Til bevillingsoversigt

Decolonizing Political Action

Special Research Projects


The project explores the nature of postcolonial agency through a comparative analysis of the modes of doing political action of four exemplary figures who are positioned very differently within the space of postcoloniality: Ho Chi Minh, the anti-colonial revolutionary communist fighter turned statesman who founded modern Vietnam; Frantz Fanon, the French résistant who diagnosed the pathologies of colonialism and joined the Algerian war of independence against France; Dr Wangarī Maathai, the Kenyan women's rights and environmental activist and Nobel peace prize recipient who stood up against the predatory practices of an authoritarian postcolonial state; and Tsvetan Todorov, the Bulgarian-French anthropologist and critic of both colonialism and totalitarianism.


In advancing the understanding of what constitutes the nature of political action, the project contributes to a central research question of both political science and of international relations. It also contributes centrally to postcolonial studies by, firstly, ushering in a much-needed attention to political agency that helps move it beyond its original focus on the oppressive structures and enduring effects of colonial rule into the present. Secondly, it helps further its central epistemological commitment to decolonise or 'de-Westernise' the tools of analysis. Lastly, it helps develop the fast-growing subfield of postcolonial international relations. In this way, the project helps build bridges between several disciplines by advancing some of their foundational questions.


The research for the project will be conducted, first, through a careful reading of the writings of the four postcolonial figures to understand how they themselves conceived their political actions. This will be complemented, second, with fieldwork visits and interviews in Kenya, Algeria, Martinique and Vietnam to appraise their historical impacts and the contemporary reception of their work in the contexts where they made a difference. Histories of French and British colonisation and the colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence and Kew will constitute the third research sites. Together these three research strands will yield the materials required to complete the research monograph, Decolonizing Political Action.


The project directly addresses one of the pressing global societal concerns of our age, how to grapple with the legacies of a colonialism that has fundamentally shaped our worlds in ways that we have only begun to take the measure of, and not only in the former colonies, as expressed recently by the Black Lives Matter movement and its numerous manifestations around the globe. Specifically, at a time when many are trying to come to terms with what it means to act politically within spaces and institutions that are deeply imprinted with unequal, racialized and gendered relations, it has become essential to learn from the ingenuity, creativity and trajectories of early postcolonial actors, in order to understand how, against all odds, they were able to effect real changes in their local contexts.