In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Post-Colonialism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Introductory Works in Postcolonial Music Studies
  • Postcolonial Music Historiography
  • Postcolonial Music Theory
  • Postcolonial Aesthetics and Ethics of Music

Music Post-Colonialism
Olivia Bloechl
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0161


Post-colonialism (postcolonialism) is a form of critical thought that investigates the cultural history of colonialism and analyzes its legacies and continuities in the present. It characteristically does so from epistemologies positioned outside or at the limits of the logics of colonialism, especially its foundational division of colonizer and colonized. Colonialism can be defined as the variable practices of colonization and their effects on colonized territories and peoples and to a lesser extent on colonizers. It is distinct from imperialism, which refers to ideologically driven state projects of expansion, conquest, or other domination. However, in practice both European colonialism and imperialism have been the focus of postcolonial studies from its beginnings in the late 1970s as an area of academic inquiry. Until recently postcolonial studies has addressed only European empires of the past millennium, with the bulk of research on modern European territorial empires. Regardless of its historical or geographical focus, the overriding concern of postcolonial research is generally with politicized culture. Most practitioners also appropriately see an anticolonial stance and vigilance toward domination and oppression as salient. This political and moral orientation is indebted to Marxist traditions of critique (especially non-Western ones), which were foundational for postcolonialism and remain contested within it. It is also influenced by the social positioning of founding postcolonial thinkers themselves, most of whom hailed from colonized or formerly colonized regions (such as India, the Caribbean, or Argentina). Accordingly, there is broad disagreement over whether “postcoloniality” properly designates a historical condition after decolonization that is marked by neoimperialism, or a committed critical practice stemming from the self-conscious theorizing of the anticolonial liberation movements. Answering this question depends partly on whether postcoloniality is thought as a quality of an object (a nation, novel, or musician), of a critical epistemology, or both. There are defensible rationales behind the first definition, which emphasizes the salience of colonial location or history to thought and creativity. However, this article prefers the second definition, stressing the greater salience of critical epistemologies that challenge colonial or neoimperial logics and politics. Among other advantages, this frees thought and creativity from a necessary defining relationship to colonial pasts; it also accommodates decolonial thought pertaining to groups or territories that remain colonized (as are many indigenous peoples and lands, such as in the United States). Postcolonialism in music studies shares most of these features, with the distinction that its primary object is music, organized sound, and musical life. Although anticolonial epistemologies are discernible in earlier research, particularly in ethnomusicology, music scholars generally came to postcolonialism later than in other disciplines, beginning in the 1990s. Postcolonial theory beyond that of Edward Said gained currency only in the 2000s. Postcolonial musical research has taken two broad forms: critically engaged documentation of musical life in colonial or postcolonial societies, and critique of colonialism’s effects on musical life past and present. Following this definition, this article excludes research on colonial or postcolonial contexts that lacks a critical framework, such as most traditional colonial music history or “salvage” musical ethnography. It does include self-consciously postcolonial research on music in early European colonies and colonizing polities, prioritizing research that has a robust critical component. The focus throughout is on European and US colonialism or neoimperialism and on research in English, which limits the depth of coverage but allows for broad representation of the music subdisciplines.

General Overviews

The research in this section offers a solid introductory knowledge of the history and theory of postcolonialism. None of the cited research is written from the perspective of the music disciplines, because no such full-length overview exists. This research nevertheless provides a helpful orientation to the multidisciplinary field of postcolonial studies. Gandhi 1998 and Young 2001 are excellent general introductions to postcolonialism and postcolonial theory. Loomba 2005 is an overview oriented toward literary studies and is particularly useful for researchers interested in early modernity. Moraña, et al. 2008 and Forsdick and Murphy 2014 are multiauthor introductions to Latin American and global Francophone postcolonialism, respectively. Schwarz and Ray 2005 and Huggan 2013 are multiauthor general overviews of postcolonial studies, both of which make a marked effort to put postcolonialism in dialogue with other relevant topics and critical paradigms.

  • Forsdick, Charles, and David Murphy, eds. Francophone Postcolonial Studies: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2014.

    Multiauthor edited collection of original essays on aspects of postcolonial studies in the Francophone world. Sections address the history of French colonialism, language and identity, nationalism and globalization, and Francophone postcolonial thought and culture. Usefully compares Francophone and Anglophone postcolonialisms. First published in 2003.

  • Gandhi, Leela. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

    First critical overview of postcolonial theory by a distinguished literary scholar. Recommended as an intellectual history and introduction to key debates. Includes sections on decolonization, postcolonial memory and counter-knowledge, the postcolonial humanities, Said, feminism, nationalism, and postnationalism, and postcolonial literature.

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

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199588251.001.0001

    Multiauthor collection of original essays by leading scholars on aspects of postcolonial studies. Includes the sections “The Imperial Past,” “The Colonial Present,” “Theory and Practice,” and sections on postcolonialism in various disciplines and geographical locations. Each section includes a formal response.

  • Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Important overview of postcolonialism by a renowned early modernist. Particularly clear and concise discussion of key concepts, histories, and critical debates. Especially valuable for researchers interested in early modern empires. First published in 1998.

  • Moraña, Mabel, Enrique Dussel, and Carlos A. Jáuregui, eds. Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

    Landmark English-language collection of essays considering postcolonial histories and theories of Latin America. Usefully compares Latin Americanist postcolonialism with other forms. Distinctive focuses include coloniality of power, liberation theology and philosophy, and decolonization.

  • Schwarz, Henry, and Sangeeta Ray, eds. A Companion to Postcolonial Studies. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470997024

    Multiauthor collection of original essays introducing key issues in postcolonial studies. Features a roster of distinguished postcolonial scholars. Includes sections on history and critical issues, the local and the global, and key thinkers and formations. The essays on subaltern studies, feminist theory, and postcolonial queer theory are especially noteworthy.

  • Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    Indispensable overview of the history, politics, and theory of postcolonialism by a prominent poststructuralist. Notable features include its historical account of the relationship of anticolonial movements, Marxism, and postcolonial theory. Also stands out for its nuanced critical interpretation of key postcolonial and poststructuralist thinkers.

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