Introduction: Reframing Cultures of Decolonisation

Claire Wintle, Ruth Craggs

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This introductory chapter provides the context for Cultures of Decolonisation by offering a theoretical framework for analysing the ‘end of empire’. It sets out the value of using the lens of culture, broadly understood, to explore the processes of decolonisation. Here, we argue that cultural products and sites provide a productive arena for engaging with the complexities of decolonisation as lived beyond ‘flag independence’ and constitutional reform, and that object and spatial form are active agents in the discourses of independence, nationalism, decolonisation and neo-colonialism. Diverse cultures, shaped through and contributing to ideologies of modernism, development, internationalism, reframing notions of the universal and the specific, and engaging with questions of knowledge, epistemology and expertise, were crucial in the remaking of the geopolitical landscape in the mid-twentieth century. Material culture, social spaces, and creative arenas, from the museum to the internet chat room, Royal Mint and dictionary, are highlighted as sites for commentary and reflection, activism and articulation, and the celebration and negotiation of decolonisation. Having established the importance of image, object, text and practice in thinking through decolonisation, a series of claims about the nature of decolonisation are made: first, we argue for the need to redraw Eurocentric historiographies of decolonisation and highlight the activities and agency of decolonising and newly independent nations and individuals within and alongside analyses of metropolitan cultures of decolonisation. Second, we argue for the transnational and international nature of decolonisation, highlighting movements and networks – of people, ideas and things – between places and across borders, emphasising instances of solidarity and cross-fertilisation amongst individuals and communities, and the role that the cultural realm had in facilitating these exchanges beyond the high politics of empire. The role of the individual actor (working in tandem with the designed and natural world, and political and cultural frameworks) is particularly emphasised. In acknowledging the impact of the so-called periphery on decolonisation in this way, parallel assumptions about the origins of modernism and modernity are also contested. Finally, it is argued that we must pay attention to the shifting and non-linear temporalities of decolonisation. It is in the cultures of decolonisation that we can see more clearly the pre-histories, continuing legacies, resurgences, and contradictory trajectories of this phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultures of Decolonisation: Transnational Productions and Practices, 1945-1970
EditorsR. Craggs, C. Wintle
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780719096525
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameStudies in Imperialism


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