Postcolonial Feminist Concepts – Key Terms (Part 2)

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In this blog, I continue addressing some key terms (see the first article here) that one would come across in postcolonial feminist readings.


Marginality is the description and/or perception of someone being at the ‘margins’ as a result of dominant, binary structures such as imperialism, patriarchy, and ethno-centrism. In very simple words, marginality describes those who have no access to power. However, it is important to remember that marginality indirectly indicates that centrality exists and despite the abundant use of the term to denote oppression/exclusion, one must be wary of not reproducing the very systems of power postcolonial feminism seeks to deconstruct.

“Third world woman”

A very well-known postcolonial feminist scholar, Chandra Mohanty, published a paper in 1984 that is now a classic in the field of postcolonial feminism, which criticized the discursive construction of “third world woman” by “western” feminists. This construction perceives the “third world woman” homogeneously as traditional and oppressed. The colonization process resulted in a hierarchical relationship of domination and a political and discursive suppression of the heterogeneity of the subject(s) affected by it, in this case the women from the so-called “Third World”; resulting in discursive colonization.


Essentialism is the assumption that categories or groups have one or many defining attributes that are exclusive to all members of that category. Colonial discourse has employed this way of thinking to create a notion of inferior colonial subject as opposed to the superior colonizer in order to exercise hegemonic control over the colonized subjects as well as control over their public and private representation. Postcolonial feminist scholars have highlighted the risks of using such a reductionist approach to groups/categories as it reduces individuals to simplistic binaries. 

Please note, that interpreting postcolonial terms requires critical thinking, sensitivity, and a recognition of heterogenous experiences and perspectives within postcolonial contexts. It is pertinent to approach these terms with an openness to study and appreciate the complexities of postcolonial legacies and their present-day persistent implications.

For Further Reading:

Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., & Tiffin, H. (2013). Post-colonial studies: The key concepts. Routledge.

Lewis, R., & Mills, S. (Eds.). (2003). Feminist postcolonial theory: A reader. Routledge.

Loomba, A. (2002). Colonialism/postcolonialism. Routledge.

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