ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Colonial Studies: Power and Knowledge

Below is an annotated bibliography of part of my reading list with Professor Janaki Bakhle, titled ‘Colonial Studies: Power and Knowledge.” This reading list focuses on agents and institutions of colonial knowledge and is framed by the following commentary:

“Colonial conquest was not just the result of the power of superior arms, military organization, political power, or economic wealth—as important as these things were. Colonialism was made possible, and then sustained and strengthened, as much by cultural technologies of rule as it was by the more obvious and brutal modes of conquest that first established power on foreign shores. The cu1tural effects of colonialism have too often been ignored or displaced into the inevitable logic of modernization and world capitalism; but more than this, it has not been sufficiently recognized that colonialism was itself a cultural project of control. Colonial knowledge both enabled conquest and was produced by it; in certain important ways, knowledge was what colonialism was all about.”

Nicholas Dirks forward to Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (1996)

Part I: Colonial Studies: Knowledge & Power

(in chronological order)

  1. Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. 1st American ed. World of Man. New York: Pantheon Books, 1969.+ (ebook)
    1. Foucault makes visible the operational rules and practices of discourse by treating discourse as an archaeological ‘monument.’ Rather than a ‘document’ where history privileges the author and interpretation, the archaeology of discourse as ‘monument’ examines the relation of discourse to other systems, subjects, and statements. (Q. Does the disease produce the discourse, or does the discourse produce the disease?) Foucault thus examines a ‘discourse’ as a domain of all interrelated statements, discontinuities, and shifts and pushes against structural interpretations of history as continuous stable structures, totalities, and causations. Questioning unities of discourse that appear natural and universal, discourse analysis questions the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of practices that form the objects of which they speak.  In other words, discourse analysis questions 1) who is speaking (endowed with authority for enunciations) 2) what institutional site a person should occupy to produce discursive enunciation 3) what is the social space in which production of discourse becomes possible and how different positions in the social space influence strategies that subjects employ to produce discourses (questioning subject, listening subject, seeing subject…)


  1. Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1975.+(ebook)
    1. Focus on how it is Foucault identifies where power lies. The argument he makes is anti-state. Why is that the case? Why does he think a state-centered theory of power is inadequate?
    2. à Power is distributed through to institutions and discourse of norms, normalcy, and discipline and self-regulated through the pursuit of standards of behavior. “The success of modern forms of domination has resided in the dispersal of power from the state to a wide variety of of agencies with “reasonable” claims to autonomy.” (p. 8 culture/power/history)
      1. This approach differs from his more state-centered work on governmentality (organized practices through which subjects are governed) and ‘biopower’ (The History of Sexuality)—the perogative of the modern nation state to  manage, discipline, and control a large population through power over bodies.
    3. Is he suggesting power is amorphous? Sort like a gas that permeates everywhere? Is there a different understanding of the presence and materiality of power?
    4. àPower is a relation and depends on possibility of resistance. Rather than a governmental or statist approach to understanding power, Foucault discusses the technology of power rooted within knowledge (human sciences – educationalists, psychologists, criminology), discourses of the body, and bourgeois social power (reason, humane) that shaped the development of the “modern” individual and human soul. Thus in many ways he proposes a discourse, knowledge, and institution centered theory of power.
    5. àBy the 19th and 20th century, Enlightenment reason and bourgeois power shifted the understanding of discipline and punishment to the individual modern soul. The increased knowledge of modification of human behavior (power—modification of the body and soul in space and time) allowed for the establishment and continuance of a power regime of discipline. A hierarchy of power and submission, role-defined relationships of institutions (schools, factories, prisons) thus offers self-regulating disciplinary measures to perpetuate conformity. Using the example of Benham’s Panopticon, knowledge and surveillance was key to produce disciplinary power to regulate the prisoners. The example of the carceral archipelago (1940) as the summation of human sciences development—where penitentiary technique (prison, school, hospital, cloister) can be dispersed into society. (prisons as a space preventing crime before they occur.)


  1. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. +
    1. In Orientalism, Edward Said develops a two-part argument: Since the late sixteenth century European writers, scholars, and scientists produced an idea and ‘imaginative geography’ of the ‘Orient’ (the East) as strange, exotic, dangerous and putatively opposite to the civilizational superiority of the ‘Occident’ (the West). Over time, this discourse of the ‘orient’ manifested in institutions, imagery, scholarship, and colonial styles into the formal academic discipline of Orientalism with a set of epistemologies, rational justifications, and scientific explanations that perpetuate a binary between the West and the East. Said argues that since the late eighteenth century, there has been a steady interchange between the imaginative meanings of the Orient and the academic tradition of ‘orientalism’. Examining orientalism as a discourse, Said demonstrates how Europeans have managed, produced, and invented the Orient and the Occident.
    2. Said defines ‘orientalism’ in three parts: a “distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts;” an “elaboration not only of a basic geographic distinction…Orient and Occident…but also of a whole series of “interests;” and the “expression of an intention to understanding, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world.” Said argues that Europeans divided the world into the occident west and the orient east, or the civilized and the uncivilized. Europeans thus defined the Orient as the “other than” and antithetical to the Occident. Through this oppositional division, Europeans defined themselves as culturally and racially superior and justified colonialism through this hierarchy. Said shows how this flexible “positional superiority” of the West over the East permeated through European scientific studies, literature, and political documents on the east, perpetuating constructs and “supreme fictions” of the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Other.’ Said adds that for Europeans (especially the British and the French), the ‘Orient’ has helped to define the European or Western “contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.”


  1. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 271–313, 1988. + (own shelf)
    1. In the influential essay “Can the Subaltern Speak”, Gayatri Spivak offers three methodological interventions:
      1. 1) Spivak critiques US historians’ reliance upon Foucault rather than Derrida. Foucault ignores the question of ideology and the implication of intellectual in production of the subject.
      2. 2) Spivak critiques the liberal fallacy of post-colonialism that reinscribes Western political domination and economic interests. In other words, the post-colonial critic is complicit in the task of imperialism and thus the Western intellectual must reflexively analyse their positionality.
  • 3) Critiques totalizing projects that speak ‘for’ the subaltern. Spivak’s critiques include Foucauldian reproduction of the undivided oppressed subject and Subaltern Studies Group and feminist studies whose intellectual speaking ‘for ‘ reinscribes the subaltern’s subordination.
  1. Spivak applies deconstruction as a reading technique to expose Western intellectual discourse as always-already contaminated.


  1. Said, Edward W. “Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors.” Critical Inquiry 15, no. 2 (1989): 205–25.+
    1. Edward Said examines the postmodern, literary (1970s, 1980s) turn and the overwhelming self-reflexive critique of representation, subjectivity, and malaise within anthropology. Said argues that the question of relationship between cultures needs to be understood as permeable, contingent, and historically constituted.


  1. Dirks, Nicholas B., Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner, eds. Culture/power/history: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory. Princeton Studies in Culture/power/history. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994+
    1. Based off a collaborative effort between Dirks, Eley, and Ortner from the Program for comparative Study of Social Transformations at the University of Michigan, Culture/Power/History is a volume of ‘interdisciplinary’ cultural studies essays that destabilize and push against disciplines in what the authors describe as “creative disobedience.” The authors of the volume offer a provisional manifesto on the relationship between culture, power, and history. The essays offer reinterpretations of materialisms around power, the politics of subjectivity, and feminist disruptions of power and social categories. Refusing the determinism of deconstructive practice, the authors are committed in rescuing the ‘subject’ from post-structuralist dissolution and Foucauldian over-constructionism. The interrelated discussions of culture/power/history offer discussions of culture as contingent, fractured, and multiple; power as deinstitutionalized, always negotiated and contested; and history as anthropologized and challenging universal and totalizing grand narratives.
    2. “The Prose of counter-insurgency”- Ranajit Guha provides a methodological example of an archival reading of the subaltern insurgent. Pushing against the current historiography that simplifies peasant rebellion as irrational outbursts of crime and lawlessness, Guha reads against the grain of the archive to re-code the Santal insurrection of 1855. He argues that historiography fails to comprehend religious elements in peasant consciousness.
    3. “Ritual and Resistance: Subversion as a Social Fact”- Nicholas Dirks considers how resistance and disorder could be a concept to undermine historical assumptions of order. Dirks takes us through the analysis of the festival of Aiyanar to demonstrate how festivals show the intersections of power and social relations in three levels—the village, locality, and the kingdom. Dirks sheds light upon the different levels of dispute among all social levels and nuances in approaches to subversion and claims to power. For example, the “untouchables “ could resist by witholding their services. His observations shows how finding resistance, disorder and rebellion in social political relations and practices rather than a more static understanding of power, hierarchy, and order (as seen in Louis Dumont). Calling for the “denaturalizing” of both power and order, Dirks pushes against a deterministic study of resistance as simply an attempt to establish a new order. “Power is, rather, a relation, or more precisely, an endless series of relations, characterized—we now emphasize—by struggle. Although struggle may always, as Foucault suggests, be interior to power, it (as our current preoccupation) can seriously subvert our normal assumptions, about both power and order.”
    4. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City 1908-1936” Donna Haraway considers how the myth of the natural is appropriated into bourgeois cultural form in the Museum of Natural History. Through the life and work of taxidermist Carl Akeley, Haraway analyzes the story of power and knowledge produced in the museum exhibition. The exhibition preserved a vision of white, male, captitalist, imperialist culture and ideas of science as pure, ordered, and progressive (within discourse of eugenics). Furthermore, Haraway brings attention to the hidden voices of the narrative such as the secretary, wife, and assistant of Akeley and offer a multiple view of history.
    5. “The Exhibitionary Complex”- Tony Bennett analyzes the parallel late 18th-mid 19th century histories and similarities of the carceral archipelago and the exhibitionary complex. Moving from Foucault’s notion of the private punishment of the body of the condemned, Bennett analyzes the “exhibitionary complex” of displaying objects and bodies in public arenas to broadcast messages of power. Through this comparison, Bennett draws similarities in exhibitions as objects of spectacle, surveillance, regulation (moral and cultural education of working classes), spatial/temporal categorization (representation of ethnological subject and primitive peoples) in similar ways as the history of discipline and punish. Bennett reads the ‘state’ and governmental management of museums and exhibitions into Foucault’s notion of power.
  2. Prakash, Gyan. Ed. After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements. Princeton Studies in Culture/power/history. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995. + (ebook)
    1. An edited volume of 12 essays from literary criticism, anthropology, and history, After Colonialism examines the legacies of colonialism through the lens of discursive and material dimensions of power. Gyan Prakash characterizes scholarship in the aftermath of colonialism centered on the displacements, interstitial sites, and interpellations of power and authoritative knowledge. Thus we have scholarship ranging from Steven Feierman’s shift from universal narratives to reconstruction of African voices alongside a history of power, to Homi Bhabha’s engagement with subversive strategy of subaltern agency (through manic repetition of rumor, panic, political revolt).


  1. Sinha, Mrinalini. Colonial Masculinity: The “Manly Englishman” and The’ Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century. Manchester University Press ND, 1995.+ (ebook)
    1. Mrinalini Sinha examines how colonial masculinity and the co-constituted dea of a ‘manly Englishman’ and ‘effeminate Bengali Bagu’ informed political culture and legislative controversies in 19th century British India. Examining the historical controversies of the Ilbert Bill, native volunteer movement, public service commission, and the revision of the age of consent, Sinha demonstrates how British Victorian and Bengali gender constructs were employed, contested, and redefined to push political, racial, and social reform agendas in British India. Sinha draws from the scholarship of Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Rosemary Hennessy, to analyse colonial masculinity as a metropolitan-colonial dialectic and ‘global social analytic’—an intersection of political, economic, and ideological forces that transcends national boundaries. Sinha builds upon Bhabha’s idea of ambivalence (the simultaneous identification with and alienation from the colonial Other in the formation of the colonial subject), to demonstrate how Bengali men challenged and redefined colonial critique of ‘effeminacy.’


  1. Guha, Ranajit. Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. Convergences. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1997. + (ebook)
    1. Drawing from Gramscian and Marxist concepts of history, hegemony, and dominance, Guha’s critiques Indian historiography (bourgeois colonial and Indian elite nationalist historiography) as elite driven-narratives. (The neocolonialists write Indian politics as defined by a colonial regime and Western educated elite collaboration with the raj while the nationalists define Indian politics as the indigenous elite’s response to colonial rule.)
    2. Neither of these elitist groups represent Western European “hegemony”–where ruling class obtain juridical power through moral and cultural persuasion of people and their common consent. Indian elite nationalists thus were a caricature of the “heroic” Western bourgeois nationalism (implicit formula of civil society= nation= state).
    3. Guha explains the reason for lack of hegemony on the inability of the colonial state and post-colonial nation to integrate civil society into political society (as had been done in the West). In other words, the South Asian colonial state was different from the bourgeois Western state/metropolitan because it was non-hegemonic and dominated by coercion and monopoly of violence  rather than hegemony.
    4. Guha argues that a distinctive domain existed in which subaltern classes played principal roles and maintained traditional values and relationships. The subaltern domain was local and too weak to develop own nationalist movement, and elite efforts to integrate mass of Indian people into their movement was a failure. Guha calls for a subaltern centered Indian historiography


  1. Stoler, Ann Laura and Frederick Cooper. Eds. Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in Bourgeois World. University of California Press, 1997.+ (ebook)
    1. An edited volume on 19th and 20th century European colonialism, Tensions of Empire examines the ‘tension’ in visions of rule and bourgeois European culture. The authors thus consider the intimate engagement between the colonizer and colonized, and the contradictions of colonial project of inclusion and exclusion of colonial subjects. Drawing on the work of Bernard Cohn, Michel Foucault, (colonial knowledge), the authors engage the colonies and metropole within a single analytic field, where boundaries must be constantly reinvented and defined. In other words, the project of colonial difference and otherness had to be constantly maintained and rearticulated, in light of subversion and redefinition in local contexts. Thus the idea of the colonies as passive laboratories of modernity become inadequate lenses to understand the complexity of colonial visions and experiences.
    2. Stoler’s chapter on the discursive legal and ethical debates around metissage and Chakrabarty’s discussion of the Bengali modern vision of domesticity demonstrate the ways in which European bourgeois categories of public-private were contested domains in the colonies. As demonstrated in legal, political, and public print debates in colonial Indochina, Dutch East Indies, and British India, ‘private’, intimate issues of metissage and domestic ideals became ‘public’ issues and symbols of the colonial civilizational mission and creation of the modern colonial subject.
    3. Homi Bhabha’s notion of ‘ambivalence’: simultaneous identification with and alientation from the colonial Other in the formation of the colonial subject.


  1. Burton, Antoinette. At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain. University of California Press, 1998.+ (ebook)
    1. Imperial British and global history scholar Antoinette Burton has written extensively on the production of historical knowledge and relationship between 19th and 20th century Britain and colonial India. Burton examines three Indians (Pandita Ramabai at Cheltenham and Wantage, Cornelia Sorabji at Oxford, and Behramji Malabari in London) and their travel writings to Victorian Britain. Their writings demonstrate how the travel and their experience in the metropole could reaffirm and contest their colonial subject identities and also challenged constructs of Christian, Parsi, woman, man. Burton offers a critical geography of ‘imperial Britain’ as a contact zone by situating Britain as a space of colonial encounter to redefine English-ness and native-ness.


  1. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe:  Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2000.+ (ebook)
    1. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe involves three intellectual projects: 1) An examination of “Europe” as an imagined, universalizing entity rooted in 19th century European enlightenment ideals of political modernity (rule by modern institutions of the state, bureaucracy, capitalism). 2) A critique of historicism (unity of concept and development over homogenous time) and notions of ‘not-yet’ epochal, transitional understandings of history where European modernity is a “measuring rod of social progress” for political modernity in non-Western societies. 3) An alternative study of history rooted in context, place, translations, incommesurabilities, and reconfigurations of ‘Europe’ and ‘political modernity.’ Chakrabarty uses the case of Bengali middle class experience with political modernity.
      1. The third project of ‘provincializing’ Europe poses the question of History 2 (interruptions of History 1 dominated by universal narrative of capital) and the writing of subaltern Indian history. For example, how do we translate Hindu gods, rituals, and superstition into the universal History 1 (secular, godlessness, capital and reason dxsriven)? Chakrabarty describes this process as the translation of incommensurable temporalities into the “homogenous time of abstract labor” and the traanstion of nonhistory to history. (p. 929)
    2. Cooper: “Dipesh Chakrabarty, for example, justly criticizes versions of Indian history, colonialist, nationalist, or Marxist, which measure the colonized by how well they succeeded in class formation and state-building—where Europe supposedly led the way—and attribute their failures to certain lacks on their part (of a proper working class, of a proper bourgeoisie). He instead calls for the “provincialization” of Europe, its history seen as particular rather than as a universal model.” Where European history flattened into a post-Enlightenment era of rationality, bourgeois equality, modernity, liberalism.and claim of progress.


  1. Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. + (ebook)
    1. Historian of Africa Frederick Cooper examines a half century of colonial studies scholarship. Cooper critiques the recent trend that examines ‘colonialism’ as an abstract concept rather than a historical process with unstable and contested categories and manifested in institutions, places, times, and people. Ubiquitous terms such as ‘identity,’ ‘globalization,’ and ‘modernity’ flatten the complexity and contingency of colonialism into generic, sweeping ideas of “European capitalist modernity after 1492.” Cooper describes the dominance of modernization theory in colonial scholarship 1950’s-1970’s, and critical theory ideas of modernity 1980’s-1990’s—both of which occlude historical analysis. Cooper draws from the 1951 essay “The Colonial Situation” by Georges Balandier to call for colonial studies that historically contextualize colonial societies and power relations rather than rely upon abstract concepts of colonial modernity, governmentality, and identity.
  2. Ballantyne, Tony, and Antoinette M. Burton. Bodies In Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters In World History. Duke University Press, 2005.+
    1. A cross-disciplinary teaching anthology on ‘world history’, Bodies in Contact is a collection of essays on the colonial encounter through the lens of globalization and /global contact, connections, and conflict. Drawing from Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of “contact zones” (real and imagined spaces in which cultures and their agents come together in circumstances of asymmetrical power) and Michel Foucault’s “biopower (the policing of the normal, deviant, pathological, and primitive), the authors consider the body as discursive object and materiality of power. This approach of ‘the body as method’ foregrounds the often elided narratives of women, gender, and sexuality within world history. Through histories of surveillance and control of the female body, the nation, school, home, and street as body, and history of medicine and motherhood opens up the discussion of women and gender. The centrality of bodies as raced, sexed, classed, and ethnicized also widens the conversation of the material impact of colonial power on everyday life. Some themes discussed include the gendered mapping of the world into hierarchies of race and sexuality, transgressions into gendered and racialized spaces (such as clubs).
  3. Guha, Ranajit. Small Voice of History: Collected Essays. Ranikhet : Bangalore: Orient Blackswan, 2010. (Focus on Ch. 9, 11, 13) * volume of Guha’s essays
    1. “On some aspects of the historiography of colonial India”: Guha argues that the historiography of Indian nationalism is dominated by elitism (colonialist and bourgeois-nationalist elitism). The politics of the people and masses (subaltern peasants) are left out of elite historiography and subjected to generalizations as peasant masses without political consciousness. Subaltern politics failed to develop into a powerful struggle for national liberation and thus have continued to be left out of political narrative of nation. Compared to elite politics, subaltern politics are achieved horizontally, rely on traditional organization of kinship and territoriality, class associations, and possibly more violent and spontaneous. Furthermore, the central problematic of historiography of colonial India is the failure of the nation to come through by 19th century bourgeois-democratic revolution with a hegemony of the bourgeoisie or a hegemony of workers and peasants.
    2. “The Career of an Anti-God in Heaven and on Earth”:
    3. “Chandra’s Death”: Ranajit Guha examines the event and archival record of “Chandra’s Death” to understand how a historical small event served as a discursive site for the state, law, and community. From this understanding of the constructed nature of the archival documents, Guha reads against the archival grain of the life and death of a 19th century peasant Bagdis woman, Chandra, to reveal the subaltern story of women’s struggle to live in patriarchal moral standards. Guha demonstrates how the decision to terminate Chandra’s unwanted pregnancy (which led to her unintended death) involved a network of family and women—invested in controlling the sexuality of women, maintaining a standard of morality, but also of female solidarity. In light of patriarchal power imbalances and the collective female empathy of Chandra, Guha points to womens’ moment of realization of the contradictions of victimhood and injustice.


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