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Postcoloniality without race? Racial exceptionalism and south-east European cultural studies

Baker, Catherine


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Dr Catherine Baker
Research Coordinator for History and Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History


The black Dutch feminist Gloria Wekker, assembling past and present everyday expressions of racialized imagination which collectively undermine hegemonic beliefs that white Dutch society has no historic responsibility for racism, writes in her book White Innocence that ‘one can do postcolonial studies very well without ever critically addressing race’ (p. 175). Two and a half decades after the adaptation of postcolonial thought to explain aspects of cultural politics during the break-up of Yugoslavia created important tools for understanding the construction of national, regional and socio-economic identities around hierarchical notions of ‘Europe’ and ‘the Balkans’ in the Yugoslav region and beyond, Wekker’s observation is still largely true for south-east European studies, where no intervention establishing race and whiteness as categories of analysis has reframed the field like work by Maria Todorova on ‘balkanism’ or Milica Bakić-Hayden on ‘symbolic geographies’ and ‘nesting orientalism’ did in the early 1990s. Critical race theorists such as Charles Mills nevertheless argue that ‘race’ as a structure of thought and feeling that legitimised colonialism and slavery (and still informs structural white supremacy) involved precisely the kind of essentialised link between people and territory that south-east European cultural theory also critiques: the construction of spatialised hierarchies specifying which peoples and territories could have more or less access to civilisation and modernity. South-east European studies’ latent racial exceptionalism has some roots in the race-blind anti-colonial solidarities of state socialist internationalism (further intensified for Yugoslavia through the politics of Non-Alignment) but also, this paper suggests, in deeper associations between Europeanness, whiteness and modernity that remain part of the history of ‘Europe’ as an idea even if, by the end of the 20th century, they were silenced more often than voiced.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 18, 2018
Print ISSN 1369-801X
Electronic ISSN 1469-929X
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 20
Issue 6
Pages 759-784
APA6 Citation Baker, C. (2018). Postcoloniality without race? Racial exceptionalism and south-east European cultural studies. Interventions : international journal of postcolonial studies, 20(6), 759-784.
Keywords Balkanism; Identity; Postsocialism; Race; Southeast Europe; Yugoslavia
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Copyright Statement ©2018 The University of Hull


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