Much colonial and postcolonial theory has exhibited a tendency to see colonial power as an all-embracing, transhistorical force, controlling and transforming every aspect of colonised societies. The writings and attitudes of those involved with empire are seen as constituting a system, a network, a discourse in the sense made famous by Michel Foucault. (Though the notion of ‘colonialism as a system’ goes at least as far back as Sartre, and I would argue for Georges Balandier as the crucial precursor for much which today is mistakenly hailed as new in the field.) It inextricably combines the production of knowledge with the exercise of power. It deals in stereotypes and polar antitheses. It has both justificatory and repressive functions. And, perhaps above all, it is a singular ‘it’: colonial discourse and by extension the categories in which it deals (the coloniser, the colonised, the subject people, etc.) can meaningfully be discussed in unitary terms.


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