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nativism


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The desire to return to, or restore, indigenous practices, beliefs, and cultural forms inhibited, destroyed, or outlawed by a colonizing power. It generally holds the view that indigenous practices are more authentic and therefore more culturally nourishing than the adopted or imposed western practices. The discourse of nativism became especially prominent in the 1950s, when the decolonization process was at its peak. It can be compared with négritude, but its focus is more narrow—rather than celebrate the shared fate of a race, it tends to foreground absolute difference. Nativism is problematized in Postcolonial Studies in two ways: first, there is the question of to what extent it is even possible to restore indigenous practices under conditions of modernity (Cambodia's destruction of its western-style hospitals under Pol Pot in the 1970s is an extreme version of this dilemma); second, there is the question of the desirability of doing so, especially when these practices would lead to the reduction of gains in rights on the part of minority groups, women, and so on (as for example in Rwanda in the 1990s when the assertion of one ethnic group's nativist ideas led to the near genocide of the other). Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is a vivid working through of these troubling paradoxes.

Further Reading:

J. Beverley Subalternity and Repression: Arguments in Cultural Theory (1999).I. Szeman Zones of Instability: Literature, Postcolonialism, and the Nation (2003).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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