For scholars working on the global history of capital and colonialism, with a particular interest in the question of reparations and broader economic-historical questions, here is a for contributions to what sounds like a fascinating edited collection:
Regarding an ongoing research project at Columbia University, Barnard student Sabrina Singer reflected that when she walks around the campus, now, she wonders: “What else is history going to forget?” The research Singer and her student colleagues are doing looks at the historical ties between the institution now educating them and the historical institution of slavery. We were prompted to similar reflections having visited Yale’s Peabody Museum and an exhibit there of Elihu Yale’s gemstones collection. Included in the display is a painting of Yale: he is pictured with a large unfinished diamond ring on his finger, symbolizing Britain’s dominance over India. The exhibit inadvertently prompts questions touching the economic legacy of a place like Yale, rooted in imperialist plunder and enslavement given its principal benefactor; Yale worked for the British East India Company as magistrate of Madras, India. He was famous there not only for his rapacious amassing of gemstones but also for the public hanging of a six-year old Indian child.
The economic history of Yale’s founding and its founder involves multiple debts, not just resources (gemstones, in this case) but human bodies and the lives those bodies might have lived had they not been colonized or not been enslaved or not been violently ended. At a time when economists (Piketty 2014; Stiglitz 2013) and educationalists are re-imagining universities as transnational corporations “perpetuating” and “exacerbating” inequalities and a “caste system” (Guinier 2015; Mettler 2014; Stevens 2007), it is perhaps no surprise to find the roots of these institutions lodged deep in historical slavery and other forms of exploitation and oppression. What do the economics of Yale’s transnational and transcontinental work for the British East India Co. mean in terms of the trajectories of wealth and privilege that connect to and extend from the institution, founded and fueled by forms of corrupt funding? What has that capital enabled or foreclosed in the time since? The political context of Yale’s origins extends to and marks, for example, twentieth-century Asian branches of the Yale corporation in regions where the British East India Co. also held sway. The Yale in China Association, through donations from the Ford Foundation and other U.S. organizations, helped establish the New Asia College in Hong Kong and then the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the fifties and sixties.
We take Yale and Columbia as object lessons for a broader inquiry that extends to Asia and marks U.S. educational intervention there. This project addresses not merely the context of the university but political history itself and the colonial economics of border politics, the control of trade, or enslavement and indentured servitude as industrial praxes. It is both a regional and a revisionist study that asks why we have not looked at economic genealogies more generally in our research on postcolonial history and postcoloniality? Why do we not more rigorously assess the roots of wealth and poverty, the costs and benefits of empire to colonizer and colonized alike, the economics of geopolitical annexations occurring in conjunction with decolonization in places like Ireland, India or Hong Kong? It may indeed be, as Joe Cleary recently argued, because postcolonial theory has for too long privileged “modernist-associated terms such as hybridity, polyphony, pastiche, irony, and defamiliarization rather than realist-associated conceptual categories such as historical transition, class consciousness and totality” (2012, 265)?
These questions impel the postcolonial critic toward an ethical project that unpacks systems and structures of economic disparity, toward an examination of the international sites and systems permitting or limiting the generation of wealth and structuring its distribution, not least in regard to international power relations that propel systems of education. Historians are calling for such revisionist readings in term of economics at a time when resurgent imperialist populism drives independence movements in the British Isles. Brexit has incited independence and unification debates in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that are today less nationalistic than economic. British M.P., historian and novelist Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire (2017) looks, for instance, at the damaging impacts of the two-hundred years during which Britain dominated South Asia. He tabulates the costs not merely of human suffering and loss or cultural colonialism but foregrounds also a well-honed economic accounting. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently done in the American context, Tharoor is making the case for (postcolonial) reparations. He calls for symbolic forms of repair for India from a United Kingdom reeling from Brexit. Hong Kong’s own decolonisation has failed to quell a nostalgia for colonialism that is slowly being diluted in the face of vast Chinese economic designs for the Pearl River Delta Region. The Philippines and Japan also weigh up economic and colonial histories and obligations in light of new fiscal interventions in the Asia-Pacific by China. Retrieving labor and economic histories helps unpack the continued sustenance of Eurocentrist theory in the Asia-Pacific at a time when the European project itself is teetering.
At a time when states, universities, and liberal discourses themselves are facing calls for reparations, renegotiations and redress in the face of a revisionist revival of economic histories, the field of postcolonial studies recognises scholarship examining the growth and (re)distribution of wealth as needed, timely and promising. In the scholarship constructing colonial history and postcoloniality one finds an abundance of work dealing with the consumption and perpetuation of Eurocentrist cultural hegemony but little analysis of the roots of amassed property and of protracted poverty, of paid and unpaid labor or paid and unpaid production, of legacies of inheritance, pedigrees of capital and the control of resources and trade as foundations for that hegemony. This project takes as a founding premise that postcolonial studies has paid scant attention to such economic flows; it aims to revisit sites of oppression well-documented in terms of theories of orientalism, alterity and racial and ethnic oppression so as to trace and highlight underlying financial genealogies, strategies of inequality, and literary narratives of exploitation more readily entertained by today’s econocracy.
Such an examination foregrounds the systems of consumption and exploitation that create and sustain socio-economic inequality and political disenfranchisement across the longue durée. The reconstruction of such accounts—a postcolonial epistemology of property and poverty—is also, ultimately, a history of political systems, educational systems, and the “location(s)” of culture. This project starts, therefore, also from the assumption that culture cannot be judiciously unpacked if extricated from the sources and distribution of capital. It reads colonialism as, first and foremost, an economic undertaking, viewing it intersectionally through historiographical, economic, racial and postcolonial frames. Valuing the critical contributions of subaltern historiographers, this project attends to the economic experiences, legacies and subjectivities associated with generating economic growth and dominance and producing economic poverty and powerlessness. Thus we acknowledge—rather than rejecting, as Vivek Chibber does—the essential tenets of Subaltern Studies while bringing them together with the polemic he offers in Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital—his general contention, in Žižek’s words, that “postcolonial theory [has] ignored the larger context of capitalist relations.”
We propose, then, a postcolonial criticism that provincializes Europe and the U.S. (Chakrabarty 2007) by bringing a version of the economic analysis Chibber and Cleary posit together with the historical materialist perspectives of subaltern studies. The retrieval of historiographies of poverty and prosperity leads to an ethics touching the violence of capital and its proliferation or dearth and reveals the deafening resonances of its legacies. What might a postcolonial criticism look like that establishes a scholarly, intellectual and theoretical rationalization for reparations and reads empire through an economic-historical lens in order to evaluate the “cost(s)” of that structure and its economic aftereffects? The project aims to answer that question by unpacking genealogies of capital in/and the colonial encounter in locations across the globe.
We seek abstracts of no more than 1000 words by Sept. 30, 2017 and full chapters of 7000 – 8000 words by Dec. 30, 2017. The editors anticipate that this theme will generate a range of papers that cross the disciplines. Potential topics may include (but are not limited to):
literary, economic, historical / historiographical, sociological, linguistic, or political science treatments
perspectives of trade / national resources
legacies and imperialism / inheritance and imperialism
the economic other
political security and insecurity, sustainability, security and colonial economic flows
academic histories or looks at education and cultural capital or comparative education
reparations, broadly defined and most especially within contexts of modern empire
the question of complicit science
legacies of the East and West India Trading Companies
memor(ies) and postcoloniality
economic flows of diaspora and hybridity or traveling monies, colonial circuits
the political economics of subalternity or postcolonial piracy, criminality, plunder
economies of nation, nationalisms, national identity, of cosmopolitanism(s)
the materiality of economic colonialism and/or postcolonial power relations
re-engaging work of key postcolonial thinkers in terms of its relevance for/to postcolonial economies, or, more broadly, the contemporary intelligentsia and (the possibility of) materialist postcolonial interventions
vicissitudes of “human rights” vis-à-vis wealth distribution
property (intellectual, real), theft of, indebtedness for
perspectives of media / new media
This collection is edited by Dr. Maureen Ruprecht Fadem (City University of New York) and Dr. Michael O’Sullivan (Chinese University of Hong Kong).