Decolonization did not lead smoothly or seamlessly into a world of independent nation-states, and many anticolonial leaders, activists, and communities were left disappointed by the societies and politics that emerged. This workshop explores decolonization as a moment of simultaneous expansion and contraction for political and social possibility. “Decolonization’s Discontents” centers those who dissented against emerging (inter)national socio-political norms, thereby interrogating decolonization’s limitations, the tensions between anticolonial and postcolonial visions of personhood and nationhood, and lingering opportunities for transnational activism in a milieu increasingly divided by nation-state borders and politics.
This workshop seeks to explore oppositional politics and modes of dissent in the era of decolonization. Much has been written about competing and overlapping forms of mobilization that arose as colonial subjects and organizations (both elite and non-elite) fought for political independence across the colonized world, with focus on intra-colonial, regional, and global forms of activism and circuits of knowledge. But what happened after the “moment” of decolonization? Decolonization necessitated the triumph of certain nationalist visions and political frameworks over others, often led by the individuals and groups with whom former colonial powers were most willing to negotiate. In turn, these groups have often dominated narratives in and of colonies-turned-states, in part because they were positioned to actively shape emerging national histories of local independence struggles. In consequence, far less attention has been paid to the afterlives of those individuals and groups that were excluded from new state bureaucracies and positions of influence. Yet many of them continued their activities in a variety of forms – as political parties, civil society organizations, guerilla movements, the list goes on.
This workshop will delve into the ways that oppositional groups, drawing on longer lineages of anticolonial thought and practice, continued to pursue both utopian and practical schemes for social and political change in and across newly independent states. It seeks to explore the ways in which marginalized actors continued to pursue decolonization and its promises long after the formal transfer of power, in some instances achieving success but, in many others, facing disappointment. It seeks to bridge the gap between area studies and global histories of decolonization by exploring modes of opposition both comparatively and connectively.
Potential avenues of exploration include:
- How did anticolonial leaders, organizations, and movements that ended up ostracized from power channel their ideas and activities into new forms in the years following formal independence?
- How did they reframe their ideas and motivations?
- In what ways did individuals and collectives offer alternative forms of political and social mobilization?
- To what extent did they seek to work within national frameworks or seek alternatives?
- What opportunities persisted for transnational mobilization, and which were increasingly eliminated?
- How did this contribute to post-independence nation- and state-making, or alternatively undermine it?
This workshop, led by Elisabeth Leake of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Erez Manela of Harvard University, and additionally sponsored by the University of Leeds, will take place in hybrid form in Boston, USA, on 22-23 September 2023. Proposals from scholars based in the Global South and early career researchers are particularly encouraged. Funding is currently being sought to bring as many participants to the in-person event as possible.
Workshop papers will be published in either a special issue or edited volume. By submitting a proposal, contributors agree to take part in workshop publication plans. Interested contributors should submit:
- Contributor contact information
- Paper title
- A 150-word paper summary
- An abstract of no more than 500 words
- A brief CV (3 pages maximum)
These should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 2 January 2023, 17:00 EST, with the subject line “Decolonization’s Discontents submission.” Participants will be notified by mid-February.