to India, a colonial study would focus on India during the British occupation. A postcolonial study would focus on India after its independence from Britain. Postcolonialism is more encompassing because such an analysis must address the events of colonialism to discuss its postcolonial effects. Culturally speaking, postcolonialism often refers to the interactions between Europe and the nations it has colonized. Particular attention is paid to the ways race and cultures are represented by the colonized and the colonizers.

If you generalize the concept of colonialism to mean “certain degrees of control by one country over another,” there are certainly examples today of colonialism in the form of imperialism.

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