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Colonialism - Africa - The Ambivalences Of Colonial Society

social cultural acculturation relations

The pluralist approach was widely applied by social anthropologies to explain many other African colonial societies, which were depicted as "plural societies" in which different ethnic groups and races lived in close proximity; colonial social change was attributed to "culture contact" and "acculturation." To the pluralists, colonialism provided an arena for the acculturation of African ethnic groups to European culture and values, and so they were preoccupied with recording the patterns of what they called "detribalization" as indicated by changes in clothes, occupations, education, family forms, and leisure activities.

Marxist critics such as Bernard Magubane attacked the indices used by the pluralists and the fact that the specifics of European life and culture in Africa and their own "acculturation" or "Africanization" were ignored. Above all, in their view, the pluralists mystified the real social relations for they failed to place colonial social change in the context of colonialism as a global system of economic relations. The Marxists demonstrated that behind the processes of "acculturation" lay widespread practices of resistance. For example, the leisure activities of workers, as exhibited in work songs, often articulated African popular resistance against colonial rule. Similarly, it was demonstrated that transformations of cultural practices in the rural areas reflected peasant attempts to resist and remake the colonial situation. The Marxists maintained that religious conversions, whether to Christianity or Islam, represented not simply "acculturation" and the renunciation of the old religions but also translations of the old religions into new terms as filtered through the complex mediations of class and social consciousness.

Preoccupied as they were to show African agency, nationalist scholars were perhaps the loudest in refusing to see the processes of colonial social and cultural change simply as a product of "Westernization." In a famous essay on the invention of tradition in colonial Africa, Terence Ranger insisted that social and cultural traditions were invented and manipulated by both Europeans and Africans to serve their own interests. Specifically, elders, men, ruling aristocracies, and indigenous people appealed to "tradition." The elders did so in order to defend their dominance over the rural means of production against challenges from the youth; men wanted to retain control against women, who were playing an increasingly important role in the rural areas, especially in regions dominated by male migrant labor; ruling aristocracies sought to maintain or extend their control over their subjects; and indigenous people were anxious to ensure that migrants who settled among them did not achieve political or economic rights. This model became popular for analyzing the contexts in which various cultural and social practices in colonial Africa developed—from music and dance to law and marriage.

This constructivist approach was to be fully developed by postcolonial scholars, for whom colonialism was a regime of material and cultural relations as well as discursive and symbolic representations that affected both Africans and Europeans profoundly, although in different ways. The postcolonialists sought to dismantle the image of colonialism as a coherent and monolithic process, to transcend the dichotomy of colonizer and colonized by problematizing, differentiating, and pluralizing each group and mapping out their complex and shifting relations, and to specify the cultural configurations and discourses fashioned out of their changing identities, consciousness, interactions, and negotiations.

Postcolonialists brought into sharper focus issues previously ignored or misconstrued in structuralist and social scientific analyses of colonialism, especially those concerning sexuality, subjectivity, psychology, and language. Besides the textual notions and readings of colonial culture, analyses have increasingly come to stress the nonverbal, tactile dimensions of social practice and the corporeal regimes of bodies, clothing, and performances. Particularly influential have been Frantz Fanon's acclaimed work on the psychology of colonialism and his crucial insights that "blackness" and "whiteness" were mutually constitutive ideological constructions. Building on Fanon's insights, scholars of Africa have highlighted the construction of colonial mentalities, madness, and medicine as mechanisms for inscribing and policing racial and sexual boundaries. Kwame Appiah has shown how the ideas of race in Africa were socially constructed and how colonial and anticolonial discourses reinforced each other to fix racial essences on bodies.

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