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MC: Alexander Kiossev: Self-Colonization revised. Colonialism, Self-Colonization, Post-Colonialism, Post-Totalitarianism. The competition of concepts and historiographical perspective.

When Jun 06, 2018
from 02:00 to 06:00
Where Phil I, Building B, R.029
Contact Name
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Self-Colonization revised. Colonialism, Self-Colonization, Post-Colonialism, Post-Totalitarianism. The competition of concepts and historiographical perspective.


Twenty years ago, in 1995, I tried to create a concept for thinking the ambiguity of Bulgarian culture in the process of its “Europeanization”. The goal was to conceptualize simultaneously the positive and the negative aspects of the Europeanisation process: this gave birth to the construction “self-colonization”. It described the way in which modern Bulgarian culture has been born in a strange self-reflexive condition - the self-consciousness of anxious absence of European cultural goods and the way Bulgarian Kulturträger imported foreign models to “fill in” these lacks, a condition of a traumatic identity building.

The self-colonization idea aroused interest beyond the Bulgarian case and triggered a lot of positive reactions, yet some serious critiques, too (the most serious one was that it reproduces the trauma which it describes).  That’s why in a second attempt in 2008 I tried to “normalize” the self-colonizing metaphor and to restrict its emotional load, simultaneously broadening its meaning and transforming it into an analytic conceptual tool of cultural history.  “Self-colonization” was no longer concentrated upon the “absence” and “traumas”; instead, it was much more positioned in the global colonial condition of the XIX century. In this new variant the metaphor tried to describe and generalize the fate of those “peripheral” modern nations, which emerged beyond the borders of factual Western colonization of the world. Despite of the fact that they were never real colonies of Britain or France, they were strongly influenced by the global colonization. Outside the territory of the actual metropolitan rule in military, economic, financial and administrative aspects, they were, nevertheless, under the rule of colonial Eurocentric imagination. The latter functioned in the second half of XIX century as a global hegemonic Symbolic order, defining key values, symbolic geographies, hierarchies among races and cultures and linear progressive direction of the universal History. Moreover, it transformed the military, technological and economic superiority of the West into cultural, historical and existential supremacy of an imaginary “Europe” over the rest of the world, necessarily representing all peripheries as vague, backward, “non-historical” (Hegel) and even as “primitive” cultures (Edward Tylor).  

This colonial Eurocentric imagination functioned as condition of possibility for the modern re-birth of all „peripheral” cultures, be they actually colonized or not.  Seen as the one and only “natural” Order of Progress, Civilization and Emancipation, it preconditioned important dimensions of social and cultural life even for the “self-colonized” societies: the Eurocentric hierarchies marked their location in the world, their public debates, their canon building in arts and literature, their contesting national ideology, their identity building, even the “hybrid” functioning of their norms, institutions and rules of everyday life. The hegemonic frame placed them in the non-privileged role of backward and “a-historical” people – a role, which they were forced to accept and internalize in their very constitution. Besides, in the specific case on self-colonization Europe was not in the hostile role of an actual colonial conqueror (the hostile Other); It functioned as unquestioned “positive Hero” - an ideal model and voluntarily accepted cultural authority. Thus, the newly born self-colonized nations viewed themselves through the Gaze of this ultimate geocultural Authority, “Europe”.  They accepted and reproduced the hegemonic belief that they themselves are non-historical, backward, non-civilized, internalizing the second rate role in universal history, assigned to them along with the absence of “real culture” and the degradation of the existential quality of their life. Thus, such cultures functioned in the normative regime of “search for recognition”, as if ceaselessly under the Gaze of the Ideal Other; yet, what concerns practical issues, they were in a process of permanent import, appropriations, imitations and hybridizations of the Eurocentric norms and values, which produces a series of strange paradoxes in their cultural life.


I depicted above the course of my research between 1995 and 2008. In the meantime the post-colonial approach developed in works of Fanon, Said, Spivak, Bhabha, Amin. Chakrabarty and a lot of other thinkers, gained a dominant role in the global universities and research institutes: one can even say that in the last decade it became a global fashion in the social sciences and humanities – with all the positive and the negative nuances of the word “fashion”. The very concepts “colonialism” and “anti-colonial resistance” have been broadened to the extreme; post-colonial techniques of analysis have been applied to phenomena far beyond the historical and geographical rich of their previous usual meaning and validity. Also in my part of the world – Eastern Europe - there emerged a bunch of “post-colonial style” concept and metaphors. By these new methodological circumstances my metaphor “self-colonization” was not alone anymore – it was now in competition with concepts such as “”Balkanism”, “nesting orientalism”, “ruritanianism” (in works of Larry Wolf, Maria Todorova, Milica Bakic-Hyden, Dusan Bijelic, Obrad Savic, Vesna Goldsworthy, Raymond Detrez), “cultural intimacy”, “crypto-colonialzm” (Michael Herzfeld), “internal colonialism” (Alexander Etkind) etc.  The new attempts to apply the post-colonial analytic tools were not limited to the classic colonialism of the XIX century and its legacy -  some researchers pretended that there are applicable for analysis of post-socialist and post-totalitarian societies, which changed the very concept of “colonialism” (David Chioni Moore) and broadened the meaning of “Empire” in a suspicious way.

Such experiments took place among Baltic scholars (Violeta Kelertas, Karlis Racevskis, Epp Annus). Polish and Austrian scholars also contribute to the re-thinking the colonial condition applying it to Eastern and Central Europe ((Micail Buchowski   Thomas Zarycki, Pavel Sowa; Ruthner Clemens  Ursula  Reber). There were discussions in Croatia and Serbia (Marco Zivkovic, Olanda Obrad), in Romania (Sorin Antohi) and in Hungary. The author of this contribution also participated in such discussion when in 2005 in Sofia group of Bulgarian scholars (Petya Kabakchieva, Illia Iliev, Darin Tenev etc.) debated with Gayatry Spivak the differences and similarities between the post-colonial and the post-totalitarian condition.

Now there are question to be answered: is the post-colonial approach really applicable to Russia and Eastern Europe? Are the post-colonial and the post-totalitarian situations compatible at all? Is it possible to analyze the East European Transition in post-colonial terms? And in in case the answer is positive – which analytical category should is preferable as most appropriate?

Analyzing concrete examples, the doctoral class will discuss the epistemological and cognitive advantages and disadvantages of concepts and metaphors such as “self-colonization”, “Balkanism”, “nesting orientalism”, “crypto-colonialism”, internal colonialism” etc.  along with a methodological and historical discussion about the limits and possible broadening of the concept “Western colonialism”.


Required/ Recommended Reading (if applicable)


-Kehertas, Violeta, Baltic Postcolonialsm and its Critics, In: Baltic Postcolonialism, Kehertas, Violeta, ed (2006) Amsterdam New York: Rodopi, pp 1-9,
-Kiossev, Al. The Self-Colonizing Cultures, in the book Cultural Aspects of the Modernization Process, Oslo, 1995. Re-printed in Bulgariaavangarda, Salon Verlag, Kraeftemessen II, 1998, re-printed in After the Wall. Art and Culture in post-communist Europe. Modern Museum, Stockholm 1999 
-Kiossev, Al. (2008).The Self-Colonization Metaphor. Atlas of Transformation.
-Annus, Epp (2018) Soviet Postcolonial Studies. A View from the Western Borderlands. Introduction: Colonialism in Camouflage.  1- 29.
-Todorova, Maria (1997; 2009) Imagining the Balkans Preface: Balkanism and Orientalism; are They Different Categories? Oxford University Press pp. 3-21

-David Chioni Moore's "Is the Post- in Post-Colonial the Post- in Post-Soviet?"
-Kiossev's "DARK INTIMACY" 
-Herzfeld's "The absent present: Discourse on Crypto-Colonialism”
-Etkind. Al. (2011) "Internal Colonization. Russia’s Imperial Experience"
-Todorova, Maria Imagining the Balkans, Chapter 5: From Discovery to Invention, from Invention to Classification Oxford University Press pp. 116 - 139
-Annus, Epp, The Location of Knowledge: Soviet Area Studies Facing the Post-colonial question. Pp. 59 - 83

// Prof. Dr. Alexander Kiossev (Sofia University, Bulgaria)

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