Week 3

Posted by in Week 3

This week’s topic, “the colonial experience” is largely centred on the ways in which colonialism expressed itself with regards its impact on the societies and peoples which it touched. Colonialism, as a very complicated phenomena finds expression in many modes, and has had wide-reaching impacts that persist today. Nevertheless, colonialism tends to strike in a pattern of faultlines in social fabric, compartmentalizing populations and polarizing relations. Of those faultlines, two are especially highlighted in this week’s readings: race in Casta Paintings, and gender in the case of Lieutenant Nun.

Race is a social construct. We are reminded of such when “race” connotes varying things in different social settings. What it means to be of a certain race in one society often differs in definition when contrasted with another society. Nevertheless, race has become an important marker of privilege and status in societies based upon hegemonic domination (here, colonial societies). Constructions of race become imperative in the maintenance of colonial structures of dominance, whereby populations are socially (politically, economically) controlled to follow the patterns of their racial group. Colonialism is dependent on cultural productions that reinforce these “boxes,” such as the casta paintings of the 18t c. This obsession with determining the race of mixed people demonstrates a confrontation of colonialism with a blurring of its foundational faultlines, and its reactionary efforts at reinforcing racial distinctions. How has the conception of race changed since then? How about when this distinction is used to uplift a systematically oppressed racial groups?

Gender is another faultline in which colonialism plays a strong role. Here cultures will determine how the gender binary dictates behavior. In Lieutenant Nun, Catalina places herself in opposition of her assigned gender, albeit for the most part in secret, yet nonetheless reproduces many of the social patters of colonialism. Gender distinctions operate within colonial apparatuses in complex manners, further compartmentalizing society along the lines of sex. Definitions of what it meant to be a man, or a woman, served many colonial interests (within European as well as non-European racial groups). Does Catalina, with this in mind, represent a rejection of gender binary? Does she represent a rejection of colonialism?