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"Gewoon een Land Zijn". psycho-postcolonial perspectives on national identity and belonging in Guyana and Suriname: a comparative reading of Anglophone and Dutch Caribbean literature
"Gewoon een Land Zijn". psycho-postcolonial perspectives on national identity and belonging in Guyana and Suriname: a comparative reading of Anglophone and Dutch Caribbean literature
What is identity? Most disciplines that concern themselves with this question give a similar answer: a construct. From a cultural, political, historical and psychological perspective, identity is a construct. But why and how are identities constructed? Depending on the discipline, the answers to these questions may differ. For instance, from a political perspective, identity may be seen as strategic essentialism, a tool to push through a political agenda. From a cultural perspective, identity may be perceived as narration that weaves loose ends of cultural discontinuity, contradictions, and complexity into a smooth, meaningful fabric of cultural continuity. From a psychological perspective, certain kinds of identity can be understood as satisfying specific needs that ensure psychic wellbeing. Thus, the questions of why and how identity is constructed require more lengthy answers, particularly when looking at expressions of identity where political goals, societal issues, and psychological aspects are inextricably entwined. This book looks at two such cases: constructs of national identity in literature from both Guyana and Suriname shortly before and after their independence. The novelty of this study is its new multidisciplinary approach that combines the culturally- and politically-oriented perspectives of postcolonial studies with contemporary psychological theories on identity in an integrative way. Taking a new theoretical standpoint, this study combined postcolonial and psychological perspectives on national identity. The analyses focused on literary representations of discourses of national identity in Guyanese and Surinamese short stories, essays, and poems written between 1945 and 1985. The texts were analysed with critical discourse analysis and narratological methods. The study addressed several shortcomings of previous postcolonial research on national identity in the Caribbean. Notably, primordialist definitions of identity have been deemed unsuitable for the analysis and description of identity in the Caribbean. In these texts, however, identity was often construed as if identity was, in fact, essential or as if there was a natural connection between national soil and the identity of the people occupying the land. Although nativism and essentialism were appropriated to fit the socio-historical context of the Caribbean, identity constructions often engaged with nativism and essentialism as modes of construing. Together with the ethnocentric, chauvinistic politics of the time, these essentialist, nativist notions of identity created a national discourse which focused on the social and psychic realities of the Afro-Caribbean population marginalising the Indo-Caribbean population. Cognitive theories, such as the theory of personal constructs, were used to scrutinise the specific cognitive mechanisms related to these modes of construing. In the context of the ongoing ethno-political tensions, the discursive representations of identity were associated with social identity theory and in-group projection. Other recurring patterns in these narratives seemed to fulfil functions related to the basic psychological needs of affiliation, competence, and autonomy, as well as to needs related to self-comprehension, self-esteem, and self-enhancement. In turn, in many of the texts, hybrid characters grappled with the psychologically unsettling repercussions of their hybridity. In sum, the combination of psychological and postcolonial theories offered a new analytical perspective which provided new insights in discourses of national identity in Caribbean contexts and the psychological functions and mechanisms that these narratives may serve.
Postcolonial Studies, Postcolonial Theory, Identity, National Identity, Psychology, Nationalism, Nation, Belonging, Caribbean, Guyana, Suriname, Literature
Graßl, Franziska
2016
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Graßl, Franziska (2016): "Gewoon een Land Zijn": psycho-postcolonial perspectives on national identity and belonging in Guyana and Suriname: a comparative reading of Anglophone and Dutch Caribbean literature. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty for Languages and Literatures
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Abstract

What is identity? Most disciplines that concern themselves with this question give a similar answer: a construct. From a cultural, political, historical and psychological perspective, identity is a construct. But why and how are identities constructed? Depending on the discipline, the answers to these questions may differ. For instance, from a political perspective, identity may be seen as strategic essentialism, a tool to push through a political agenda. From a cultural perspective, identity may be perceived as narration that weaves loose ends of cultural discontinuity, contradictions, and complexity into a smooth, meaningful fabric of cultural continuity. From a psychological perspective, certain kinds of identity can be understood as satisfying specific needs that ensure psychic wellbeing. Thus, the questions of why and how identity is constructed require more lengthy answers, particularly when looking at expressions of identity where political goals, societal issues, and psychological aspects are inextricably entwined. This book looks at two such cases: constructs of national identity in literature from both Guyana and Suriname shortly before and after their independence. The novelty of this study is its new multidisciplinary approach that combines the culturally- and politically-oriented perspectives of postcolonial studies with contemporary psychological theories on identity in an integrative way. Taking a new theoretical standpoint, this study combined postcolonial and psychological perspectives on national identity. The analyses focused on literary representations of discourses of national identity in Guyanese and Surinamese short stories, essays, and poems written between 1945 and 1985. The texts were analysed with critical discourse analysis and narratological methods. The study addressed several shortcomings of previous postcolonial research on national identity in the Caribbean. Notably, primordialist definitions of identity have been deemed unsuitable for the analysis and description of identity in the Caribbean. In these texts, however, identity was often construed as if identity was, in fact, essential or as if there was a natural connection between national soil and the identity of the people occupying the land. Although nativism and essentialism were appropriated to fit the socio-historical context of the Caribbean, identity constructions often engaged with nativism and essentialism as modes of construing. Together with the ethnocentric, chauvinistic politics of the time, these essentialist, nativist notions of identity created a national discourse which focused on the social and psychic realities of the Afro-Caribbean population marginalising the Indo-Caribbean population. Cognitive theories, such as the theory of personal constructs, were used to scrutinise the specific cognitive mechanisms related to these modes of construing. In the context of the ongoing ethno-political tensions, the discursive representations of identity were associated with social identity theory and in-group projection. Other recurring patterns in these narratives seemed to fulfil functions related to the basic psychological needs of affiliation, competence, and autonomy, as well as to needs related to self-comprehension, self-esteem, and self-enhancement. In turn, in many of the texts, hybrid characters grappled with the psychologically unsettling repercussions of their hybridity. In sum, the combination of psychological and postcolonial theories offered a new analytical perspective which provided new insights in discourses of national identity in Caribbean contexts and the psychological functions and mechanisms that these narratives may serve.