What is Postcolonial, Transnational and Transcultural Studies?
The fields of postcolonial, transnational and transcultural studies have several things in common. For instance, they all have a very strong interest in the formation and re-formation of cultures, cultural contact, cultural mixtures, as well as the relations between culture and politics.
Within this common framework, the three fields often approach these issues from different angles: For instance, postcolonial studies (as the term suggests) developed out of a critique of the legacy of colonialism: from the discovery of the Americas onwards, European powers have colonized peoples in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific. This entailed enormous political and economic power imbalances which also gave rise to very specific forms of cultural production (e.g., concerning the reproduction of racist ideologies in literature). Colonialism was also a significant step towards globalisation: it established contact between languages, cultures and literatures which had hardly (or never) been in contact before, and this in turn gave rise to new, mixed, cultural forms. In the wake of decolonisation, new post-independent traditions have developed (e.g., new national states wanted to foster their own national culture). Researching and teaching such phenomena is the remit of postcolonial studies.
While colonial and postcolonial thoughts are often (though not always!) based on the existence of nation states and national identities, transnational studies focuses on moments and phenomena where national boundaries and national ideologies are transcended and where borders are transgressed.
National boundaries are not the only boundaries which are transgressed and become unstable: similar things happen with cultural boundaries. Partly, this is also recognised by postcolonial studies. Transcultural studies, however, goes further: it places even greater emphasis on questioning neat distinctions between coloniser and the colonised, and also studies phenomena of culture contact and cultural mixing outside formally colonial or postcolonial contexts (e.g. concerning the Turkish diaspora in Germany; or Philippine migrant workers in the Middle East). In an increasingly globalized world, transcultural phenomena become ever more important.
Postcolonial, transnational and transcultural phenomena – such as the anglophone literatures from around the world – require new forms of reading. If cultures are considered open and dynamic systems, then cultural production requires interdisciplinary work that goes beyond compartmentalized disciplines. Thus, some of the most exciting work produced today crosses disciplinary boundaries between literatures, visual arts, minority studies, history, anthropology, political sciences and others.
Here are some more examples of topics studied within PTTS:
- Colonialism and imperialism
- Colonial discourse analysis
- Resistance and liberation movements, independence, and decolonisation
- Ethnicity, race, racism
- Cultural forms which support existing political programmes and national identities
- Cultural forms (e.g. minorities living on both sides of a state border which they don’t recognise) which destabilise existing concepts of nationhood
- Regional and minority literatures
- Indigenous literatures and cultures
- Migrant literature
- Diaspora literatures
- Transcultural writing
- Transnational reception of texts and films
- Intertextuality and intermediality
- Global varieties of English (e.g. Indian English, Australian English, Caribbean Creole etc.)
- Comparative approaches to literary and cultural studies
- Historiography and cultural memory
- Women's writing (and the relations between gender, race, nation and class)
- Agency, identity, subjectivity