June 26, 2007

Chris Williams: ‘Problematizing Wales: An Exploration in Historiography and Postcoloniality’

In this essay, Williams begins by rejecting any models of Wales as a post-colonial nation, but he does embrace aspects of postcolonial theory such as ‘ambivalence, hybridity and post-nationality’ which might be useful in considering Wales as a marginal region (13). William sees ambivalence as bound up with Wales’ complicity with the English and British. There is also hybridity in the ‘migration, settlement and intermarriage’ in Wales: what Williams calls ‘Wales’ “fuzzy borders” and its long inheritance of multicultural experiences, if not of multiculturalism’ (14). Williams is adamant that hybridity has often been ignored by critics and commentators in Wales, yet possibilities might be found in the view of selfhood that defines postcolonial theory.

Our preoccupation with cultural identity has gradually been relaxed from seeing identity in the singular (Welsh, English, Irish etc.), to being prepared to view identity as hybridized or hyphenated (Anglo-Welsh, English-speaking Welsh, Irish-Welsh, Black-Welsh etc.) and has moved on to embrace concepts of situational or multiple identities. But an essentialist notion of self (even if it is hyphenated) is one in which questions of national identity are more pre-eminent than any other. Some postcolonial ideas, however, from their origin in the experience of the diaspora, advance the idea of the fragmented, performative or multiple self, whereby one’s authenticity flows not from the membership of a particular collective group, but from one’s existence as an individual. (15)

Williams rejects ‘monoculturism’ and he directs the reader towards the ‘postnationality’ of Habermas, Held and the critics in the field of Subaltern Studies. In contrast to postnationality, nationalism works ‘by “othering”, by identifying borders between “us” and “them”’ (16). It is these ‘reactive and essentialist binarisms’ that ‘erect psychological barriers between peoples, excite unnecessary antagonisms towards others, and render marginal or invisible those whose characters do not fit those of the imagined nation’ (16). Williams vision of ‘post-national Wales’ offers ‘a partially autonomous Wales where that autonomy has a liberating effect for all citizens, and not just for those who subscribe to conventional views of what the characteristics and direction of that nation-state should be’ (16). This society would reject ‘the notion of a homogenous nation-state with singular forms of belonging, in favour of inclusivity and diversity’ (16).

The concept of a postnational citizenship crosses existing political borders and cultural boundaries, aiming for a consensus of universal moral values that enshrines the rights of the individual through democratic participation, that speaks in terms of respect for all human beings of all levels of wealth and status, that aims to reduce inequality within and between countries and continents and that seeks human societies that are more in tune with environmental pressures and demands. (16).

*Williams uses ‘post-colonial’ to signify ‘a particular period or epoch (literally, after colonialism […])’, and ‘postcolonial’ to denote the theoretical issues surrounding colonial rule and post-colonial development (3-4).

Postcolonial Wales. Ed. Jane Aaron and Chris Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2005. 3 – 22.


- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. annaakhmatova@hotmail.com

    First time I’ve heard this view so uncompromisingly elaborated, loved it. Is he related to Raymond Williams or is the surname a coincidence?

    28 Jun 2007, 07:23

  2. Yes, I liked this essay too. As far as I know he isn’t related to Raymond Williams – I think that there are a lot of Williams in Wales!

    28 Jun 2007, 07:53


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