Postcolonialism, Multiculturalism, Orientalism

Key theorists:

Stuart Hall

Edward Said

Michel Foucault

Antonio Gramsci

Franz Fanon

In our most recent lecture, we discussed how identity is formed through notion of Postcolonialism, focusing on Orientalism (Said 1970) and how these discourses of identity, power, and culture have come to create specific and deeply ingrained cultural identities for certain groups of people.

Orientialism seeks to highlight how there is a long history of constructing anything non-Western as being exotic, dangerous, mysterious, and secretive. It is outside of the Western norm and therefore it becomes ‘Other’. These discourses stem from Colonial and Imperialist writings, but continue to persist and reproduce themselves today, despite the evidence of Postcolonialism and Postmodernism being in existence. We need to undertand and accept that Orientalism continues to ‘other’ anything non-Western as being something elusive. It can be seen to fetishise the non-Western, as well as creating a distinct form of alienation between the two.

Issues of alienation are discussed by Fanon, and we can see this clearly through Orientialism and Postcolonialism. As discourses of Orientialism continue to be reproduced, the binary between East and West continues to be strengthened. We start to see how those falling under Orientalism start to internalise this discourse, to believe and enact it. Fanon noted this as a form of self-alienation, as seeing one’s own body and identity as being ‘other’ and outside of the norm.

In thinking about how individuals internalise these discourses of power, we need to think about how power itself works with and through these discourses. Foucault discussed that power is not in the style of a top-down Marxist approach. Instead, power is a way of producing, facilitating, and circulating enactments of power. He saw discourses of power as a way in which social realities themselves are operated and circulated, and consequently these discourses are how people come to perceive objects, places, and cultures around them. Power is distributed through discourses, and all identities, including East and West, are part of this construction through discourse. Gramsci in his writings on hegemony saw some similar, looking at where power is situated and centred and how it comes to be distributed. In the case of Orientalism, we need to look at who has the power to create such a dichotomous discourse of East and West, and how we understand the dynamics that centre around historical and societal contexts within this. Orientalism is itself a discourse designed, reproduced, and distributed through Western discourses of power so that the Orient could be managed on an ideological scale.

However, we now live in a Postmodern and Postcolonial era. We have a much greater understanding of how cultures operate and how discourses of power circulate and influence. We understand that being ‘Postcolonial’ means we continue to carry the baggage of the colonial past with us – we are a long way from being past-colonialism. In understanding the historical and social implication that surround power and discourses of identity reproduction, we can start to see how we can break them down as a result. We now have the capacity to criticise and develop our understanding of why and how Orientalism came to be such a dominant form of circulated discourse by the West. Of course, we also acknowledge that Orientalism is still endlessly reproduced by the West, and still internalised to an extent by the East. But we can look beyond this, and into the new discourses that surround globalisation, hybridity, and multiculturalism.

Global, hybrid, and multi- cultures have emerged predominantly through Postmodern and Postcolonial discourse. We have the idealistic notion of the cultural melting pot taking place around the world. We do have evidence of the strict structures between East and West starting to break down, but only social. Economic and social development through the world is changing the ways in which countries understand themselves, and this consequently affects how culture is embodied through discourses and notions of power. While the notion of multiculturalism is a positive one for breaking down outdated dichotomies of power between East and West, we need to continue to have an appreciation for individual cultures as well, and continue to navigate how discourses of power and identity are constructed. Stuart Hall discussed that identities are constantly unfixed and in flux. The narrative and subjectivity of an identity is what is central to its realisation. This point becomes even more important as we move into a global/hybrid/multi cultural society, and we see how identity’s unstable and unfixed nature  leads to transformations of discourse construction.

CASE STUDY IN MULTICULTURALISM: ANASTASIYA SHPAGINA

Anastasiya Shpagina, also known as Fukkacumi, is a YouTube make-up artist and fashion icon. She has a large following on both her YouTube and Instagram, thanks largely due to her unique and exotic blend of cultural styles that form a huge part of her identity.

Shpagina blends Eastern femininities, specifically Japanese styles like lolita and kawaii, with Western notions of white beauty (including French bisque doll influences) to create a new form of feminine identity that she performs. She expertly blends these two cultures of femininity and as a result, creates an unusual and striking new performance and identity within herself. She draws heavily upon both cultures of femininity, and performs it with a remarkable level of skill and flexibility.

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