On the antinomy of the postcolonial and the decolonial: an epistemological and transdisciplinary perspective

May 30, 2023
Dave Hazzan

by Dave Hazzan, writer and academic, completing his PhD in History at York University

If decolonization is the practice of shedding the oppressor’s cloak, then what is postcolonialism? Is it a surrender to colonialism or a place of resistance? And if postcolonialism represents the future, does that mean decolonization is a pining for the past? How do we split the differences between the two? 

These are questions Hassan Moustir seeks to answer. A writer and professor of Maghrebian and Francophone literature at the Faculty of Letters at Mohammed V University of Rabat, Moustir appeared via Zoom to address the Association internationale d’étude des littératures et cultures de l’espace francophone (AIELCEF). In French, he attempted to disentangle these terms, and the baggage they carry with them. 

Moustir insisted there are clear differences between decolonialism and postcolonialism. Epistemologically, their critical uses are similar, but by confusing the two, bad criticism and abusive criticism can often result. 

Decolonization as a movement “is back,” Moustir argued, “but what does it mean?” Is it revisionism? Is it a continuation of the anticolonial struggle? Is it a form of nostalgia? The paradigm of decolonialism is made up of multiple strands, Moustir admits, where gender, race, and other categories intersect, which can make it hard to define. But as an intersectional movement, decolonialism is meant to be liberatory. 

But it’s here where it is confused with postcolonialism. Postcolonialism is transcendental, Moustir believes. It is about people moving beyond the colonial and adapting to a changed world, celebrating a cosmopolitan world that embraces the future and creates new identities. Decolonization celebrates where the colonial came from, whereas postcolonialism celebrates where they are. Decolonization is interested in the precolonial, influenced by the colonial discourse. Postcolonialism, on the other hand, looks to the future, especially in the metropole where postcolonial subjects – for example, French Muslims or American Latin communities– make their homes. 

The two views are so opposed, Moustir argued, that even canonical texts by Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon are read differently by the two strands. 

Postcolonialism tends to be opposed to identity metaphysics, whereas decolonialism embraces them. A problem here, Moustir said, was that if the postcolonial negates concepts of “the orient” or “Africa,” then it also negates concepts of “the west,” which came to be through concepts from Greece, the Middle East, and Africa, among others. 

Moustir argues there is a paradigm shift today, away from the postcolonial to the decolonial, and an understanding that we must all – colonizer and colonized – seek to decolonize ourselves. Key to understanding this is that decolonization is not about bringing back tradition, just as postcolonialism is not about negating identities. They are both, rather, complex “laboratories of identities.” 


Hassan Moustir is a writer and professor of Maghrebian and Francophone literature at the Faculty of Letters in Rabat, @HMoustir