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Autonomy, Transnational Literacies, and Planetarity: Emergent Cultural Imaginaries of Research Engagement


Diana BrydonDiana Brydon

This paper introduces my engagements with cultural studies as an interdisciplinary and collaborative activity devoted to understanding how people make meanings within different cultural contexts under changing historical and economic pressures. I will argue that how communities imagine the spaces open to their agency is crucial in shaping the futures we can devise. The work conducted under the auspices of my Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Cultural Studies is shaped by my formation within postcolonial studies, understood as a decolonizing project linking cognitive and social justice. I speak from that location today.

I begin with this premise: The project set out in postcolonial studies has not been realized, in either the academy or in the world beyond academia. Effective decolonization of the imagination has yet to be achieved. Internal disputes pitting theory against practice, university work against political work, or resistance against complicity, miss the potential of postcolonial thinking to recast these relations within a different mold. It is easier now to see that these arenas, once understood as separate, are actually connected. But the potentially transformative impact of postcolonial thinking has yet to be felt. Globalization is superseding colonialism/imperialism as an interpretative frame, but many thinkers remain wedded to older frameworks. Gurminder Bhambra argues persuasively that sociology has failed to transform its categories and the structures of its investigations in response to postcolonial critique. Malreddy Pavan Kumar concludes that “a neo-assimilatory process is already underway as most mainstream disciplines (sociology, psychology) list postcolonialism as just another methodology in their respective disciplinary traditions” (669). Most assessments concur: postcolonial critique has had an additive impact, enlarging the scope of disciplinary investigations without achieving a fully transformative impact. Amin Alhassen, in contrast, argues that the postcolonial perspectives that Communications Studies relegates to its margins have actually been at its centre all along but only as an unacknowledged influence (110) and a “structuring absence” (115). His argument requires closer attention but does not substantially alter the general conclusion to be drawn. The research imagination has yet to be “deparochialized” (Appadruai 2000; 2007). “Cognitive justice” has yet to be achieved (Santos)

Address to Canadian Association of Cultural Studies November 2011Consult the online advance pdf at this url

excerpt “As part of my university’s homecoming celebrations this year, I was asked to speak along with several colleagues at the first of our year-long series of “visionary conversations” called “Apocalypse or Utopia”. Each of us was given five minutes to introduce one of the university’s strategic themes in an evening designed to engage the educated general public. My assignment was “Culture and Creativity.” My talk tried to complicate these concepts and especially to suggest that it may not be helpful to cast our choices in such starkly messianic terms. The concepts I offer today bypass both apocalypse and utopia.”
Visionary Conversations: Culture and Creativity

Works Cited

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“Earth, World, Planet:  Where does the Postcolonial Literary Critic Stand?” In Cultural Transformations: Perspectives on Translocation in a Global Age, ed. Chris Prentice, Henry Johnson, and Vijay Devadas. Rodopi, 2010. 3-29.

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Rethmann, Petra, Imre Szeman, and William D. Coleman (2010) Cultural Autonomy: Frictions and Connections. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. (2003). Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press.

—. (1990) The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, ed. Sarah Harasym. New York: Routledge.

—. (2006) “World Systems and the Creole.” Narrative. 14.6: 102-12.

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