From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Sovvertire l'archivio coloniale: note etnografiche sulla decolonizzazione keniota

Niccolò Lucarini


Subverting the Colonial Archive: Ethnographic Notes on Kenyan Decolonisation. This article conceptualises the colonial archive as a specific technology of knowledge, which has played a crucial role in the building of colonial States. With reference to recent theoretical movements in the field of the historiography and ethnography of the ‘colonial situation’, I analyse how colonial authorities have relied largely on the institution of the archive (intended both as an epistemic and an ontological project) to produce and spread specific narratives on the decolonisation process. By focusing on recently declassified archival material related to Kenyan decolonisation and to the Mau Mau Emergency (1952-60), this essay emphasises how a critical approach to colonial documents and records can be relevant in questioning the politics of knowledge specific to the functioning of the colonial State. In this context, the archive becomes a space in which new methodologies for investigating colonial histories can be tested. By working both ‘within’ and ‘beyond’ this archival space, as suggested by Jean and John Comaroff (1992), it is possible to determine its role in the production of the colonial past and in the emergence of the postcolonial present, in order to detect the propagation of specific colonial structures of domination well beyond the moment of political Independence.


postcolonial studies, colonial archives, Mau Mau emergency, history, anthropology, politics of knowledge



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