Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Virtual Hypocrisy: Postcolonial Friendships and Facebook?

By Joseph F Duggan

The internet is revolutionizing academia.

People from around the world are becoming Facebook friends blurring historical divisional boundaries. Facebook friends are learning about each other’s different cultural, gender, racial and class experiences. There is potential for these Facebook friendships to become real friendships that produce social and ecclesiological changes in the way people live together in postcolonial societies.

Are you skeptical?

A 2010 Google survey of words showed that the term “postcolonial” did not even register sufficient statistical data to demonstrate patterns of interest. But Pramod Nayar is hopeful about “postcolonializing cyberculture” as “NGO’s, trans-governmental organizations and activists’ link across the globe through these technologies.”

Facebook predisposes more people to extend learning rapidly. The power dynamics of the delivery of and access to scholarship are rapidly changing.

Leela Gandhi in Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Si├Ęcle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship and Ashis Nandy in The Intimate Enemy tell stories of little known friendships between colonized and colonizer. Gandhi introduces and describes Edward Carpenter as, “the late nineteenth century socialist, animal rights activist, prison reformer, homosexual…(who) excoriates England for the dubious blessings of empire...Writing in passionate if somewhat purple register, he condemns unequivocally all acts of imperial exploitation.” How many people interested in postcolonialism know of Carpenter’s 1883 work, Towards Democracy unless they are scholars reading erudite books such as Gandhi’s? It is safe to say very few.

Nandy highlights the importance of “the numerically small but psychologically significant response of many who opted out of their colonizing society for the cause of India.” Gandhi reminds readers that “very rarely…did this enterprise register on the center stage of colonial encounter, its protestations scarcely observed on either side of the imperial divide.”

Gandhi and Nandy don’t give up hope, as there is a kernel of possibility for postcolonial friendships to emerge through Facebook even in the midst of annoying reordered profiles, silly pokes, arbitrary likes/unlikes, trite wall postings and mind numbing games like Farmville.

It will probably be a long time before Facebook is a postcolonial tool of decolonization that transforms racism into friendship. But these changes are transforming academia:
  • Online peer review journals in less than a month draw readers in 60+ non-English speaking countries through Facebook publicity.
  • Scholarly books that once were successful if they sold to 450 research libraries will be replaced by the success of online tools where a popular journal paper, by an otherwise unknown scholar is downloaded and read by1500 readers within 24 hours of being published. Unpopular papers receive as many readers as the “one run” published books.
  • While prestigious publishers still make a difference in tenure applications, Amazon distributes books without regard to the power of prestigious named presses and enable little known presses to share the power of the same global distribution channel.

As marginalized scholars once excluded from scholarly discussions increasingly leverage online access to publish, more will hear of subversive thinkers like Edward Carpenter. Facebook will be transformed from a predominantly white privileged luxury of the elite few into an effective tool for postcolonial activism where colonizer-colonized become more friendly allies.

* Joseph F Duggan, MDiv’06 is founder of Postcolonial Networks and editor of Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology.

1 comment:

  1. Well put, Joe. The Internet has significantly changed how knowledge is accessed, created, re-created and disseminated. It also creates the condition of possibility for social spaces and multiple literacies to be accessible to more than the elite minority. As always, it will be up to individuals to bring that latent potential into the service of fruitful dialog and transformation.