The introduction and first chapter of Loomba’s Colonialism/Postcolonialism address several crucial themes. The author begins by introducing “postcolonial studies” as an academic discipline with a very broad and conflicted definition, and she argues that this is an essential flaw with modern interpretations of the field. Not only is “postcolonial studies” often ill-defined, she argues, but it also “functions in increasingly formulaic or reductive terms that are abstracted from concrete situations” (75). Her main focus , which she explores in depth and from a variety of angles, is the question of “the agency of the colonized subject, or ‘subaltern,’ and whether it can be recovered and represented by postcolonial intellectuals” (77).
In the first chapter, entitled “Situating Colonial and Postcolonial Studies,” Loomba embarks on an ambitious effort to contextualize – and, as a result, define – these two often misjudged fields of study. She compares and contrasts colonialism and imperialism (77-80), examines the concept of “hybridity” as a feature of the aforementioned “agency of the colonized subject,” (81), and attempts to clarify certain questions of the inherent difficulties involved with race gradients (80-85). She then moves on to an attempt to explain the various arguments for when postcolonialism actually began (if at all), and if so, where it exists today. She makes interesting points that would potentially argue against too literal an interpretation of the “post” prefix, pointing out that “many people living in both once-colonized and once colonizing countries are still subject to the oppressions put into place by colonialism” (83).
Her final focus is the concept of “ideology,” and how the implementation and maintenance of it has the potential to shape individuals and their resulting society. She examines the concept through lenses of feminism, Marxism, Foucaultism, and from other angles, and she seems to conclude “that the ‘real’ relations of society do not exist in isolation from its cultural or ideological categories” (95). This is a key axiom in whatever her following arguments deal with, and it effectively sums up and explains her understanding of postcolonial studies.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism: The New Critical Idiom. 1998. Print.