Guide to Research in Post-Colonial Theory

In recent years, post-colonial theory has posed some of the most far-reaching questions for literary scholars and students alike. By focusing on subjectivity, identity, power, and knowledge, post-colonial theory enables readers to ask questions about who speaks, for whom, under what conditions, and to what ends. Since the wide-spread collapse of colonialism, cultures that were former European colonies have been working to define and understand themselves outside the bounds of colonialism.

Although a substantial and highly diverse body of post-colonial literature has emerged from former colonized cultures in Asia, Africa, South and Central America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, this pathfinder focuses primarily on post-colonial theory. Since the questions post-colonial theory raises can be applied to post-colonial as well as colonial literature, the vast body of literature that can be read through post-colonial theory is far too unwieldy to be covered in this pathfinder.

This pathfinder is designed to help graduate students and upper-level undergraduates familiarize themselves with current theoretical approaches to the post-colonial. Because of the high reading level of these works, readers who have no background in literary theory may find many of the works overly complex. Unless otherwise noted, all listed items are available in the Main Library at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Site Contents

| Browsing Areas & Subject Headings | Articles | Books | Bibliographies |
Dictionaries | Encyclopedias | Indexes and Abstracts | Journals | Internet Sources |

Browsing Areas & Subject Headings

Consult the following browsing areas and subject headings for additional resources on post-colonial theory. The subject headings listed below may be searched individually or in combination for a more specific search.

Library of Congress Browsing Areas
  • JC11-607 – Political Theory.
  • JV1-9480 – Colonies and Colonization. Emigration and Immigration. International Migration.
  • PN45-57 – Literature - Theory. Philosophy. Esthetics.
  • PR1-56 – English Literature - Literary History and Criticism.
  • PR9080 – Commonwealth and Postcolonial Theory.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Colonialism, Commonwealth Literature, Critical Theory, Decolonization, Decolonization in Literature, Imperialism, Imperialism in Literature, Orientalism, Politics and Culture, Postcolonialism, and Postcolonialism in Literature.

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While numerous books and journals contain articles on post-colonial theory, the following article is one of the most influential works in post-colonial studies as well as subaltern studies. Additional articles may be located by searching the resources listed under the Indexes and Abstracts section below.

  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 271-313. ISBN: 0252011082 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - HX523 .M3766 1988]
    Spivak explores the relationship between the "S/subject" and the Other and the subaltern's identity in terms power and discourse. The subaltern subject is unable to "know and speak itself" because it exists only within imperialist histories and is characterized by its unconsciousness of its conditions of existence (Spivak 285). Because the subaltern cannot speak, social texts must be examined for "what the work cannot say" (287).

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The following list of books includes both seminal theoretical works and compilations of influential writings. Undergraduates and individuals with no background in literary theory will benefit from the compilations as they outline what is at stake and provide an overview of the major theorists, issues, and themes associated with post-colonial theory. Graduate students and individuals with a literary theory background will benefit more from the theoretical works as they probe more deeply into post-colonial issues.

  • Afzal-Khan, Fawzia, and Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks, eds. The Pre-Occupation of Postcolonial Studies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. ISBN: 0822324865 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV51 .P74 2000]

    In this book, the editors seek to create a dialog among multiple theorists and positions within post-colonial studies. The book explores both the occupation of post-colonial studies—knowledge and institutional politics—and the preoccupation of post-colonial studies—modernity, sexuality, and nation.

  • Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. ISBN: 0860913295 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JC311 .A656 1991]

    Anderson attempts to explain the "'anomaly' of nationalism" by discussing its origins and the factors contributing to it (6). He defines nation as being imagined by its members as a limited, sovereign community. The advent of the printing press and the mass publication of novels and religious texts, however, unified large groups of people under a common written language, giving them a sense of "nation."

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffins, and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. 2nd ed. London, New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 0415012082 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR9080 .A85 2002]

    This book "has become a standard text in postcolonial studies, a field that has grown exponentially [. . .]. Its success is no doubt owed to the volume's lucid handling of many of the complexities of postcolonialism, as well as its capacity to forge connections" with other disciplines (Grant, Robert. Journal of Transatlantic Studies. 1 (2): 2003. 252).

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffins, and Helen Tiffin, eds. Post-Colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. ISBN: 0415096219 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR9080 .P57 1995]

    This book "is able to capture successfully a sense of the range, depth, and diversity of post-colonial writing, theory, and criticism in a collection of nearly ninety representative pieces." The volume is divided into sections such as Representation and Resistance, Postmodernism and Post-colonialism, Nationalism, Hybridity, and Ethnicity and Indigeneity (Bose, Brinda. World Literature Today. 70(2): 1996. 483).

  • Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London, New York: Routledge, 1994. ISBN: 0415016355 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PN761 .H43 1994]

    "The book is a collection of twelve of Bhabha's essays written over the past decade, a selection which includes most of Bhabha's older and well-known writings on the formation of an (anti)colonial subjectivity. [. . .] The specific question which organizes the book is 1996" (227-232).

  • Bhabha, Homi K., ed. Nation and Narration. London, New York: Routledge, 1990. ISBN: 0415014824 [B-Main - Research Collection -Stacks - PN56 .N19 N38 1990]

    This contains sixteen essays that discuss and critique the western conception of nation and their representations within narratives. Bhabha intends the compiled readings "to evoke this ambivalent margin of the nation-space" rather than the traditional European-American center of nationalism (2).

  • Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 1998. ISBN: 0415128080 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV51 .L66 1998]

    "Ania Loomba [. . .] writes with clarity, patiently explains, provides summaries of contrary opinion, arid shows how the topics and approaches that have become part of postcolonial studies have their origins, methods, or insights in other areas such as feminism, Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and psychoanalysis" (King, Bruce. World Literature Today. 73(2): 1999. 399).

  • Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993. ISBN: 0394587383 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PN761 .S28 1993]

    In this book, Said extends the arguments he began in Orientalism, drawing connections between imperialist practices and the cultures that "reflected and reinforced" them. To support his argument, Said draws heavily on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and French novels as well as twentieth-century American political practices.

  • Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 1978. New York: Vintage, 1979. ISBN: 039474067X [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - DS112 .S24 1979]

    This is Edward Said's most influential work. In this book, he examines the Western practice of imagining the Orient as Europe's Other. Said discusses Orientalism as an academic designation, a style of thought, and a Western style of dominance over the Orient. Orientalism signifies the ways in which the West defines itself in opposition to the East.

  • Schwarz, Henry, and Sangeeta Ray, eds. A Companion to Postcolonial Studies: A Historical Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. ISBN: 0631206620 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV51 .C75 2000]

    "Ranging widely over the major themes, regions, theories, and practices of postcolonial study today, the volume presents original essays by the leading proponents of postcolonial study in the Americas, Europe, India, Africa, and East and West Asia" (Blackwell Publishers).

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Bibliographies are useful starting points for locating foundational texts and identifying important authors in specific area studies. The following five bibliographies provide information specific to post-colonial theory and on broader areas of literary studies.

  • "Annual Bibliography of Commonwealth Literature [1964-]." Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 1 (1965-). ISSN: 0021-9894 [B-Main - Research Collection Stacks - PR1.J67 1965-]

    This bibliography is published in the fourth issue of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature each year. The bibliography indexes previously silenced voices in literatures from Australia (including Papua New Guinea), Canada, India, New Zealand (with the South Pacific Islands), Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies.

  • Harner, James L. Literary Research Guide: An Annotated Listing of Reference Sources in English Literary Studies. 4th ed. New York: MLA, 2002. ISBN: 0873529820 [B-Main - Research Collection - Reference Desk - Z2001 .H34 2002]

    "Harner [. . .] offers brief yet thorough analyses of reference books, bibliographies, guides to libraries, archives, manuscripts, dissertations, biographical sources, periodicals, and Internet resources. There are sections devoted to American, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh literature, as well as other literatures in English, foreign-language translations, comparative literature, genres, and literature-related resources" (Adams, Michael. ARBA, 2003).

  • Nordquist, Joan, comp. Postcolonial Theory: A Bibliography. Social Theory: A Bibliographic Series 50. Santa Cruz: Reference and Research Services, 1999. ISBN: 0937855995 [Available through Interlibrary Loan - Z7164 .C7]

  • Nordquist, Joan, comp. Postcolonial Theory (II): Literature and the Arts. Social Theory: A Bibliographic Series 55. Santa Cruz: Reference and Research Services, 1999. ISBN: 0892068095 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - Z7161 .N672]

  • Wortman, William A. A Guide to Serial Bibliographies for Modern Literatures. 2nd ed. New York: MLA, 1995. ISBN: 0873529650 [B-Main - Research Collection - Reference and Stacks - Z6519.W67 016.805 1995]

    This research guide "should be considered a core reference tool for librarians, students, and faculty pursuing the study of modern literature and related subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels." Relevant subject headings include, but are not limited to, Comparative Literature and Translation, African Studies, Caribbean Studies, Islamic Studies, and Literary Theory and Criticism (Craver, Kathleen W. Reference Books Bulletin, 93(6): 1996. 610-611).

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Post-colonial theory, like all branches of literary theory, uses a highly specialized vocabulary and addresses a specific set of ideas. The following dictionaries are useful references for locating important terms, concepts, authors, works, and trends within post-colonial theory. These dictionaries, however, should be used only as reference works and as introductions to post-colonial theory.

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London, New York: Routledge, 1992. ISBN: 0415153034 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV22 .A84 1998]

    "Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin's volume explores the central terms and concepts in postcolonial theory by offering insight into their origins and detailing each term's various meanings. In addition to examining a wide range of concepts such as ethnicity and race, the compilers trace the history and critical usage of each term." (Baker, William, and Kenneth Womack. Style. 33(4): 1999. 508).

  • Ousby, Ian, ed. Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. ISBN: 0521440866 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR85 .C29 1993]

    This dictionary "provides entries" on authors and works outside the British Isles "that influenced or are important to the understanding of that literature. [. . .] A useful ready-reference tool for finding such information as birth and death dates and nationalities of authors, titles and summaries of major works, or definitions of literary terms or genres" (Fitzsimmons, Sarah Hayne. School Library Journal. 40(11): 1994. 138).

  • Thieme, John. Post-Colonial Studies: The Essential Glossary. London: Arnold, 2003. ISBN: 034076175X [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV22 .T45 2003]

    "This book contains nearly 400 entries on the major and upcoming figures in the field, trends, movements, literary theory and more. [. . . ] This is an invaluable reference book for scholars, students and intelligent lay readers" (Sen, Sudeep. Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 39(2): 2004. 130).

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Encyclopedias are excellent starting points for finding overviews of, and background information on, various subject areas. The encyclopedias listed below provide general information on post-colonial theory, post-colonial literature, and post-colonial studies; they should be used only as reference works and as introductions to post-colonial theory.

  • Benson, Eugene, and L.W. Conolly. Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. 2 vols. London, New York: Routledge, 1994. ISBN: 0415051991 [B-Main - Research Collection - Reference - PR9080 .A52 E53 1994]

    "A reference work covering the huge and diverse body of writing that used to be called 'Commonwealth Literature' was much needed, and in many respects this encyclopaedia supplies that need magnificently. [. . .] The general quality of entries is high: most of them are informative, accurate [. . .], and crisply written" (Williamson, Karina. Review of English Studies. 47(186): 1996. 220-221).

  • Hawley, John C. Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. ISBN: 0313311927 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PN849 .U43 E53 2001]

    "What is most striking about this particular work is its enormous scope [. . .]. Over 150 entries are alphabetically arranged and can also be accessed via cross-references provided by a comprehensive index; the book is supplemented by an extensive bibliography, and suggestions for further reading are also provided in the entries" (Stein, Mark. World Literature Today. 77(2): 2003. 156).

  • Poddar, Prem, and David Johnson. A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Thought. New York: Columbia UP, 2005. ISBN: 0231135068 [Forthcoming in 2005 - PR9080 .A52]

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Indexes and Abstracts

Both pint and online indexes and abstracts provide access to current scholarly articles and books. The following sources are available either in print in the IUB Main Library or online through the IUB Libraries' website. Specific keywords or subject headings are provided for each indexing and abstracting source. When conducting keyword searches on post-colonial theory, search for post-colonial theory, postcolonial theory, and post colonial theory.

  • Academic Search (EBSCO). EBSCO. 
    This database offers "full text journal coverage for nearly all academic areas of study" such as social sciences, humanities, language and linguistics, arts & literature, and ethnic studies (EBSCO). For information on post-colonial theory, search using the following subject headings: postcolonialism, imperialism, colonies, globalization, and orientalism.

  • Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL). Chadwyck-Healey.

    This database "began in 1920 and is issued annually in print. Some records have been added retrospectively dating to 1892" (Chadwyck-Healey). Also available electronically, ABELL covers the English language, English literature, bibliography, and traditional cultures of the English-speaking world. For information on post-colonial theory, search using postcolonial, postcolonialism, imperialism, colonialism, and orientalism as keywords and English literature: twentieth century: literary theory as a subject heading.

  • Essay and General Literature Index (EGLI). New York: Wilson, 1931-. ISSN: 0014-083X [B-Main - Research Collection - Reference - AI3.E752 080.1'6]
    This index covers authors and subjects from essays published in collections in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The following subject headings provide resources relevant to post-colonial theory: postcolonialism; political science; state, the; imperialism in literature; imperialism; colonialism; commonwealth; criticism; postcolonialism in literature; and orientalism.

  • MLA International Bibliography. New York: MLA, 1922-. 
    This database provides "a bibliography of journal articles, books and dissertations." The online version "dates back to 1963 and contains over 1.5 million citations from more than 4,400 journals and series and 1,000 book publishers" (EBSCO). For information on post-colonial theory, search under postcolonialism, imperialism, literary theory, and literary theory and criticism.

  • Web of Knowledge.

    This database "provides electronic access to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the Science Index Expanded, and the Social Sciences Citation Index. To find relevant articles, search the Web of Science using post-colonial theory, postcolonial theory, and post colonial theory as keywords.

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Scholarly journals are an important source of current, scholarly writing on post-colonial theory. The following six journals are essential for post-colonial studies and cover current trends in post-colonial theory and post-colonial literatures. All of these journals are available at IUB either in print or online. Access options are indicated for each journal title.

  • Ariel. Calgary, University of Calgary. 1970-. ISSN: 0004-1327 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR1 .A698 1970-]

    This journal "is devoted to the critical analysis of new and established English-language literature from around the world. It publishes scholarly articles, author interviews, original poems, and book reviews. Many of the articles are of a comparative, historical, or interpretive nature" (Katz, Bill, and Linda Sternberg Katz. Magazines for Libraries. 10th ed. New Providence, NJ: Bowker, 2000).

  • Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. London, UK; New York, NY: Routledge, 1998-. ISSN: 1369-810X [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - JV2 .I56 1998-; Electronic Resource: Available through Ingenta and Academic Search Premier (EBSCO)]

    This journal is devoted to academic discourse on post-colonial research, theory, and politics and focuses on the histories of imperialism and colonialism, culture's role in imperialism and formations of national resistance, liberation struggles, religion and culture in new nationalisms, identity politics, neo-colonial economics, diaspora and migrancy, indigenous fourth-world cultures, and connections between colonialism and modernity, post-colonialism, and postmodernism (Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Baker and Taylor. 1369801X.asp).

  • Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies. Statesboro, GA: Dept. of English and Philosophy, Georgia Southern University, 1993-. ISSN: 1073-1687 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR9080 .A35]

    This journal "is devoted to the promotion and/or study of the literature, performing arts, history, and politics of nations which were historically part of the British Commonwealth, and of countries colonized by other European powers in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Caribbean" (The Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies. Georgia Southern University.

  • Journal of Commonwealth Literature (JCL). Oxford: Hans Zell Publishers. 1965-. ISSN: 0021-9894 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PR1.J67 1965-; Electronic Resource: Available through Ingenta Select]

    This journal provides a medium for the discussion of Commonwealth and post-colonial literatures. While the first three issues contain critical studies and essays on areas such as post-colonialism, the fourth issue contains a bibliography of marginalized literatures.

  • Research in African Literatures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1970-. ISSN: 0034-5210 [B-Main - Research Collection - Stacks - PL8000 .R43 1970-; Electronic Resource: Available through Academic Search Elite (EBSCO), ProQuest, Chadwyck, Project Muse]

    This journal "publishes scholarly essays; extensive, useful bibliographies; and numerous long reviews of all aspects of oral and written literatures, music, film and theater of Africa. Contributions include discussions of short and long fiction, poetry, drama, important new writers, music, film, and theater, as well as literary developments continent-wide and in the diaspora" (Katz, Bill, and Linda Sternberg Katz. Magazines for Libraries. 10th ed. New Providence, NJ: Bowker, 2000).

  • Year's Work in English Studies (YEWS). Oxford: Blackwell for the English Assn., 1921- ISSN: 0084-4144 (print), 1471-6801 (online) [B-Main - Research Library - Reference - PE58 .E6 1919/1920-2001; Electronic Resource: contents.html]

    This journal "is the qualitative narrative bibliographical review of scholarly work on English language and literatures written in English. Each volume includes a detailed overview from Old English to contemporary critical works for a given year, and contains critical notices for some 1100 books," English-language literatures, and "specialist periodicals" (Year's Work in English Studies. Oxford University Press. scope/default.html).

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Internet Sources

While the Internet provides access to vast amounts of accessible information, finding relevant and accurate information can be difficult at times. Because the following Internet sources are either open-access, refereed journals or scholars' websites on post-colonial theory, the information they provide is highly reliable. This list does not seek to be comprehensive, but to highlight some of the most useful websites for locating information on post-colonial theory.

  • The Imperial Archive. 

    Organized Dr. Leon Litvack, a professor at the School of English at Queen's University in Belfast, this website contains information on the influence of British imperialist practices in Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, India, Ireland, and Africa. As well as discussing the impact of imperialism on geographic areas, the website outlines important transnational and post-colonial themes and key concepts in post-colonial studies.

  • Internet Modern History Sourcebook. 

    Edited by Paul Halsall of Fordham University, this website is a collection of historical sources on modern history since the Reformation. Information relevant to post-colonial studies can be found under the following subheadings: imperialism, decolonization, Post-War Asia, Africa since 1945, the Middle East since 1945, and 20th Century Latin America.

  • Jouvert: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 

    This is an open-access electronic journal published by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University. This journal serves as an intersection for multiple viewpoints in post-colonial studies. Published three times each year, Jouvert includes articles that discuss neocolonial as well as post-colonial issues.

  • Postcolonial: An Open Listserv. 

    This website provides details on how to subscribe to the Postcolonial Listserv, which is associated with the University of Virginia and Bowling Green State University. The listserv topics are focused on scholarly discussions of current post-colonial theory, literature, and film.

  • Postcolonial Studies. 

    Sponsored by Emory University, this website aims to provide readers with a general overview of the major authors, theorists, terms, and issues of post-colonialism rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive discussion of all aspects of post-colonial studies.

  • Postcolonial Text.

    This refereed, open-access journal provides a forum for scholarly articles on post-colonialism as well as post-colonial poetry and fiction. An international panel of editors from eight universities reviews all article submissions before publication.

  • Postcolonial Web. 

    Founded and managed by Brown University Professor of English and Art History George Landow, This website provides a thorough overview of the major authors, theories, and literatures of post-colonialism. The theory section includes detailed information on the major themes and issues, theorists, and terms of post-colonial theory.

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Created by Melissa S. Van Vuuren
Last modified June 27, 2007
last updated: 5/14/2010