What were the distinctive cultures of decolonisation that emerged in the years between 1945 and 1970, and what can they uncover about the complexities of the ‘end of empire’ as a process? Cultures of Decolonisation brings together visual, literary and material cultures within one volume in order to explore this question. The volume reveals the diverse ways in which cultures were active in wider political, economic and social change, working as crucial gauges, microcosms, and agents of decolonisation. Individual chapters focus on architecture, theatre, museums, heritage sites, fine art, and interior design alongside institutions such as artists’ groups, language agencies and the Royal Mint in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. Drawing on a range of disciplinary perspectives, these contributions offer revealing case studies for those researching decolonisation at all levels across the humanities and social sciences. The collection demonstrates the transnational character of cultures of decolonisation (and of decolonisation itself), and illustrates the value of comparison – between different sorts of cultural forms and different places – in understanding the nature of this dramatic and wide-reaching geopolitical change. Cultures of Decolonisation illustrates the value of engaging with the complexities of decolonisation as enacted and experienced by a broad range of actors beyond ‘flag independence’ and the realm of high politics. In the process it makes an important contribution to the theoretical, methodological and empirical diversification of the historiography of the end of empire.
This chapter sets out the key arguments of Cultures of Decolonisation. It begins by exploring the existing historiography of decolonisation, before explaining the value of the interdisciplinary and transnational approach taken in the volume. It then delineates the authors’ approach to reframing the role of culture in decolonisation, highlighting three main arguments and strands of investigation. First, a claim is made for the agency of culture in a process more often understood through a political-economic lens; second, the value of focusing on the role of cultural institutions in decolonisation is emphasised; and third, the chapter contends that it is crucial to recognise the transnational and comparative character of cultures of decolonisation (and of decolonisation itself).