Tuesday, March 01, 2005

3] Post-colonial education: Possible direction


by Azly Rahman

Columbia University, New York

In our effort to make sense of the multiplicity of perspectives leading to the formulation of an educational paradigm based upon “postcolonial sensibilities”, we are faced with the dilemma of choice among many which would be critical enough for liberatory work in educational reform. This brief literature review attempts to answer the question ‘Which perspective is useful in our conceptualizing of a paradigm, drawing illuminations from critical theory as one liberating pedagogy?’ The work of McLaren and Giarelli (1995) on critical theory, Smith (1994) on the study of colonists and McClintock (1992) on destroying binary opposition in defining postcolonialism will be reflected upon. The relevancy of the research question grew out of my believe that although the subaltern perspectives emerging in postcolonial studies can offer illuminating multidimensionalities in approaching in educational critique and reform, a goal-oriented path is needed; one which particularly concerns education for critical consciousness.


McLaren and Giarelli (1995) writing from the perspective of critical pedagogy in the genre of neo-Leftism appeal to social and educational researchers to commit themselves to the growing solidarity in scholarship that promises a hope for the triumph of education for liberation. Whilst acknowledging the value of interpretivist research, McLaren and Giarelli (1995) contended that it is still situated in the “domain of cultural diversity” and as such, non-liberatory in nature. (p.16) What is needed is then for its situatedness in “cultural difference” encapsulated within a body of methodological knowledge which cognitively link political and ethical dimensions of theorizing to liberation. Postmodernism or postcolonial studies, they assert, can become powerful hybridizing endeavors when its development is politically engaging and cautious to the potentially “disarming powers” of both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Whilst McLaren and Giarelli (1995) offer such a pedagogical and methodological suggestion on postcolonial paradigm, Andrea L. Smith (1994) suggests anthropologists to reconceptualize the question of postcolonial studies so that not only the colonized should be looked at but also the colonists who themselves suffered from the institutional, ideological, and psycho-pathological conditions they created at the junctures of colonialism’s history.

Smith (1994) believed that by “looking at ourselves” via engaging in the “anthropology of colonists” researchers not only can gain from a potentially painful but therapeutic value in the will to knowledge, but also can be introduced avenues to the study of power, domination, and structural violence – all these in turn will honestly situate the study of colonist formation in its most legitimate sense. Through our looking at the complexity of the colonial situation, juxtapositioning with the already burgeoning research on the colonized, Smith (1994) believed that a holistic picture of truth and method could effectively be made to emerge. Whilst Smith (1994) focused our attention to studying the socio-psychological makeup of the power brokers, Ann McClintock (1992) argued that one can be semantically drawn into the ideologically shackling conception of history as binary constructs; of the “triumph” of Capitalism over Communism and of the march of colonialism into another epoch called “postcolonialism”. Drawing primarily from conflict paradigm in international politics, using Marxist linguistic analysis to deconstruct the term “postcolonialism” and drawing engaging case studies in conflict amongst nations, McClintock (1992) concluded that contemporary issues of progress must be looked at as a “post-colonial” march of United States’ hegemonic interests aided by its supporting instruments of domination such as the IMF and World Bank. McClintock (1992) called for one to delve into innovative theorizing to counter singularizing tendencies in looking at “post-colonialism”. In comparing and contrasting McLaren and Giarelli (1995), Smith (1994), and McClintock (1992) as analyses and assertions related to the pathway to a post-colonial educational paradigm, a typology of analysis strengthened by critical theory can be discerned.

Whilst McLaren and Giarelli (1995) suggests a methodological orientation based primarily upon the Freirian approach to doing educational and social research, Smith (1994) offers a conceptual perspective in looking at the aftermath of colonialism on the colonizer and the colonized, and McClintock reminds us of the issue of political economic injustices in the global system. These authors approach their analysis predominantly from a critical theory perspective looking at power structure and the means and methods to dismantle it. McLaren and Giarelli ‘s (1995) call for political and ethical solidarity for a program of educational praxis, Smith’s (1994) call for a critical study of colonists in anthropology, and McClintock’s (1992) semantic analytical approach to the politics of the term “ postcolonialism” can be encapsulated as a reassertion of Marxist humanist analysis pointing towards a systematic paradigm of analysis needed to be arrived at if one is to construct as educational paradigm for psychological liberation in this “post-colonial” era. A focused critical view as this can offer the guiding light to embattle the rugged terrain of “postmodernism”; a terrain which may offer multiple perspective which can be potentially blinding and excessively relativizing. Thus, in those three analyses, the critical theoretical ties that bind can perhaps give one the necessary grip on the slippery ground of postmodern foundationalism. But if the critical theoretical dimensions provide the strength, weaknesses can also be discerned from the perspectives.

In McLaren and Giarelli (1995) for example, perplexing is the goal to be achieved in a multicultural, liberatory, and critical pedagogy. To gather subaltern voices, rally them politically and ethically as a counter-sphere of public opinion would mean to rally against and ideological Other. Would the McLaren and Giarelli ‘s (1995) counter ideological Other be yet another construct perhaps shackled by another ideology itself in the classic Marxist conception of anti-thesis versus thesis? Where and what is the locus of control critical pedagogy is attempting to decenter and deconstruct? Is power, in this sense homegenic, or heterogenic? What can be the scenario of a society free from ideology and oppression McLaren and Giarelli (1995) envision, of which these authors failed to have us imagine? Whilst Smith (1994) is illuminating in her suggestion for an anthropology of colonists, can this domain then develop into a body of knowledge which would have the potential of being further developed into a perspective apologetic to the agents of colonialism which then in turn betray the call for honesty Smith (1994) set forth in the first place? Therein I believe lie the danger, given the polemic nature of the development of knowledge production in fields, which are subjective in nature. Whilst McClintock’s (1992) semantic analysis is helpful in keeping us on track in conceptualizing other legitimate issues such as balance of power, militarism, and hegemonic interests of the powerful industrialized economies borne out of the military-industrial complex superstructure, hers is short of the critical analysis of power relations in nation-states based philosophical-ideological foundations such as Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and the like; those emerging out of the “ill-conceived” notion of the end of history. In short, McClintock (1992) bases her analysis, historical-materialistic determinism and World systems in character, to look at hegemonic interests in international relations without critically examining the complexity of distributive injustices and repression in the so-called Third World nation-states.

Having briefly discussed perspectives which bind and divide and the critical dimensions unanswered in each one of them and consequently situate these within my search for a desirable path to postcolonial education paradigm, some usefulness of the perspectives can be discerned. From McClintock’s (1992) perspective, it is useful to not only look at hegemonic interest in international power relations as evident in the manner linguistic connotations are applied to the term “postcolonialism” but also to go deeper into analyzing such relations at the societal level be they in societies comprising of Marxists, feminists, or ethnocentric xenophobics. From Smith’s (1994) perspective it is useful to not only look at the eventuality of an anthropology of colonists but also its counter-revolutionary ideological formation apologetic to the cause of the colonists. From McLaren and Giarelli (1995), the critical pedagogy can be all the more useful if and only if the agents to be liberated must be made to conceive what it means to be “fully liberated” and for them to be provided the answer to the question “to be free from what?” The way to a desirable postcolonial educational paradigm can be riddled, along the way, with more problematic and multidirectional signposts if the original intention to unite the multivocal Others turn into yet another agenda to divide them into multi-ideological followers!


Smith, A.L. (1994). Colonialism and the poisoning of Europe: Towards an antropology of colonists. Journal of Anthropological Research, 50, (pp. 383-393).

McClintock, A. (1992). The angel of progress: Pitfalls of the term “postcolonialism.” Social Text, Spring , (pp. 1-15).

McLaren, P.L., & Giarelli, J.M. (Eds.) (1995). Critical Theory and educational research. Albany: SUNY Press.


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الحياة المثالية

About Me

My photo
AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.