Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies (FRCPS)

Colonial rule and expansion is an efficacious event in the histories of both the global North and the global South leaving a distinct mark on current scholarship, culture, philosophy, literature as well as the economy, politics, law and society. In the past three decades Postcolonial Studies has emerged as a trans-disciplinary research field, which has provided the impetus for important critical interventions within numerous academic disciplines – from Literary and Cultural Studies, History, Sociology, Ethnology and Political Science to Philosophy. Other trans-disciplinary research areas, such as Gender Studies, can no longer be imagined without recourse to postcolonial approaches.

Postcolonial Studies aims to explore the legacies and consequences of European colonialism in its various aspects – literal, figurative, spatial, historical, political and economic. In so doing, the specific focus is never placed on particular countries, regions or even disciplines, but rather the aim is to bring to the forefront past and current interdependences and entanglements in a trans-disciplinary perspective. That which is often referred to as “modern Europe” is read as an outcome of colonial interaction, even as (former) colonies are understood as “laboratories of modernity”. As an influential body of theory, Postcolonial Studies includes analyses of the political, economic and cultural developments in the global South as well the examination of the above-mentioned entanglements with the global North. Furthermore, the strategies of justification of various colonial and neocolonial discourses are also investigated, so that the normative violence, which is exerted in the name of rationality, progress and development, may be critiqued.

Postcolonial Studies is an attempt to reconstruct the effects of Western imperialism, which are at play up to the present day. However, the field also aims to document how precarious and contested these power formations have been, so that the postcolonial constellations can be grasped in their complex and contradictory nature. In the various areas of scholarship it attempts to show the sustained and ambivalent effects of colonial power structures on knowledge production. Postcolonial Studies intends to deconstruct the Eurocentrism that underlies a large part of theory-building in the West. However, it not only challenges Eurocentric claims of universality, but also the complementary assertions of global particularism and cultural relativism.

A postcolonial perspective has also proven to be indispensable for an analysis of political practice and norms. In today’s times global dimensions of social inequalities have to be taken into account. On account of our entangled histories and futures, it is insufficient to seek to address political responsibility only within national borders. Postcolonial theorists have established that it is impossible to write a history of the West without taking into account the histories of the colonies and vice versa. Despite multiple attempts to comprehend global power constellations from a multidimensional perspective − owing to the relatively short German colonial period − critical approaches in German-speaking academia have often neglected to consider the colonial context within which transnational problems and conflicts originated. As a result, in contrast to Anglo-American academia, postcolonial perspectives have for a long time only been per- and received as marginal. The current interest in postcolonial theory in German-speaking countries has now led to a formerly neglected research area receiving attention, contributing to an expansion of critical theory-building and its institutionalization.

Within the German-speaking academic discourse the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies (FRCPS) aims to provide a platform for postcolonial theory in general and feminist-postcolonial theory in particular. The first of its kind in the German Social Sciences landscape, the trans-disciplinary research center intends to promote postcolonial perspectives with a Social Science focus, to further consolidate Postcolonial Studies within Germany, even as it seeks to set new trends within postcolonial theory production itself. The Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” as well as the Goethe-University Frankfurt, where the FRCPS is located, will visibly be able to distinguish themselves in an influential research area.

The FRCPS will research postcolonial constellations and conflicts in all their complexity. In comparison to other Postcolonial Studies institutes, FRCPS will not only emphasize cultural politics and hybridization processes, but also place an equally strong emphasis on questions of decolonization and democratization in the postcolonial contexts of developing socio-economic and political areas. Investigating the conceptual and cultural flows between the “South” and the “North” also always brings with it recognizing violent and socio-economic exploitation as a defining moment of colonialism. The intermingling of diverse normative orders and their multifaceted impact marks an important point of departure for theory-building and critical intervention. The analyses of different types of norms – juridical, moral or social – and their interaction in different contexts of domination, for instance in regulating gender and sexuality, is indispensable in understanding how colonial justification narratives such as the mission civilisatrice operate. On the other hand, the FRCPS intends to address the critical impetus of norms – such as equality, liberty and justice – which anti-colonial liberation movements have historically employed to challenge colonial rule and which have been mobilized by women’s movements globally in support of their emancipatory claims. By framing gender relations as normative orders, the FRCPS strives to integrate a perspective critical of heteronormativity, which raises important questions such as: How are gender relations and sexualities in postcolonial contexts structured? How can gendered structures be deconstructed? And how do global labor and production processes effect gender relations both within as well as between the “North” and the “South“?

The FRCPS will focus on four research areas:

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality, Religion and Post/Colonialism

One of feminist-postcolonial theories’ main contributions lie in theorizing the dynamics between race, class, gender, sexuality, religion and other social categories by scrutinizing their formations and intersections. Feminist-postcolonial theory, as advanced by the FRCPS, aims to think various axes of inequality together and reveal theoretical conflicts, in order to make analyses of colonial and postcolonial contexts more complex. Racialisation processes, gendering, Orientalism and heteronormativity in these terms appear as components of colonial domination and its civilizing mission. In response to the critique leveled at Postcolonial Studies of ignoring class relations, we aim to pay serious attention to class (and caste) based inequalities as well as global capitalism and international division of labor.

Postcolonial Diasporas and Transnationalism

In light of ongoing migratory and refugee flows from the “South” to the “North”, analyses of migration and transnationalisation processes are becoming increasingly important within metropolitan postcolonial theories. Anti-racist politics, Critical Whiteness Studies and debates on multiculturalism have transformed the postcolonial diasporic subject-position into a much discussed topic. Within the European context, the colonial continuities of migration policies as well as experiences of racism and discrimination, which determine postcolonial migrants’ everyday life, are important research issues for the FRCPS. Challenging the well-established victimization discourse as well as romanticisation and celebration of migrants, which is all too common within the Social Sciences when referring to migration and diaspora, the FRCPS understands migrants as political agents involved in global socio-economic and cultural transformation processes. Advancing current debates on belonging, identity and culture, the FRCPS seeks to question the hegemonic representations of culture, nation and citizenship from a feminist-postcolonial perspective.

Globalization and Post-Development Studies

The violent insertion of former colonies into a capitalist world economic order and the imperial continuities of current international labor division, which accompany a gender-specific division of the labor market, continue to guarantee the affluence of a global elite. Globalization, in its current economic and cultural form, can thus be read as a displacement of 19th century territorial imperialism. Non-unionized and permanently casual female labor is the mainstay of current world trade. This structure of super-exploitation is further compounded by patriarchal social relations that are upheld through internalized gender roles perceived as ethical choice. In showing how development policies serve as an alibi for continued exploitation, feminist Post-Development theories, which explicitly refer to postcolonial paradigms, have demonstrated how development discourse once more sustains the interplay of colonialism and capitalism. By referring to these theories the FRCPS’ goal is to place the focus of further analyses on the continuities and disjunctures between “direct” colonial rule and structural dependency as prompted by the current global market and international organizations.

Decolonization, Democratization and Gender Justice

Decolonization is a political process, in which colonial structures and forms of knowledge are replaced by democratic procedures. Democracies are often regarded as political systems, in which claims for both equality and justice can be realized. In most postcolonial contexts however, formal independence from European rule and the transfer of government to local elites has only marginally led to improving the daily living and working conditions of the respective majority. From this point of view, the hopes attached to post-colonialism have proven to be false promises. Third World women’s restricted access to economic and political power marks the failure of decolonization. Since not all states of the global South are democratically constituted, the abolition of autocratic regimes has been used to justify military and peace-enforcing interventions. All too often these interventions are conducted under the guise of (re-) establishing gender justice. In the mean time gender mainstreaming has advanced to a norm of military intervention. The FRCPS has taken it upon itself to research the options of decolonizing postcolonial states in a context in which the law, economy and politics are transnationalised and to offer critical impulses from a postcolonial perspective for academic and political debates on global democracy, justice and peace. The question of global gender justice builds a cross-cutting theme, which is part and parcel of questions on transnational power relations and can only be understood with reference to global inequalities.


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30. und 31. März 2023

XXIInd Walter Hallstein-Symposium: The Common Security and Defence of the EU - Perspectives from Member States. More...

13. April 2023, 20 Uhr

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Sprache und Gewalt. Perspektiven aus Theorie und Praxis

Mit: Meron Mendel (Direktor der Bildungsstätte Anne Frank), Natasha A. Kelly (Kommunikationswissenschaftlerin & Autorin) und Nicole Rieber (Berghof Foundation, Globales Lernen für Konflikttransformation)
Moderation: Christopher Daase (Forschungszentrum TraCe) und Rebecca Caroline Schmidt (Clusterinitiative ConTrust)
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Was ist Befreiung?

Prof. Dr. Christoph Menke (Goethe-Universität, Normative Orders) im Gespräch mit Cord Riechelmann (Autor)
Gesprächsreihe "Frankfurter Schule"

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Christoph Burchard and Finn-Lauritz Schmidt (2023)

Climate Crimes - A Critique. Normative Orders Working Paper 01/2023. More..