Anthropology struggled to escape its colonial heritage and find a place for itself in the era of decolonisation. Faced with losing access to colonial field sites, anthropologists at the University of Manchester sought to establish the applicability of anthropological theory to modern Britain throughout the 1950s and 1960s. They aimed to demonstrate how their expertise, which was derived from the study of Africa and other colonial regions, could be applied to labour, community or social relations in Britain. This work sought to position anthropologists as social scientific observers who could use their knowledge of different societies to provide guidance to the British government and public in a period of social change, industrial unrest and shifting ideas about national identity. It also reveals how the end of empire and the loss of the privileges of ‘colonial science’ forced scholars to find new ways to justify their expertise and to adapt their practices to win support from new patrons. This chapter focuses on the work of anthropologists based at the University of Manchester, analysing their research into factory-floor dynamics and rural communities. It connects recent historiography on ‘post-colonial careers’ and the links between imperial and domestic intellectual practices with work on the construction of knowledge within the social and human sciences, in order to highlight how social scientific ideas about modern Britain could make use of models developed to explain the social dynamics of the Empire.
On 10 June 2020, three days after #BlackLivesMatter protesters toppled the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race topped the UK non-fiction bestseller chart. It brought with it a wave of books marketed as guides for readers – especially white readers – wishing to educate themselves about the effects of structural racism on individual lives. Many of these titles place notable emphasis on the value of personal anecdote and experience, blending memoir with often detailed and cogent anti-racist critique to create a kind of anti-racist life writing that has a long history in African American literary culture. While the genre is less widely known in Britain, this chapter argues that a similar suturing of individual biographies into the structural contours shaping social, cultural and institutional life in Britain after empire has been deployed by a number of Black writers in recent years, often to persuasive and powerful effect. This 'anti-racist non-fiction’ genre blends memoir with social and historical commentary to build similar connections between individual experiences and structural conditions, often (though not always) without conforming to the individualising inclinations of identity politics that are otherwise so pervasive in our neoliberal era. To demonstrate its arguments, the chapter focuses on two of the most rigorous and best-selling of Britain’s anti-racist non-fiction titles: Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking and Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
This chapter explores the creation of Black British beauty spaces for and by African-Caribbean women in postwar Britain between 1948 and 1990 by scrutinising physical spaces and the literary narratives that represented them – previously overlooked in discussions about postwar migration and multiculturalism. In doing so, it considers how negotiations of beauty, often multilayered and divisive, became resources for fashioning Black British identities. African-Caribbean women mediated Eurocentric beauty ideals, using elements of both conformity and subversion, to create innovative beauty spaces. As part of wider anti-racist community building, quotidian beauty consumption played a formative role in nurturing spaces of belonging for African-Caribbean women in Britain. Configurations of hair and skin colour were navigated in salons, Black businesses, beauty contests, and media outputs. I interdiscursively read visual and textual outputs in two pioneering Black-owned newspapers, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean news (1958–1964) and The Voice (f.1982), alongside the early novels of Andrea Levy. This interdisciplinary approach, supplemented by anecdotal evidence and testimonies from The Heart of the Race (1985), accentuate the importance of Black beauty discourse in identity formation in modern Britain.
This essay considers the space of the museum as a dissident of location of postcolonial critique, inspired by Daljit Nagra’s poetic sequence ‘Meditations on the British Museum’ (2017). It fully acknowledges the Western institution of the museum as complicit in articulating colonial perspectives, but also challenges the views of those who regard museums as forever compromised by their indebtedness to empire. To this end, the essay combines recent thinking in museum studies concerning ‘diasporic objects’ with the critique of origins central to critical adoption studies in order to query the problematic nativism and unexplored passion for the patrial that sometimes underwrites ‘decolonial’ attitudes to object provenance and legitimate heritage. Drawing, too, upon Nicholas Thomas’s work regarding ‘curiosity’, it reframes the museum as a site of postcolonial critique where emergent relations might be struck through uncommissioned encounters between the museum’s visitors and its galleries. The new constellations of meaning created as a consequence empower us not only to admit but also redeploy our contact with colonialism’s plunder for purposefully resistant ends. A cognisance of exactly these possibilities resides at the core of Nagra’s poetic sequence, which imagines a diasporic visitor to London’s British Museum wandering at will among its myriad objects drawn from, but not confined to, a plethora of empires, ancient and modern. In his exploration of the museum as a space of generative opportunities for resistant thinking, Nagra curates in his poetry a generative encounter between the present’s enduring coloniality and the contestatory constellations yielded by unchartered diasporic curiosity.
British culture after empire is the first collection of its kind to explore the intertwined social, cultural and political aftermath of empire in Britain from 1945 up to and beyond the Brexit referendum of 2016, combining approaches from experts in history, literature, anthropology, cultural studies and theatre studies. Against those who would deny, downplay or attempt to forget Britain's imperial legacy, these contributions expose and explore how the British Empire and the consequences of its end continue to shape Britain at the local, national and international level. As an important and urgent intervention in a field of increasing relevance within and beyond the academy, the book offers fresh perspectives on the colonial hangovers in postcolonial Britain from up-and-coming as well as established scholars.
This chapter shows that the young white people who spent their nights sharing music and organising around musical activism in postcolonial London built a shared culture that struck an often-tenuous balance between culturally appropriating Black spaces and music and building friendships and solidarities within them. These spaces had the power to make such interactions banal but, particularly in the case of the Brixton Academy, they also foregrounded the possibility of inter-racial encounters.
In Robin Yassin-Kassab’s novel The Road From Damascus (2008), Muntaha, one of the central characters, refuses to identify with ‘the Arab nation’, stating ‘I’m British anyway. I’m a British Muslim’. Through yoking a transnational religious affiliation to her country of settlement, Muntaha distances herself from Arab diaspora contexts and instead inscribes herself into a multicultural Britain. Robin Yasin-Kassab is one of a growing number of Arab novelists writing in English, including the likes of Ahdaf Soueif, Jamal Mahjoub, Selma Debbagh and Leila Aboulela, who take the subjectivities and displacements of Arab immigrant subjects in Britain as their theme. Their novels unfold as a drama of choice about belonging in diaspora, examining how the parallel and sometimes intersecting identities Arab and/or Muslim have been transformed in recent decades. This chapter demonstrates how these writers represent the impact of contemporary politics on Arab immigrants in Britain. In doing so, their novels reflect on the lingering legacy of empire and grapple with the specters of colonialism that continue to animate present conflicts.
Postcolonial literary analysis – that is, analysis directed towards the questions of race, empire and decolonisation that form the purview of this book – is applied typically to Black and Asian writers. Resisting such racial categorisation, this chapter focuses on Graham Swift’s Booker Prize-winning Last Orders (1996) and in particular the novel’s figuration of the Second World War and its aftermath in global and imperial terms. Swift uses this historical framing to examine the effects of decolonisation – the Fall of Aden/Eden – on the dynamics of race and class in postwar England. In this way, Swift takes his readers inside the lived experience of demythologisation, or the difficulties of ‘working through’ (in Paul Gilroy’s well-known formulation) tenacious imperial mythologies. By conveying the power of myth, alongside its painful contradictions and false promises, Swift’s fiction does not offer postcolonial subversion or critique but examines the breaking from and clinging to imperial ideas and desires in postwar England. As this analysis begins to demonstrate, postcolonial questions of race, empire and decolonisation cannot be ‘bracketed’ by authorial ethnicity; these questions are at stake whenever we are reading, teaching and writing about contemporary English literature.
This chapter explores the heated debate over the memory of the British Empire through an examination of the public interventions by scholars Nigel Biggar and Niall Ferguson and their critics. On either side of the debate, scholars agree that the colonial past is too complex to be reduced to a simple question of for or against. To begin to understand why the debate is nevertheless so fierce, this chapter studies it as a case of disagreement over ‘exemplar empires’. The chapter argues that contemporary British memory culture is marked by a singularisation of the imperial past. Here, the Empire is summed up in a few emblematic images and episodes that are seen as representative of the whole. This gives rise to disagreement over which exemplars are the most appropriate, how they should be judged and a fear that one account will crowd out the other. The chapter explores how Ferguson and Biggar and their critics have discussed the British Empire often using similar rhetorical flourishes: accusing their opponents of reducing past complexities, disagreeing over how best to sum up empire, questioning each other’s moral evaluation of it and worrying that their version of the past will be forgotten.
This chapter examines the ways in which ‘racial issues’ migrated from Rhodesia to London through institutional connections between the London School of Economics, the University of London and the University of Rhodesia from the 1950s to 1970s. As Walter Adams was appointed as the new director of LSE from his post as principal of the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1967, LSE students were against his appointment to protect what they construed as the most multiracial university in Britain from having a director they regarded as holding reactionary racial views. The students made further demonstrations against Adams’s directorship until 1974. In doing so, their voices became stronger, reflected in the school’s governance and policymaking processes. The continued inflow of returning staff and international students from new Commonwealth countries shaped new communities and cultures at the University of London. These students’ radical activities in Britain helped to highlight and challenge racial issues within British universities and among students. Britain’s 1960s student counterculture was shaped by these colonial networks that brought the colonial empire’s race and decolonisation issues ‘home’. By introducing new postcolonial perspectives on the history of the University of London, this chapter argues the earlier activism of LSE students and student demonstrations at British universities in the late 1960s are a key example of Britain’s afterlives of empire and the predecessor of current movements to ‘decolonise the university’.