Imagining a Non-Colonial Oxford

Voices Across Borders

The Blog of the Race and Resistance Research Network at TORCH

Posted by: Marc Shi

Date: 18 June 2015

Imagining a Non-Colonial Oxford: In Conversation with Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and Amit Chaudhuri

Neither the damp weather nor weekend plans prevented attendees from filling a lecture theatre for a conversation hosted by the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford movement last Saturday.  Featuring Amit Chaudhuri, acclaimed writer, critic and literary scholar, the conversation was entitled “Imagining A Non-Colonial Oxford”, and was meant to spark discussion on what such a space could look like.

Chaudhuri opened his remarks by showing support for the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford movement, remarking on the name’s ability in drawing attention to the interconnectedness of colonialism and capital, and their joint ability to create nodes of power and privilege. It was a theme he returned to throughout the discussion, in which he interwove personal stories of racial harassment from his own time at Oxford in the 1960s and 1970s with commentary on multiculturalism and post-colonialism as both intellectual discourse and frameworks for action.

Most notably, Chaudhuri remarked on the need for a more nuanced critique of colonialism than the one post-colonial theory provides. He articulated a worry that current post-colonial narratives are too simplistic, and called for a critique that both accounted for the complex interpenetration between cultures as well as new centres of power found among the ‘colonizers’ and those traditionally seen as ‘the colonized’.

Using as an example the creation of an elite ruling class in India, he noted the need to recognize and challenge the networks of power that he sees as forming across a globalized world, networks that allow a Delhi-born, private-school educated elite class in India to find its way to Oxford and Cambridge. Such a pattern, according to Chaudhuri, only legitimizes an intellectual and social hegemony of privilege and elitism.

In the ensuing discussion, audience members pointed out the power that the language of colonizer and colonized can still have, particularly given the resistance that mainstream academia have towards naming modern-day colonialism where it exists. Others pointed out the need to use our positions of power and privilege as members of institutions like Oxford to take risks and challenge continued forms of colonialism and structural racism.

If anything, such comments were evidence of what Chaudhuri noted as the power of students to imagine alternatives to institutions and mainstreams forms of knowledge production. It is this very task that Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and other student movements across the University have taken on, and through similar discussion hope to develop such imagined alternatives into realities.  

Marc Shi is an MSc. Candidate in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation and the current chair of the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality.


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