Postcolonial times: lock the gate or pull down the fences?

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Publication details

Boyd, B 2013, 'Postcolonial times: lock the gate or pull down the fences?', Coolabah, vol. 12, pp. 1-31.

Article available on Open Access

Peer Reviewed



The development of a rural coal seam gas industry in regional Australia, together with its key technology, fracking, has been met by a very active, lively and vocal social protest movement. This 2013 Tricontinental Lecture in Postcolonial Studies reflects on this protest movement from two perspectives. First, it examines what a postcolonial studies perspective may bring to further understanding the relationships and dynamics between the industry and the protest movement. Secondly, it considers what postcolonial scholars themselves may be able to bring to critiques of social issues such as this environmental contention. The example described in this lecture also reminds us that postcolonial studies concerns more than the three continents of the Tricontinent, Latin America, Africa and Asia, and that it is centrally concerned with access to environmental resources. Building on the history of the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, and the growth of postcolonial political philosophy and studies that focus on power, equity and access in postcolonial societies, this essay considers the power differentials between industry and government on the one hand, and the protest movement on the other. By examining the role of language and its control, a key social process in the wielding of power, it is shown that the coal seam gas development debate is couched in terms of industrial or governmental language, and not in the language of the community. This has three important consequences. First, opponents are forced to express concerns about technical matters or scientific matters, thus legitimising the proposed activity. Secondly, opponents are not authorised, within the formal sphere, to express their own feelings through their language of social anxiety, of love of the country, of being in the community, of history. Thirdly, both sides find themselves in a typical cross-cultural dilemma: either speak an inadequate form of language that the other party understands but that does not actually express what you mean, or speak your own language and risk the other party not understanding what you mean.

From a postcolonial studies perspective, this example reminds students of two key processes. First, students need to master the intellectual skills of the humanities in order to provide critical analysis of social situations. Secondly, students need to know that, as western scholars, they are as much part of any postcolonial problem as those in power, and therefore need to develop good reflective skills and to learn to think ‘otherwise’.

Additional information

Coolabah: Special Monograph issue, no. 12, 2013: The 2013 Australian Studies Centre Tricontinental Lecture in Postcolonial Studies, University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Monday 8th April 2013.