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Date 2021-02-20


On the Theorization of Indigenous Studies: Assessing the Implications of Post-Colonialism, Sinology


Chiang, Bao-Chai

Terry Russell

Professor, Department of Chinese Literature and the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Creative Innovation, National Chung Cheng University

Senior Scholar, Asian Studies Center, University of Manitoba


Beginning in the last century, the influence of Marxist concern for the proletariat and economic infrastructure, as well as Liberalism’s discourse on the protection of individual freedom have made their presence felt in heightened academic interest in the plight of disenfranchised groups around the world. This is but one aspect of the process by which post-modernism and post-colonialism have become the most popular analytical theories in Western academe over the past in the past three to four decades. Although there is no direct connection between the historical factors contributing to the development of post-modern and post-colonial theory on the one hand, and the historical experience and lived conditions of Indigenous peoples on the other, the social and political phenomena with which post-colonialism concerns itself share a number of common points of interest with those issues of interest to Indigenous studies. This is especially so with the rise of subaltern studies, a branch of post-colonial studies developed among a group of Indian scholars in the 1980s. As Jodi A. Byrd and Michael Rothberg have pointed out, Indigenous people have also been relegated to subaltern situations. Since subaltern studies, like Indigenous studies, deals extensively with economic, social and political situation of disenfranchised peoples, it has much relevance in the study of the present condition of Indigenous peoples. For this reason, although contradictions cannot be avoided, there are numerous reasons why subaltern theory is appropriately applied to the analysis of issues within the context of Indigenous studies. In Taiwan, due to the fact that Indigenous peoples have long lived under the control of Han (Chinese) settlers, their everyday language, whether it be the rhetoric of creative work or of intellectual discourse, has inevitably come to be dominated by the terms of Sinitic language. Thus, Sinophone language has become the choice of Indigenous peoples as they engage with the academic mainstream.

What literary or cultural theories are appropriately applied in Indigenous studies? This paper attempts to approach the theorization of Indigenous studies from within the context of Sinophone studies, and to suggest some possible lines of development. We ask whether it is possible for post-colonial studies, and for Sinophone studies, the principles of which are just in the process of being established, to join hands with Indigenous studies in challenging Euro-American-centrism and Sinocentrism to develop an entirely new manner of dealing with Indigenous issues.

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Bulletin of Taiwanese Literature