Robert J.C. Young

Robert J.C. Young

Robert JC Young (born 1950) is a postcolonial theorist, cultural critic, and historian.

He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, taught at the University of Southampton, and then returned to Oxford where he was Professor of English and Critical Theory and a fellow of Wadham College. In 2005, he moved to New York University where he is now Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Young is General Editor of "Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies" which appears quarterly. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Young's first book, "White Mythologies: Writing History and the West" (1990) argued that Marxist philosophies of history had claimed to be world histories but had really only ever been histories of the West, seen from a Eurocentric--even if anti-capitalist--perspective. In "Colonial Desire" (1995), Young examined the history of the concept of 'hybridity', showing its genealogy through nineteenth-century racial theory and twentieth-century linguistics, prior to its transformation into an innovative cultural-political concept by postcolonial theorists in the 1990s. This was followed by "Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction" (2001), a work which offers the first comprehensive account of the history and theoretical production of all the major anti-colonial movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries around the globe and traces their relation to the development of postcolonial theory. Stressing the significance of the work of the Third International, as well as Mao Zedong's reorientation of the landless peasant as the revolutionary subject, Young points to the importance of the Havana Tricontinental of 1966 as the first independent coming together of the three continents of the South--Africa, Asia and Latin America--in political solidarity, and argues that this was the moment in which what is now called 'postcolonial theory' was first formally constituted as a specific knowledge-base of non-Western political and cultural production. In "Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction" (2003), Young links this genealogy of postcolonialism to the contemporary activism of the New Social Movements in non-Western countries. This last book, intended as an introduction to postcolonialism for the general reader, is written in a highly accessible style and unorthodox format, mixing history with fiction, cultural analysis with moments of poetic intensity that stage and evoke postcolonial experience rather than merely describe it. Instead of approaching postcolonialism through its often abstract and esoteric theories, the book works entirely out of particular examples.

In his most recent work, "The Idea of English Ethnicity" (2008), Young has moved from the global to the local and turned his attention to an apparent contradiction--the idea of an English ethnicity. Why does ethnicity not seem to be a category applicable to English people? To answer this question, Young reconsiders the way that English identity was classified in historical and racial terms in the nineteenth century. He argues that what most affected this was the relation of England to Ireland after the Act of Union of 1800-1. Initial attempts at excluding the Irish were followed by a more inclusive idea of Englishness which removed the specificities of race and even place. Englishness was developed as a broader identity, intended to include not only the Irish (and thus deter Irish nationalism) but also the English diaspora around the world--North Americans, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders, and even, for some writers, Indians and those from the Caribbean. By the end of the nineteenth century, this had become appropriated as an ideology of empire. The delocalisation of the country England from ideas of Englishness (Kipling's "What do they know of England who only England know?") helps explain why recent commentators have found Englishness so hard to define--but also explains why some of the most English of Englishmen have been Americans. On the other hand, Young argues, its broad principle of inclusiveness helps to explain why Britain has been able to transform itself into one of the most successful of modern multicultural nations.

Young's work is characterized by a distinctive approach in which he always considers theory in terms of the context of its contemporary or historical origins, looking at what questions from their own times theories are developed to address. At the same time, he looks back to theory in the past to think through how it can be reformulated for the demands of the present. His unusual conjunction of history and theory is mediated by the literary aesthetic of his own writing which has increasingly moved across a range of different styles and genres--critical, historical, fictional, poetic, autobiographical--which ironise each other and refuse conventional academic classification.

elected Works

"White Mythologies: Writing History and the West" Routledge, London and New York 1990. Second edition, 2004. ISBN 0-415-31181-0
"Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Culture, Theory and Race" Routledge, London and New York, 1995. ISBN 0-415-05374-9 Second edition forthcoming.
"Torn Halves: Political Conflict in Literary and Cultural Theory" Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1996. ISBN 0-7190-4777-3
"Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction" Blackwell Publishers, Oxford and Malden, Mass., 2001. ISBN 0-631-20071-1
"Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction" Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003. ISBN 0-19-280182-1
"The Idea of English Ethnicity" Blackwell Publishers, Oxford and Malden, Mass., 2008. ISBN 1-405-10129-6

External links

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