Between Postcolonial Histories of Science and Decolonial Science Studies

Keynote address by Warwick Anderson

Thursday, May 13, 9:30 am (UTC+2)

I want to discuss the presumed tension—which seems to me ultimately more performative than substantive—between postcolonial and decolonial approaches, between the multiplicities of borderlands and the binaries of settler colonial studies. Or the shift in emphasis from what I’ve called “conjugated subjectivities” to “subjugated knowledges.” Or the distinction, if you like, between poststructuralist approaches and structuralist framings in colonial critique. This is the contrast that concerns me here: postcolonial and decolonial, ocean and land, beach and continent. But I’d like to attempt a reconciliation or bridging of sorts—at the risk of appearing to evade or at least displace more absolute demands. I want to argue pragmatically for the family resemblance, rather than the irrelation or autonomy, of existing postcolonial and decolonial approaches. Even so, there is clearly a need for more incisive and radical critique of attempted Indigenous effacement and imagined settler sovereignties than those postcolonial frames that tend toward the conciliatory, or merely consultative, can deliver. I would like to believe that the “postcolonial” epithet might still be retained, reoriented, and reinvigorated by drawing on radical aspects of decolonial critique, especially its refiguring of agency and authorship. I conclude with a reflection on the benefits of decolonizing, or situating, our framing of the colonial.

Warwick Anderson is the Janet Dora Hine Professor of Politics, Governance and Ethics in the Department of History and leader of the Politics, Governance and Ethics Theme with the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney. As an historian of science, medicine, and public health, focusing on Australasia, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the United States, Professor Anderson is especially interested in ideas about race, human difference, and citizenship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has written programmatically on postcolonial science studies and, more generally, on science and globalisation. He is the author of The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia (2002), Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines (2006), The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen (2007) and Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity (2014).

Image courtesy Warwick Anderson/University of Sydney