brian rutledge on premesh lalu and ‘the postcolonial’ in southern african studies


Brian Rutledge, ‘Premesh Lalu’s Post-colonial Push: Is it Time to Dismantle the Discipline?’, South African Historical Journal 63, 1 (2011)

In The Deaths of Hintsa, Premesh Lalu argues that South African history remains trapped by colonial modes of thinking. As a necessary consequence, he claims that the field needs a post-colonial moment, suggesting that historians engage with a deconstructionist strand of subaltern studies so as to sever the field from colonial epistemologies. In this essay, I review the book and then locate Lalu within a broad overview of South African historiography in order to offer a critical response to his proposals. I highlight radical and social historians because I think that they have more to offer the field today than Lalu is willing to admit. In a final section, I briefly explore Jonathon Hyslop’s idea of an epistemological middle ground and Clifton Crais’s engagement with subaltern studies. Both scholars provide useful alternatives to Lalu’s work. I conclude that South African history does not need Lalu’s post-colonial moment because it would privilege creativity at the expense of coherence and promote dismantling at a time when we may want to seek some stability.


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