Some of the main genealogies within postcolonial scholarship are discussed, with a focus on key thinkers, such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Aníbal Quijano, and Walter Mignolo. Key concepts, such as colonial discourse theory, development, and subaltern studies are presented. The discussion of postcolonial thought is embedded in a reflection on its relation to other theoretical paradigms and social theories (e.g., poststructuralism, world-system theory, Marxism). This focus seeks to highlight some of the main contours of the field, while also pointing out the ways postcolonialism has shaped the discipline of international relations (IR).
José da Mota-Lopes
The current scholarship on European colonialism may be divided into two approaches: colonial studies, sometimes referred to as a political-economy approach, and postcolonial studies, also known as “postcolonialism” or “subaltern studies.” Whereas the field of colonial studies appeared with the emergence of colonialism, the second emerged with decolonization, the national liberation armed struggles, and the political, formal, or institutional collapse of colonialism. The two approaches became or appeared as protests against very similar circumstances and critically complemented one another, but they soon tended to follow parallel and very different trajectories. Three basic conceptual references offer important insights not only about the geostrategic, historical, and socioeconomic trajectories of colonialism but also on its cultural evolvement and its present consequences: colonial encounter, colonial situation, and colonial legacy. In addition, the field of colonial or postcolonial studies today may give rise to three major evolvements in the near future. The first consists in the recovery of what started to be the initial subject matter of postcolonialism. The second arises from the requirement of a return to the political, historical, and economic origins of postcolonialist studies. Finally, it will perhaps be at the point of conjunction of world-systems analysis with postcolonial studies that a fundamental problem affecting our world will find the beginning of a possible solution. The combined application of world-systems analysis and postcolonial studies is a promising intellectual instrument for confronting the in-depth influence of Eurocentrism or Euro-American universalism in the current practice and teaching of the social sciences.
Dirk Nabers and Frank A. Stengel
International Political Sociology (IPS) emerged as a subfield of International Relations (IR) in the early 2000s. IPS itself may be understood as constituted by a field of tension between the concepts of “the International,” “the Political,” and “the Social.” Against this background, the centrality of anarchy and sovereignty as the fundamental structuring principles of international politics are increasingly called into question. While IPS remains an exciting, creative and important endeavor, researchers are also exploring paths toward what might be called a Global Political Sociology (GPS). Although IPS has become more global in orientation, more sociological with respect to sources, and more political in its stance, three ongoing shifts need to be made in order to transform IPS into GPS: first, insights from disciplines foreign to IR—both Western and non-Western—need to be employed in order to illustrate that specific localities have implications for the global as a whole; second, the continued engagement with causal theorizing must be replaced with contingency and undecidability as the fundamental constituting features of the political; and third, if the international that has been the nucleus of IR activities for decades, but impedes our understanding of politics instead of stimulating it, then alternative ways of theorizing global politics must be explored.
Fiona Robinson and Anupam Pandey
One of the most vigorous debates within the discipline of international relations (IR) revolves around the “universal/particular” dichotomy: the tensions between worldviews that emphasize the “whole” as a unified entity or set of ideas—in the case of IR, the “whole” typically refers to the “whole world”—and those that emphasize constituent “parts”, and the differences among them. Discussions regarding universalism and particularism have involved the traditions of realism, liberalism, and the English School, as well as critical theory, poststructuralism, and postcolonialism. Furthermore, the opposition between universalism and particularism has often taken the form of the analysis of conflict between the sovereign state, on one hand, and universal human rights, on the other. Feminists have been particularly influential in challenging the universal/particular debate in the context of human rights. Their perspectives on human rights are exemplary of feminist scholarship in the field of international ethics more generally. Indeed, feminists are constantly striving to mitigate and overcome the tensions between the universal and the particular through their commitment to relationality. The crucial question that remains is: What should be the relationship between the universal and the particular and how should we conceive of this relationship in a non-antagonistic and constructive manner? The answer lies in conceiving the relationship between the two as a dialectical one. In order to understand the universal, it is important to accept the fact that it is derived from particular local contexts and can only be realized through the culturally specific norms and rules in each context.