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New Series - Colonial and Postcolonial Continuities

The series Colonial and Postcolonial Continuities will feature works that trace the continuities between colonial and postcolonial eras in Asia’s postcolonial societies. Over the past few decades, there have been many outstanding works that have looked at Asian societies and polities in the postcolonial present, focusing on the manifold aspects of socio-cultural-political-religious life from a range of disciplinary angles – ranging from postcolonial political analysis to literary criticism to media studies to new forms of religio-political mobilisation and organisation. Present-day Asia is a region that is vast and which offers ample opportunities to scholars who wish to study present-day modes of social, economic, and political activity. 

There remains, however, the question of historical continuity; and the tendency for works of country/regional/area studies to focus on particular states or regions as if they were ontologically distinct, fully present, and constituted as is. This phenomenon blinds us to the fact that much of the postcolonial world is built upon the foundations laid during the colonial era. One has to look at the map of present-day Southeast Asia today to see how all the political boundaries that divide the respective countries of the region were, and remain, artificial boundaries that were drawn during the colonial era. The same can be said for the borders of Africa and Latin America as well. Notwithstanding all the talk we have heard about globalisation and the globalised world we live in today it cannot be denied that the global world we currently inhabit was built and shaped during the days of empire, roughly the two hundred years between 1750 and 1950.

This series will invite works that trace the continuities – structural, institutional, organisational, linguistic, cultural, economic – between the colonial past and the postcolonial present. It takes as its working premise the notion that history is neither linear/teleological nor episodic and that we should not introduce a ‘temporal boundary line’ between the colonial past and the postcolonial present (and for that matter the pre-colonial part as if these were distinct and unconnected episodes in history. Instead, we invite works that focus upon the continuities between the colonial past and the postcolonial present, hoping that an understanding of the colonial past may also shape and inform our understanding and analysis of present-day realities.

There are many examples that we can draw upon to illustrate the point we are emphasising here: Any attempt to understand the internal divisions and conflict in present-day Burma/Myanmar, for instance, ought to take into account the divisive modes of racial politics that were put in place during the era of British Burma, and consider how modes of colonial multiculturalism – then serving the interests of racialised colonial-capitalism – were divisive and antagonistic from their very inception. One thinks here of the colonially induced vector of migration that brought substantial non-Southeast Asian minorities (Chinese [Hakka, Hokjia, Hokkien], Indian [Tamil, Chettiar, Punjabi]) into the region, and the role of the colonial census in providing spurious justification for colonially determined ethnic distinctions. Present-day analysis of patronage politics in countries like Indonesia can also be understood when we take into account the modes of colonial patronage and governance during the pre-colonial and colonial eras when the country was governed by indigenous rulers under various forms of Asiatic’ feudalism’ and subsequently as a full-blown colonial state, the Dutch East Indies (1816-1942). A cursory glance at the model of ‘development’ in many parts of Southeast, South, and East Asia would point to the workings of a capital-driven mode of economic development and managerialism that can likewise be traced to the workings of colonial-capitalism in providing the engine of growth for local economies based on cash-crop agriculture and extractive/mining industries. The list of examples is infinite, and a series dedicated to research on topics related to postcolonial continuities would constitute a timely resource for present-day scholars working on contemporary Asia.

The series will invite contributions from all major disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and law, including history, sociology, political theory, economics, geography, literature, media studies, cultural studies, and many more. The unifying factor that would bring all these works together in this series is the central argument that we cannot, and should not attempt to, understand the postcolonial present as if it was a unitary and distinct unit of time cut off from the recent colonial and earlier pre-colonial, pasts. We hope that this series will attract contributors who are equally keen to demonstrate how and why our understanding of the postcolonial world today needs to be grounded upon an understanding of the colonial and pre-colonial eras that came before, and how we have not been able to step entirely out of the long shadow of the nineteenth century when pre-colonial Asia was transformed by the European colonial presence.

Series editor

Peter Carey, adjunct professor of Modern History of Indonesia, University of Indonesia, Jakarta
Farish Noor, professor of Southeast Asian History, University Malaya

Advisory Board

Anne Booth, professor of Economics, SOAS, London
Bryna Goodman, Professor of History, University of Oregon, Oregon
Jan Michiel Otto, Professor of Law, Leiden University, Leiden
Vineeta Sinha, Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore