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Precolonial Intellectuals and the Production of Colonial Knowledge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2003

Phillip B. Wagoner
Wesleyan University


Recent years have seen the emergence of a lively debate over the nature of “colonial knowledge”—those forms and bodies of knowledge that enabled European colonizers to achieve domination over their colonized subjects around the globe. Lying at the heart of the debate are two opposing evaluations of the role played by colonized subjects in the production of colonial knowledge. One position holds that the role of the colonized was negligible—at most, permitting some of them to serve as passive informants, providing raw information to the active European colonizers who produced the new knowledge by imposing imported modes of knowing upon the raw data of local society. In contrast, the other holds that indigenous intellectuals in reality contributed actively to the process, and that colonial knowledge was thus produced through a complex form of collaboration between colonizers and colonized, and an attendant process of epistemic confrontation and adjustment between European and indigenous knowledge systems. Although this debate has focused primarily on one colonial context—that of British India—it has important ramifications for the broader history of colonialism, and is complemented by contributions relating to other areas of European colonialism (Cooper and Stoler 1997:11–18).

Research Article
© 2003 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

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