In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Postcolonial Urbanism

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies and Readers in Postcolonial Thought
  • Key Texts in Postcolonial Thought
  • Anthologies on Postcolonialism and the City
  • General Works on Postcolonialism and the City
  • Southern Urbanisms
  • Postcolonial Planning and Architecture
  • Beyond Postcoloniality

Urban Studies Postcolonial Urbanism
Julie Ren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0018


Postcolonial urbanism encompasses a range of scholarship in urban studies that engages with postcolonial theory, postcoloniality as a historico-political status, and postcolonial criticism of urban theory. There is not a singular concept of postcolonialism. A rudimentary definition of postcolonialism as the study of the lasting effects of being a former colony confines it to a historical category, which dissonant voices have largely displaced. In place of a conceptual uniformity, postcolonial urbanism can rather be understood as a kind of intervention, in terms of both the places and issues at the core of its concern, as well as an intervention into the way that urban research and theory is being generated. Building on postcolonial thought from the 20th century that emerged from a period of decolonial and anticolonial political struggle and largely defined by key scholarship in the humanities, postcolonial urbanism translates these concepts and questions for urban space, urban research and urban theory. The analysis of power, representation, and identity is transmuted for a spatial analysis of urbanization, urban development, and urban life. This is particularly evident in the postcolonial scholarship on urban planning and architecture, which situates the built environment within a contextual postcoloniality or applies a postcolonial lens to analyzing the cultures of planning or architecture. Moreover, the critiques of discipline that postcolonial theory espouses are also adopted in postcolonial urbanism in the watershed of scholarship on issues around knowledge production in urban studies. These have spurred debates around the parochialism of urban theory, the nature of theory, and the comparative approaches that could possibly enrich theoretical developments. In parallel to these epistemological debates is a rich scholarship with a long tradition in area studies that continue to delve into the question of alternative urbanisms, seeing the postcolonial world as determined category of shared experience, which may help generate various forms of “Southern” urbanisms. The key question here is whether postcolonial urbanism serves more as a theoretical intervention into the way that urban theory is generated, or an empirical intervention into the sites and concerns of urban theory. The scholarship shows that these positions are not easily extricated from one another. Out of this lively debate has emerged an outpouring of influential conceptual developments particularly in theorizing urban everyday life around topics like informality, periphery, grey space, waste, and utopia.

Anthologies and Readers in Postcolonial Thought

A number of anthologies and readers are available to provide an overview of postcolonial studies, which span an array of disciplines. Although many key figures in the field come from comparative literature, the theoretical development of this area builds on work by scholars with very different aims, issues, and institutional or geographic homes. Anthologies may therefore prove particularly useful to get an overview, not only of the key scholarship but also to understand how the concept of “postcolonial” stretches when discussing such disparate topics as nationalism or embodiment. This breadth is most evident in Nayar 2015 and Ashcroft, et al. 2006, impressive in its volume and as an introduction to a variety of topics. Castle 2001 is valuable for selecting slightly lesser known texts by key authors, and Teverson and Upstone 2011 is noteworthy for its focus on postcolonial space. While there is some overlap in the key texts included in some of these anthologies, it is worth noting that several anthologies such as Huggan 2013 and Prakash 1994 have also compiled original chapters by key scholars.

  • Ashcroft, B., G. Griffiths, and H. Tiffin, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

    A field-defining anthology divided in fourteen parts that cover key issues associated with postcolonial thought, including universality and difference, representation and resistance, hybridity, nationalism, ethnicity, race, indigeneity, feminism, and language, among others. Notable for thinking about the relationship between postcolonialism and the city is the section on “place,” which includes articles like “Decolonizing the Map.” The anthology includes key authors from a vast range of fields, including poets like Derek Walcott and feminists like Chandra Talpade Mohanty.

  • Castle, G., ed. Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001.

    While overlapping with other anthologies in terms of the scholars cited, the text selection is different. There are some lesser-known texts including Frantz Fanon on spontaneity from The Wretched of the Earth and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay, “The Burden of English.” These are enriching additions to the classic texts most often cited by these central figures in postcolonial studies, neatly compiled within the frame of discourse. There is also a noteworthy section (Part 6) on Ireland, offering another perspective on issues like colony and nationhood.

  • Huggan, G., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A massive volume comprised of original chapters, which present more recent scholarship in postcolonial studies. One noteworthy aspect is the way it includes both country-specific and comparative approaches to various issues. This is particularly useful for urban researchers with either area focuses or methodological interests in comparativism. Each section includes an introduction by the editor as well as an invited response, which help to highlight the contested nature of this field.

  • Nayar, P. K., ed. Postcolonial Studies: An Anthology. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2015.

    A valuable anthology particularly for Part 1, “Framing the Postcolonial,” which includes key texts from Fanon, Said, Bhabha, Spivak, Jameson, and Chakrabarty, among others. It also includes texts connecting postcolonial studies to topics like gender and the environment, which highlight the varied nature of what “postcolonial” signifies to different scholars in different fields.

  • Prakash, G., ed. After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

    Edited by a key figure in post-colonial studies, this anthology that spans multiple disciplines, taking a more historical perspective to consider how the imperial experience shaped knowledges, disciplines, and identities. This anthology also includes many more original contributions, including a notable contribution from Edward Said that touches on the methodology of imperialism.

  • Teverson, A., and S. Upstone, eds. Postcolonial Spaces: The Politics of Place in Contemporary Culture. New York: Springer, 2011.

    This anthology moves past postcolonial studies in general to address the ways that postcolonial space is shaped. This includes the role of space in cultural production (literature) as well as in urban space. Less of an overview on postcolonial thought, this anthology rather offers an overview to different approaches for spatial theory, putting Edward Soja and Edward Said in conversation with each other.

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