theory is a critical approach which focuses on literature created in countries
that were, or are now, colonies of other nations (Decolonize.org, 2018). Over
the last thirty years, postcolonial theory has developed into an established
critical discourse, leading academics from all over the world to take an
interest. It has become increasingly common for scholars to categorise
themselves as ‘postcolonial’ academic’s (Majumdar, 2010). This poster will
unpack the theory and its nuances; with examples from postcolonial scholars,
and highlight how the theory applies to architectural cases.
What is postcolonial theory?
To fully understand the concept of postcolonial
studies, it is first imperative to understand the surrounding context of the
Colonialism is described as “the policy or
practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country,
occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically” (dictionary.com)
Colonialism is often associated with the
European colonial period from the late 15th to 19th century where European
powers including the French, British, and Spanish established colonies in the
Americas, Asia, and Africa.
Many of these countries achieved independence
following the end of World War II
Postcolonialism is described as the period after
Postcolonial theory is a broad academic study
that analyses and responds to the consequences of the economic exploitation of
colonised countries and their people, from their perspective. It is concerned
with the national culture only after the departure of the imperial power. The
earliest postcolonial literature emerged at the time when many colonies were
fighting for freedom, and the authors of these new theories were described as
anti-colonial revolutionaries. The term Anti-colonial was born out of this
period of the struggle for independence, and the opposition of colonialism,
hegemony, and territorial expansion. The importance of these postcolonial
theorists cannot be stressed enough because while they weren’t revolutionaries
in the traditional sense of the word, it was they who challenged the
assumptions of the coloniser, for example, the concept of white supremacy,
which partly justified colonialism in the first instance.
Another similar aspect of postcolonial theory is
postcolonial discourse. The basic ideas of postcolonial discourse overlap those
of the anti-colonial revolutionaries with the aim of debunking the concept of
colonial discourse. Colonial discourse is a collection of opinions and
statements created from the perspective of European colonisers, describing the
colonised as uncivilised, savages and servants, while displaying themselves as
civilised and generous. Colonial discourse is evident when looking at the
French colonisation of Indochina, particularly in Vietnam.
One of the most substantial works to be
reflectively noted as colonial discourse analysis is Edward Said
Orientalism. In this text, he studies a wide variety of literary and historical
texts and demonstrates how they collectively represent the orient in ways
amenable to imperialism (Postcolonialweb.org, 1994). Within the book, he
explored the political vision of reality promoting the difference between the
West and the East (Singh, 2004). Said argues that world history is created by
men and women, just as it can be uncreated, believing that the East can become
their own if they wish to have possession of it. Supporting the belief that
post-colonialism can be controlled and overcome by the people.
Another theorist, Homi K. Bhabha, is considered
one of the pioneers of contemporary postcolonial theory. He created many
fundamental concepts of postcolonialism including hybridity, mimicry, and
ambivalence. These ideas describe how the colonised have resisted the powers of
the coloniser. Hybridity means merely the creation of new transcultural forms
in the country of the colonised. Hybridity can be separated into several
categories: racial hybridity, linguistic hybridity, literary hybridity and
cultural hybridity. Mimicry can be described as an imitation of the coloniser’s
culture, language or behaviour by the colonised. It is often seen as shameful
and isn’t usually described as something one does, but rather something that
someone else is doing. However, from Bhabha’s perspective, mimicry exposes the
artificiality of all symbolic expressions of power. Ambivalence is “A term
first developed in psychoanalysis to describe a continual fluctuation between
wanting one thing and wanting its opposite.” (Ashcroft, 1998).
¥ The Presidential
Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam is a prime example of French colonial architecture in
Indochina. The building was completed in 1906 and constructed for the French
governor general. Designed by the French Architect for Indochina, Auguste Henri
Vildieu, the building exhibits no features associated with classic Vietnamese
architecture, but rather displays European elements; specifically those of the
Italian Renaissance. The building’s classical columns, broken pediments,
quoins, and aedicules appear grand, but after Vietnam achieved independence in
1954, their current leader, Ho Chi Minh, refused to live in the palace.
Instead, he preferred to reside in a small cottage on the grounds, and four
years later built a simple and classically Vietnamese stilt house in its place.
Ho Chi Minh is renowned for leading the Vi?t Minh independence
movement and defeating the French Union at the battle of ?i?n
Biên Ph? in 1954. Therefore, it is widely considered that his refusal to live
in the palace is due to symbolic reasons; he was opposed to living in a
building that was a reminder of a time of oppression and exploitation of the
In 2017, a postcolonial Vietnam displays hybrid modernity.
Unknowingly the Vietnamese have continued to use French colonial architectural
features in modern structures and family homes. Their cuisines have a European
influence, and they have adopted over 400 French words into their vocabulary.
It could be argued that the irreversible
nature of colonial architecture in Vietnam has left a timeless legacy of
oppression and colonisation that can never be fully erased from the Vietnamese landscape
without mass demolition. However, in current day Vietnam this history provides
a lucrative source of income and tourism for the local people, and whilst
French culture has made an impact, the country still possesses its own traditions
over time the Vietnamese people
have adopted a new friechh….. influenced by a constant presence of French colonial….
Adapted …. Their culture has been so corrupted…. Their original architectural
culture has been so adapted by buildings that are so out of place in south east
The mission civilisatrice, which directly
translates to ‘the civilising mission’, was a pretence created by the French
which aimed at educating and civilising the indigenous people, and bringing the
country into modern day era by developing its transport networks, industry,
hospitals, and schools. The French used this as a reason for colonisation and
aimed to westernise the indigenous people and country by assimilation. The
upsetting reality of the mission is that very few Vietnamese children were able
to take advantage of education system given to them by the colonisers. French Indochina thrived on the unequal
sharing of power and privilege.
Alternative Practice began in the 1960s with more and more
scholars supporting alternative approaches to planning and architecture.
Theories of alternative practice are said to gain influence from social and
political theories and particularly critical theory. Postcolonialism is a
critical theory as it is a philosophical approach to literature, considering
social and historical structures which restrict it (Dictionary.com). Therefore, postcolonialism
can be read and understood as an aspect of ‘alternative practice’.