What role have diasporic intellectuals played in the institutionalization of postcolonial theory? Discuss.

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Because “diaspora” is a somewhat indefinite term, we might consider the role played by intellectuals who were born in one particular geographical milieu and then exported their experiences from that into literature that later had a global impact. Examples of these kinds of writers are legion, and we can illustrate...

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Because “diaspora” is a somewhat indefinite term, we might consider the role played by intellectuals who were born in one particular geographical milieu and then exported their experiences from that into literature that later had a global impact. Examples of these kinds of writers are legion, and we can illustrate their influence by selecting some of the most prominent from among them.

One of the most respected African postcolonial intellectuals is the Kenyan theorist and novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o spent a significant portion of his career teaching at universities across the United States, including Yale, New York University, and the University of California, Irvine. Thong’o’s writing touches on many different themes, but of interest to the institutionalization of postcolonial theory is his discussion of the “Europeanization” of traditional Kenyan literature and learning. In one of his important theoretical works, Globalectics, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o decried what he saw as the supplanting of traditional Gikuyu literature in Kenyan schooling by the mainstream masterpieces of European and American writing. Why, Thiong’o asks, should Gikuyu-language classics be replaced, and Kenyan children be required to learn the words of Shakespeare, Jack London, or Voltaire before their own national literature? This was an institutional problem that Thiong’o associated with Kenyan education more generally. Kenyan education is currently dominated by western paradigms of teaching. As such, Kenyan pedagogies for literature, history, and writing emphasize western writers as the putative examples of literary acumen at the expense of Kenya’s own cultural heritage. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’s writing has been instrumental in helping historians and postcolonial theorists across the world recognize the institutional biases built into African education.

Another diasporic intellectual was Aimé Césaire, a French political theorist and postcolonial critic. Césaire was born in France but later moved to Fort-de-France, the capital of French Martinique, in the early twentieth century. Césaire criticized what he saw as the inherent racism and ethnocentrism that was built into the core of the French colonial project. The mission civilisatrice that the French so proudly proclaimed, Césaire maintained, was really a poorly veiled effort at expanding French cultural hegemony to the violently suppressed indigenous populations of the Caribbean and Africa. Césaire argued that French intellectuals, given their control over creating historical narratives, literally have the ability to erase entire peoples, ethnic identities, and societies from the historical record. Doing so provided legitimacy to any and all imperial claims of “improvement” that the French could have used to justify their colonization of the globe. Césaire was and remains one of the most powerful intellectual opponents of the colonial mission of the twentieth century. His writings largely precipitated French decolonization procedures after the Second World War.

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