Postcolonial Europe

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds


Until recently, most work done in the field of comparative postcolonial studies focused on Europe's ex-colonial peripheries. Increasing emphasis is now being placed, however, on the after-effects of colonialism on European metropolitan cultural practice, and on those power relations within Europe that can be analysed as direct or indirect forms of colonial power. By bringing together both established and younger scholars from three different European locations working in the interdisciplinary field of postcolonial studies, the network would aim to establish the parameters of postcolonial Europe, bringing the field back to its European intellectual origins but also showing how these origins have been creatively transformed.

The network would be organised in the first instance around the topic of 'Occidentalism', those negative attitudes and representational mechanisms, in evidence within as well as outside Europe, by which suspicion and resentment of European values (and Western values in general) are systematically mobilised and deployed. An in-depth analysis of Occidentalism requires a further understanding of the contemporary post-secular climate both within and beyond Europe's borders, so a first workshop on the Western dimensions of Europe, and the 'anti-Westernism' to which Europe has arguably been subjected, would be followed by a second, arranged more specifically to look at the relationship between Occidentalism, Orientalism and the contemporary post-secular world. These workshops aim to go well beyond the reactionary notion of a threatened Europe, a notion on which some, unduly inflexible concepts of Occidentalism (e.g. as a 'war on the West') depend. In moving beyond the ossified concepts of Occident and the Orient, the network aims to clear a space to look at postcolonial Europe in terms of a non-binary understanding of European social, cultural and political forms.

The benefits of the network would be to strengthen the work of individual scholars in the field working at three different European locations; to provide a European format for debate about current research in the field; and to establish a network of younger, as well as more established scholars who might collaborate, support and help develop each other's work. The network would provide an initial platform from which to develop further research on postcolonial Europe as a more nuanced, but still critical, alternative to binary understandings of the Occident and the Orient, the West and the non-West.


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Graham Huggan (Author) (2011) Postcolonial Europe in Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings

Description The AHRC-funded international network on 'Postcolonial Europe' was formed in 2008 with a view towards looking at the postcolonial dimensions of contemporary European social, cultural and political life. The network's participants, from the Universities of Leeds (lead partner), Munich and Utrecht, operated from the start with a shared understanding of the potentially troublesome term 'postcolonial' as a concerted critical engagement with the effects of European colonial pasts on the contemporary globalised world. The main aim of the network was to turn this critical gaze away from non-European societies and cultures--the customary objects of postcolonial analysis--and to redirect it back towards the conflicted history and politics of Europe itself. To this end, three central events were planned around which debates about the 'postcoloniality' of Europe could be conducted: (1) a May 2009 Leeds-based workshop, 'Europe and the Rest', organised around Etienne Balibar and Zygmunt Bauman, two of Europe's premier public intellectuals; (2) an October 2009 Utrecht-based workshop, 'The Idea of Europe: Memories and Postcolonial Europe', featuring such prominent European-based scholars as Paul Gilroy (London), Avishai Margalit (Jerusalem), and Luisa Passerini (Turin); and a May 2010 Munich-based two-day postgraduate conference, 'Postcolonizing Europe', where the keynote speakers were the US-based academics Claudia Breger (Indiana) and Dipesh Chakrabarty (Chicago), but the lead role was played, very impressively, by the international cast of postgraduates themselves. Research for the grant, the main output from which was a 2011 special issue of the journal Moving Worlds (see also list of grant outcomes below), confirmed the applicability of postcolonial theories and methods to an understanding of Europe's (post)colonial present as well as its imperial past. As might be expected from the title of the network, the most specific set of advances in understanding the grant yielded related to the changing meanings of 'Europe'. Questions that resonated through the network's discussions included the following: Where does Europe begin, and where does it end? Who is excluded from standard definitions of Europe? Are European societies, however understood, still prisoners to their internally differentiated colonial pasts? While these questions are too vast to provide neatly generalised answers, the network's participants were in basic agreement that binary thinking (one obvious variety being exclusivist nationalism) continues to be alive and well in contemporary Europe, and that this thinking owes at least some of its negative potency to attitudes inherited from the colonial past. As anticipated at its outset, the network was concerned (1) to complicate these binary understandings, and (2) to work towards a vision of Europe that goes beyond a colonial mindset while remaining very much aware of the colonial past. This utopian vision lay behind more specific insights gained from the principal network events, e.g. into the effects of globalisation on Europe or the increasing impact of religion on politics in European secular states. These questions might be seen as being more appropriate to social-scientific enquiry than humanities research, but the network proved the value of the latter to debates around, e.g., cultural racism in the European context. Most versions of the institutional origin of postcolonial studies trace back to university Literature and History departments, so not surprisingly these were the ones to play the biggest role in the network; however, the network also showed the value of combining humanities and social science research, and in so doing confirmed the increasingly multi- and interdisciplinary remit of postcolonial studies as a whole.
Exploitation Route The success of the AHRC network can be seen in its durability, and the initial insights it generated have proved sustainable long beyond the lifetime of the original award. From 2011 to 2014 the network entered a second (3-year) phase with the support of a Dutch funding agency (NWO), while plans are currently underway to extend this into a third phase, most likely with the same funding agency but also with US and Australian financial support. As the network has moved through these phases, it has picked up additional partners: LSE, the University of Roskilde (Denmark), the Istituto Orientale (Naples), and the University of Iceland in the second phase, and Australian National University and the University of Chicago in the third. Research generated by the network has also contributed to two successful EU grant bids, both on a large scale: the three-year (2013-2016) HERA project 'Arctic Encounters', which adopts a postcolonial approach and includes the Universities of Leeds, the University of Roskilde, and the University of Iceland as partners; and, most recently, an Innovative Training Network in Environmental Humanities, in which the Universities of Leeds and Munich (LMU) are two of the four main partners, and which draws on the increasingly environmentalist orientation of the network's second phase.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description It is notoriously difficult to prove how findings are used in humanities-based research unless it is specifically directed towards, e.g., policy issues. 'Postcolonial Europe' is still a phrase that makes most sense within academic circles, though the success of the HERA and ITN grant bids, both of which are more directed to European policy areas (tourism and the environment, respectively), indicates that the AHRC network played an important part in generating preliminary research that was then put to more policy-specific ends.
Description HERA
Amount € 986,183 (EUR)
Funding ID 12-HERA-JRP-CE-FP-086 
Organisation European Science Foundation (ESF) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country France
Start 08/2013 
End 09/2016
Description Initial Training Network
Amount € 3,144,654 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2015 
End 08/2018
Description NWO 
Organisation Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
Country Netherlands 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Since 2019, the University of Leeds has been part of a 9-country consortium of European countries participating in the 'Postcolonial Intellectuals and their European Publics' network (PIN), funded by the NWO. The University of Leeds's main contribution to the network was a series of 4 high-profile online lectures, held in early 2021 and attracting 80-110 participants each. For further details, see outcomes section below.
Collaborator Contribution The main events of the PIN network so far (see also outcomes below) have been academic conferences in Utrecht (2019) and Muenster (2020); a final conference is being planned in Venice this year (2022).
Impact The NWO-funded 'Postcolonial Intellectuals and their European Publics' network (PIN), involving 20+ academics from 9 different European countries, is in many ways a natural successor to the 'Postcolonial Europe' network, and extends its intellectual remit. It also involves two of the original members of the original 'Postcolonial Europe' consortium, the University of Leeds and the now-lead partner, the University of Utrecht. A multidisciplinary network involving researchers in literary/cultural studies, media studies, and history (among other disciplines), PIN began in January 2019 and will end in June this year (2022). There are no published outcomes so far, though one is at the planning stage. The network has involved medium- to large-scale face-to-face conferences (50-100 participants) in Utrecht (2019) and Muenster, Germany (2020), and a series of online lectures hosted by the University of Leeds (2021). The last major event will be a face-to-face conference in Venice in May (2022).
Start Year 2019