Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Postcolonialism, Development, and Education

  • Dip Kapoor
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_188


This entry considers the colonial contexts of development, including development as neocolonialism in the postindependence period, followed by a consideration of the role(s) of education designed for development and the attendant academic or literary postcolonial critiques of postwar development and education. Often neglected in academic postcolonial scholarship, anti-/decolonial postcolonialism emergent from the works of scholar activists and indigenous and land-based sovereignty politics and related conceptions and practices of development and education in the postcolony are also given due consideration.

Colonial Developmental Contexts and Civilizing Missions

The French Enlightenment political philosopher Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet in his book, Outlines of a Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, proffered the following questions: Will all nations one day attain that state of civilization which the most enlightened, the freest, and the least burdened by prejudices, such as the French and the Anglo-American, have attained already? Will the vast gulf that separates these people from the slavery of nations under the rule of monarchs, from the barbarism of African tribes, and from the ignorance of savages little by little disappear? According to Condorcet, these immense countries, to arrive at civilization, appeared only to wait till Europeans furnished them with the means, at which point they would instantly become friends and disciples. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and ostensible founder of modern political science, writing in 1754, suspected that Negros and in general all the other species of men were naturally inferior to the Whites, i.e., there never was, according to Hume, a civilized nation of any other complexion than White nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. Civilizational and racial deficits were translated into knowledge and educational inferiority prompting the British antislavery activist Thomas Macaulay to pontificate that even a single shelf of European literature was worth all the books of India and Arabia. He subsequently suggested the liquidation of indigenous culture through the linguistic colonization (by English) of the Indian educational system in the early nineteenth century.

The self-proclaimed civilizing responsibility and alleged racial superiority referenced by these Europeans were notably predicated upon various expressions of colonial developmental violence including slavery, genocide, unbridled exploitation of natural resources and labor, and oft irreversible restructuring of local political economies toward capital, a unique distinction of modern European colonial (racialized) capitalist development (Quijano 2000; Rodney 1972). These emasculations are variously documented in colonial critiques forwarded by the likes of Eduardo Galeano (Open Veins of Latin America), Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa), Hamza Alavi (Capitalism and Colonial Production: South Asia), Syed Hussein Alatas (Myth of the Lazy Native: Malaya) and Pramoedya Ananta Toer (The Buru Quartet: Indonesia), Dadabhai Naoroji (Poverty and Un-British Rule in India), and Frantz Fanon (Wretched of the Earth: Africa).

Eduardo Galeano (1973), with reference to the sixteenth-century Spanish silver extraction from the Potosi mines of Bolivia, noted that if one took all the silver mined from this hill, it could build a bridge from Potosi to Spain, while another bridge could also be built from Potosi to Spain with the bones of the Inca slaves who died in these mines (eight million Incas are estimated to have died during Spanish silver extraction). Belgian colonialism is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of ten million Congolese killed in the pursuit of rubber and ivory wherein native refusal to tap rubber for the colonialists often meant losing a hand or a life. The eighteenth–nineteenth-century exploits of the British East India Company in Bengal, the richest State at the time, included the introduction of English landlordism, the tripling of land taxes, the dispossession of some 20 million small holders including forced conversions to growing opium for export to China (see Opium Wars), the eventual destruction of the local textile industry, and the subsequent famine-related deaths of a third of the population (ten million people), prompting then governor-general William Bentinck to comment that the bones of cotton weavers were bleaching the plains of India and that such misery could hardly be found in the history of commerce.

Frantz Fanon concluded that “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World…an opulence that has been fuelled by the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races” (1963, p. 76), while Mohandas Gandhi, when asked by a journalist what he thought of Western civilization, is rumoured to have replied with cynicism that it would be a very good idea.

Postwar Development and Education

A century and a half later since Condorcet and Hume and shortly after the Second World War, as the colonized worlds achieved statehood and official independence from their colonial occupiers, this racialized civilizing mission of the European powers became the ideological foundation of the postcolonial colonial modern development mission (Duffield and Hewitt 2013; Levy and Young 2011) echoed in the Point Four Program (or Fair Deal aimed at spreading the promise of science, technology, and industrialization) promulgated by President Harry S. Truman of the USA, for the “Third World”: a spatiotemporalpolitical pejorative, if not fallacy, drawn from nineteenth-century French economic demographer Alfred Sauvy’s use of the term referring to the marginal Third Estate or Tiers Monde in France. An emergent neocolonialism (see Kwame Nkrumah) soon defined the continued exploitation of the “officially independent” colonies in the continued interests of Euro-American capitalist development. Over two-thirds of the world’s people from Africa, Asia, Latin American, and the Caribbean were consigned to the dustbin of history as backward, traditional, deficient, and once again in need of Euro-American aid, tutelage, and beneficence (via the Development Project; see Philip McMichael) in all matters of being but primarily in relation to the economic and ostensibly to address poverty through international state-capital-centered Euro-American modernization (Escobar 1995; Rist 2002/2014).

The subsequent installation of Bretton Woods institutions (e.g., IMF and World Bank) controlled by the imperial powers (e.g., voting rights according to capital shares) in the context of the Cold War together provided the institutional architecture for what has been dubbed as the Marshall Plan for the “Third World.” Contemporary United Nations expressions of this project include the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs (2000–2015) and the recent Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. Both sets of goals include focuses around education and literacy, while the World Bank continues to be the dominant funder and global developer of these educational initiatives. Development theorists and theory (Peet and Hartwick 1999) play an integral part in informing these institutions and goals and in addressing the perennial project of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden, potentially ensuring that neocolonialism continues to transform the capitalist modern West from a geo-temporal entity to a psychological category wherein it seems “the West is now everywhere, within the West and outside, in structures and in minds” (Nandy 1983, p. xi).

For development economists (dominant for the first two postwar decades), whether liberal, classical Marxists or neo-Marxists (see Dependency Theory and World Systems Theory critiques of capitalist modernization and the “development of underdevelopment theory” – influential from the 1960s to the early 1980s in Latin America), decolonization was a matter of adopting industrial development predicated on scientific rationality and the inescapable tide of technological advance along capitalist (or its Keynesian welfare variants) or socialist political–economic revolutionary historical trajectories.

In the Theory of Economic Progress written in 1944, C. S. Ayres proclaimed the inevitability of industrial life and values while claiming that the irrational values of prescientific and preindustrial (tribal) cultures were doomed. Sociological theories of modernization, including psychosocial and behavioral theories proposing traditional–modern binaries, imposed disempowering and homogenizing deficit constructions on traditional societies and peoples (Third World), which were colonially productive if not tautological. Sociologists Alex Inkeles and David Smith compared (evaluated) Ahmadullah (rural/traditional man) to Nuril (urban/modern man) in Bangladesh. The American psychologist David McClelland set out to demonstrate need achievement scores (low- and high-achievement countries) and differentials warranting achievement motivation training interventions (education) to stimulate economic development in the “Third World.”

These initial theoretical foundations of the macro development project were also instructive for theorizing education and international development (McCowan and Unterhalter 2015). In keeping with the modernizing Zeitgeist, neoliberal capitalist development necessitated an education which trained and enhanced worker’s skills for economic growth and productivity while measuring educational worth in terms of returns on educational investment (Human Capital Theory). Neo-Marxist theories encouraged a revolutionary critical education (toward socialism) which addressed economic exploitation and the reproduction of inequality (including de-linking from First World dependency) inevitably linked to capitalist modernizations. Micro-perspectives on (alternative) development based on radical democratic and humanist traditions stimulated various forms of local/community and individual empowerment schemes through participatory learning and action for local development predicated on transforming consciousness and the development of a just society (see  Freire, Paulo (1921–1997)); and liberal egalitarianism emphasized educational opportunity to equip all individuals for full participation in a democratic society and a humanized capitalist economy addressing basic needs, human rights, human development (all capacities), gender, the environment and citizenship, and good governance, i.e., an education which assumed and reproduced liberal (reformed) market colonialism and imperialism. This was, by some accounts, a product of both the Communist threat during the Cold War and as part of an exercise in the management of discontent associated with poverty and inequality caused by market-led development, if not the rising tide of expectations stimulated by consumer capitalism.

The World Education Crisis signaled by Philip Coombs in the early 1970s put mass modern (capitalist) education (and education equals schooling and associated nonformal interventions) on the development map, eventually prompting the World Conferences on Education for All (e.g., Jomtien, Thailand in 1990) and related MDG and SDG inclusions insisting on the global expansion of modern schooling as a self-evident good, i.e., professing an educational ideology (education cures all) while maintaining a deafening silence around the question of educational neocolonialism(s) and cultural imperialism being reproduced via EFA in the postcolonial era (an alleged historical rupture from the colonial period as per this dominant rhetoric).

Literary (Academic) Postcolonialism, Development, and Education: Discursive and Representational Interventions

Addressing postcolonialism and development, Christine Sylvester suggests that one field begins where the other refuses to look. While both fields are preoccupied with the “colonies” and North–South relations, there are predictably significant (debatable) points of tension and difference (McEwan 2009, p. 2) including:
  1. 1.

    Applicability, where development knowledge (economics) invites translation into practice (mainly macro solutions/interventions), while academic postcolonialism (literature) mainly concerns itself with critiquing colonial discourse and representations;

  2. 2.

    Theoretical objectives, where development is concerned with modernist transformation based on universal concepts and plans, while academic postcolonialism seeks to question and undo “development” as a Eurocentric invention masquerading as universalist; and

  3. 3.

    Methodologically, where development is selectively ahistorical (e.g., colonial silence), macro, and measurement focused, while academic postcolonialism is preoccupied with the (colonial) historical, micro-experiential (difference/context) and culture, representation, identity, and discourse.


The academic (literary) postcolonial scholarship of Edward Said pertaining to Orientalism and othering; Homi Bhabha and the unintentional subversive potential of hybridity and mimicry; Gayatri Spivak and the question of subalternity, representation, and articulation; and Dipesh Chakrabarty’s discursive attempts to unseat Europe as the sovereign theoretical subject, i.e., Provincializing Europe to disrupt intellectual dependency and recognize other knowledge(s) (see Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory) have provided the basis for postcolonial critical engagements with the Development (Theory) Project on these and other counts (McEwan 2009), including in relation to dominant conceptions of education for development.

Postcolonial education (in relation to grand narratives pertaining to development and beyond) (McCowan and Unterhalter 2015) deconstructs dominant conceptions of development, related “othering,” and caricaturing through binaries (e.g., traditional–modern) and dominant representations and prescriptions while stimulating critical educational pedagogies (pursuing decolonization of the mind) which, for example, globalize curricula based on comparative-solidarity and selective inclusions of marginalized knowledge(s), if not complete lobotomies as in the case of languages (see Ngugi wa Thiong’o); emphasizes critique and a pedagogy of ethics and hope to encourage empathy (not detachment) as opposed to compassion-based approaches in vogue in development education; and questions academic development tourism and field research by academics while suggesting a need for self-reflexivity (unlearning of privilege, acknowledging complicity, learning to learn from below, etc.) in these cross border/cultural engagements (McEwan 2009). Decolonizing education, research, and knowledge production in the interests of epistemic and cognitive justice and pluralizing the quest for universals and global citizenship are some primary concerns of an academic postcolonial education and development engagement.

According to Chandra Mohanty (see Feminism Without Borders), however, while discursive categories are clearly central sites of contestation, they must be grounded in and informed by the material politics of everyday life, especially the daily life struggles for survival of those written out of history. That said, as another body of critical colonial theorizing suggests, academic contestations over discourse/knowledge and education/development (mental decolonization) not only need to be informed by but also need to actively engage in/with the material politics of everyday life and these struggles for survival.

Anti-/Decolonial Postcolonialisms, Development, and Education: Indigenous, Peasant, and Land-Based Sovereignty Politics

While “development studies” rarely listens to the subaltern, the academic and literary postcolonialism of the comfortable classes tends not to be concerned with material politics or with, according to Christine Sylvester, whether the subaltern is eating.

Anticolonial (revolutionary nationalisms and place-based movements), anti-capitalist, indigenous sovereignty (decolonial), and modified socialist politics worked out in and through concrete social struggles offer other colonial critiques, conceptions, and practices of development and education that register historical and continuing material projects generally overlooked by academic and literary postcolonialists and developmentalists alike. These formulations are informed by an engaged-activist intelligentsia of the likes of Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral, Ranajit Guha, and Jose Mariátegui, to name a few possibilities while also germinating from various social struggles in semirural indigenous and small/landless peasant regions and contexts of the postcolony (e.g., Zapatista Army of National Liberation or EZLN movement in Chiapas, Mexico; Landless Workers Movement or MST in Brazil). Colonialism, after all, meaning to cultivate, inhabit, and guard as derived from colere in Latin, was and continues to be about land as is also evident in the current land-grab practices of richer States and agribusiness in economically exploitable regions (“Third World”) akin to the empty land hypotheses or the legal basis (doctrine of discovery) for the same during the colonial Age of Discovery.

Sharing a concern for material exploitation with Marxist scholarship and revolutionary politics, Euro-American development and education are variously critiqued, bypassed, resisted, or radically reconstructed in different contexts of the “postcolony” through anticolonial and anti-proletarian material (developmental) struggle over land (dispossession) and labor (servitude). Unlike developmental and educational modernizations predicated on capitalist or Marxist (and in-between) incorporations into the historical pathway of Europe and America, many indigenous scholars anticolonial revolutionary critics proposed conceptions and relations with land as central to political economies and cultures. This enabled a land-based anti- or decolonial politics which jettisoned incorporations into the colonial imperatives of capital (i.e., privatization imperatives of land and agro-industrial colonizations of rural spaces and bodies) and Marxism (i.e., prognostications of inevitability around capitalist dispossession of land and exploitation of labor and revolutionary class struggle thereof from within and against capital and toward modern industrial socialism).

Karl Marx dismissed rurality and peasants as counterrevolutionary in sociopolitical terms, while the idea of revolution was appropriated by the Marxist class-based project. Anticolonial revolutionary activists and intelligentsia affirm the political and revolutionary possibility of the indigenous and the peasantry as anticolonial revolutionaries informed by a land-based sovereignty. According to Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos (2001) of the EZLN in Chiapas, Mexico, the problem is that they want to take our land so that our feet have nothing to stand on. In the Algerian context, Frantz Fanon (1963) notes that for the colonized “land is the most meaningful” as it is “the land which must provide bread and, naturally dignity” but all the colonized “has ever seen on his land is that he can be arrested, beaten, and starved with impunity” (p. 9). He affirms that in “colonial countries only the peasantry is revolutionary. It has nothing to lose and everything to gain” and that “colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat” given that it is incapable of reasoning; as a “naked violence” (p. 23). Some Marxist historians and activists in the Indian and South Asian context similarly addressed a peasant and tribal subaltern (sacral) politics in an attempt to write histories from below and register subaltern agency/history and organization in/from a potentially autonomous (from elite nationalist or imperial) political domain (Guha 1982), expressed today as a politics of sovereignty in some rural struggles addressing development dispossession (Harvey 2003) in the “postcolony.”

In theoretical, materialist, and political terms and as a continued critique of economic exploitation, anti-/decolonial postcolonial developmentalists have suggested that Marxist imperatives break down in colonial contexts as colonial political–economic structures actually thwarted (halted or disrupted) class formation that accompanies (from a Marxist perspective) the development of market production and therefore the prospects for class-based revolution/politics.

This denial of the historical process of development (colonization stopped indigenous history) of national productive forces, a violent colonial usurpation, called for a revolution that did not change history (Marxism) but restored it by linking a colonial future to the precolonial past, not as nostalgia but as a renewed continuity (Cabral 1979; Marcos 2001; Mariátegui 1996). Speaking in relation to the contexts of Cape Verde and Guinea, Amilcar Cabral calls for a counterforce to restore the history of the colonized, one that takes back the land from the Portuguese colonialists who have taken the land in order to “halt our history for us to remain tied to the history of Portugal as if we were a wagon on their train” (Cabral 1979, p. 32). The basis for common ground and political–economic unity subsequently had less to do with class (which was not significantly introduced as suggested) than it did with a unity of/around territory; taking back the land for those who have lived in the same place and ensuring that its production is for their own use, i.e., are the economic activities on a given land supporting its inhabitants?

According to this proposition, the relationship between a land and (indigenous) population is seen as the key to historical development as opposed to the history of class struggle and development and education (for development) as modern industrial civilizational progress. In so doing, the likes of Cabral and Marcos, if not Fanon and Guha, variously affirm and restore the historical agency (and history) of peasant and indigenous collectives denied under Marxist historical prognostications singularly tied to the class struggle in relation to capital and the European historical journey (hence the charge of Eurocentrism) and a case in point pertaining to the Local Histories/Global Designs proposition (see Walter Mignolo).

Indigenous development socialisms (Mariátegui 1996), for example, are put forward on material and political (and not just normative and utopian) grounds while pointing to the superior productivity of pre-Incan communalism based on ayllu (community) and practices like minga (collective labor) when compared to the Spanish colonial capital-feudal criollo estates and haciendas while acknowledging the political significance of myth as motivation and inspiration (what subalternists in Asia refer to as a fundamentally religious subaltern politics) for strong collective bonds to account for Peru and Latin America’s varied indigenous political experience from Europe and the individualistic and isolated French peasant, prompting Marx’s pejorative analogy comparing them to a sack of potatoes (disunited and politically impotent). The strong links between community and land (basis of political struggle) make communal modes of production for local needs politically feasible, if not desirable even on normative, spiritual, and historical grounds as stressed in an indigenous sovereignty politics of decolonization (Marcos 2001; Meyer and Alvarado 2010; Sankaran 2008).

Education as formal schooling by the neocolonial developmentalist state (and private interests) under these localized conceptions of development and sovereignty based on historical and collective modes and ways of being linked to land as place, territory, and history is a space of colonial contestation against domination. Parallel if not entirely different spaces of education are often put forward in these contexts of struggle. In illustration, Raul Zibechi points to three examples of “education born in the basement of our societies” (borrowing a Zapatista phrase) “by those without” referring to Indians and peasants in (1) a school created by a community/ayllu (e.g., Warisata, Bolivia), (2) the “dislocated school” in a movement (e.g., Landless Workers Movement or MST, Brazil), and (3) the Andean and Zapatista schools encouraging the art of learning (e.g., Kichwas weaving) (Meyer and Alvarado 2010, pp. 317–328).

With their respective contextual and political variations, a similar anti-/decolonial sovereignty-related land-based developmental politics and education are informing myriad and current food sovereignty struggles (see Food First, GRAIN, War on Want or Journal of Peasant Studies), anti-development dispossession (e.g., by mining and agribusiness land grabs) movements, and indigenous and small/landless peasant politics in numerous locations of the “postcolony” (see The Via Campesina indigenous and small/landless peasant “postcolony” network organization).

These anti-/decolonial postcolonial activisms and associated demands for sovereignty based on the notion of land held in common and comunalidad (Meyer and Alvarado 2010) (also see Ubuntu and African Socialism) contradict Lockean liberal conceptions of land as private property and modern capitalist developmental claims based on superior productivity for profit and the related deployment of terra nullius. Postcolonial engaged-activist theories and material movement practices continue to register a contemporary relevance, however unspectacular under the terms of a modern colonial capitalist Zeitgeist, if not a continued developmental and educational relevance derived from a material and cultural history pre-dating the Enlightenment and the coloniality of Euro-American power, development, and an education for development.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada