Postcolonial Hybridity and Economics

Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela argue for a melding of postcolonial theory and economics in order to smash the disciplinary dividing walls that currently separate them as disciplines:

The strength of postcolonial theory lies in its emphasis on the problems of cultural hegemony/subalternity and identity formation, which has generated a number of key concepts that provide potentially rich applications in the realm of economy.  The contributions in this volume show that the notions of orientalism, ambivalence, and transmigrancy can all be productively deployed in a critique of Economics.  Even the beleaguered concept of hybridity – if understood as an indication of advanced cultural mixing and instability, instead of being dismissed as a playful, perhaps even politically irresponsible, celebration of migrancy and transnationalism – can provide a powerful resource for troubling the homogenizing epistemology of economics.  A concrete example of the significance of taking on board such insights can be given by the case of post-development literature which could benefit tremendously from the more complex theoretical rendering of culture and contemporary life, and the nonessentialist understanding of subalternity offered by postcolonial theory.

Economics, on the other hand, regardless of all its ailments, affords the central concern with understanding the organization of material life.  However, this organization cannot be assumed a priori as a manifestation of a universal economic truth.  Postcolonial sensibility is antithetical to the common epistemological urge in Economics to strip all social/cultural phenomena down to a calculable quantum, and, in effect, occlude heterogeneity.  But, several perspectives in Economics – their modernist limitations notwithstanding – offer important insights for catachrestic postcolonial appropriation.  For example, building on the Veblenian institutionalist emphasis on culture and path dependence, a non-modernist position can argue for an economic approach that theorizes postcolonial societies as contemporary cultural constructions, with coeval modes of being and provisioning, rather than ‘less developed’ or ‘pre-modern,’ without disputing either the instrumental value of technological improvement or instrumental valuing as an aspect of human behavior.  Placing the valuation of instrumental value itself within cultural context opens up more space for truly substantive economic analysis.  Similarly, the Marxian preoccupation with exploitation and class continues to have tremendous relevance although it can no longer be sustained within the theoretical framework of classical Marxism.  A postcolonial reappropriation may dispose of these elements and reconceptualize class relations on the basis of their specific, indeterminate contemporary formations, with no presumption of a particular historical trajectory (8-9).

It would be interesting for the editors to expound on “classical Marxism” and what that means as well as why a class analysis “can no longer be sustained within” its theoretical framework.  Especially because they are arguing for sustaining the theoretical framework(s) of postcolonial theory(ies) by having it subsume (but not displace) contemporary economic theory.  Through this line of thinking one could also argue for a Marxism(s) that is essentially sustained but through complementing and subsuming parts of postcolonial and contemporary economic theories.  This leads to continuous fluidity between all theories which lead to more than just the sustaining of (simply) postcolonial theory.


Zein-Elabdin, Eiman O. and S. Charusheela.  2004.  Introduction: Economics and postcolonial thought.  In Postcolonialism Meets Economics.  Eds. Eiman O. Zein-Elabdin and S. Charusheela, 1-18.  New York: Routledge.

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