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Unit information: Postcolonial Matters in 2020/21

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Unit name Postcolonial Matters
Unit code GEOGM0028
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Jackson
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will explore the emerging need to re-think and extend the theoretical and empirical domains of postcolonial studies, and postcolonial geographies in particular. The need comes from three inter-related conceptual and empirical advances in the humanities and social sciences: decoloniality, political ontology, and post-humanism. Ecological, environmental, and technological questions – and pronouncements that we are, and are in, the Anthropocene – increasingly challenge the anthropocentric analyses that dominate the traditional attention of the social sciences and humanities. Human-centred orthodoxies in postcolonial analysis, whose focus has been on topics like identity, cultural hybridity, and political heterogeneity, are now also being asked to account for how human beings are entangled ontological aspects of wider relational and ecological processes. The criteria for making these relational and material claims about human entanglement also challenge constructionist and textual approaches still taken for granted in postcolonial studies. As a result, postcolonial theory, and postcolonial studies more generally, have struggled to respond effectively to new conceptual and empirical demands. Some authors have even argued that postcolonialism has either run its course, or has entered a contradictory period of decline. Despite this view, global genealogies of ongoing colonial violence, exclusion, and inequality continue to be more relevant than ever. It is clear we continue to need postcolonial critique, but in a form more responsive to contemporary theoretical demands about who we are, who are our ‘others’ (human and non-human), and how research may be done with them.

The unit will explore how postcolonial and decolonial geographies are renewing themselves to meet the theoretical and empirical demands of a more-than-human world. It will address the continued relevance of postcolonial and decolonial politics and ethics, but within the need for new analytical questions, methodologies, and representational strategies that draw from diverse interdisciplinary approaches, including: political ecology; indigenous studies; anthropology; material studies; agro-ecology; social movement studies; cultural and historical geography; and critical political economy.

Sites of empirical encounter will include research drawn from the Global South and Global North, urban and rural. Specific geographies could include sites in Central America (El Salvador and Guatemala), South America (Brazil, Peru, Bolivia), North America (Canada, USA, Greenland), South Asia (India), South East Asia (Indonesia), Australia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, the UK (Bristol, South West England, Wales), and, Western Asia (Israel/Palestine).

This unit will:

  • Introduce debates over the genealogy of, and possibilities for, postcolonialism, and decolonial and postcolonial geographies, including the challenges contemporary materiality, relationality, and ecological studies have for the ethics and politics of future postcolonial and decolonial geographies.
  • Analyse the role and significance of posthumanism, materiality, political ontology, and indigenous studies on the modern and contemporary politics of contemporary colonialisms.
  • Demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of engagement with concepts of postcolonialism, materiality, and ecology.

Enable students to engage critically with a wide range of theoretically and empirically-focused material

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this unit, students will able to:

  1. Identify key concepts and theories of postcolonialism, materiality, political ontology, political ecology, and critical political economy in geographical and cognate interdisciplinary scholarship.
  2. Analyse key differences internal to theorizations of postcolonial geographies, materialism, posthumanism, political ecology, and indigenous studies.
  3. Situate the debates and their cross-overs across different interdisciplinary contexts appreciating both shared conceptual genealogies and research applications.
  4. Identify the relevance of key concepts and categories of postcolonialism and materiality to their individual research agendas and wider social politics.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, field work and in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace
  • field work; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical and/or field work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

  1. One 1500-word reflective letter (20%).
  2. One 3500-word essay (60%). Students may choose to examine either: an object or text through which engage key topics and concepts within the unit via a creative/productive means; or, examine a self-chosen topic on a subject of their interest arising from the unit. Guidance will be provided on an individual basis for each student, and students will be supported in their development of ideas and design of the research papers.
  3. Seminar Participation (20%): As part of the participation mark, each student will present in one seminar on that seminar's assigned readings for about fifteen minutes in length. Each presentation summarises central themes in the reading for that week and poses issues for discussion. A copy of the presentation will be distributed to the class at the beginning of the two-hour seminar. Feedback will be given to the students within one week of their presentation. Other marks for participation will include weekly contributions, class-room facilitation, discussion contribution, etc. Rubrics for participation will be circulated at the beginning of the unit.

Reading and References

  1. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction, Leela Ghandi
  2. Environments, Natures, and Social Theory, eds. D. White, AP. Rudy, and B. Gareau.
  3. Epistemologies of the South, B. de Sousa Santos
  4. Decolonising Methodologies, L. Tuhiwai Smith
  5. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, Walter Mignolo
  6. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, Politics, eds. D. Coole and S. Frost.

There is no core text-book for this unit. Instead students will be required to read a selection of journal articles, book chapters and books as specified on the reading list circulated at the start of the course.