Postcolonial pragmatics

Rukmini Bhaya Nair
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Table of contents

As I write this essay, the Taliban have taken over the government in Afghanistan after a precipitous US withdrawal from the country. It goes without saying that this marks a major turn in a complex regional history that led President Biden to describe Afghanistan, in a familiar trope, as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’. The allusion is not without Gricean irony since it strongly implies that the US is in fact a modern empire-builder, a de facto colonizer in postcolonial times. Meanwhile, the new Afghan Minister for Education has, in his turn, unequivocally declared: “No PhD degree, Master’s degree is valuable today. You see that the Mullahs and Taliban that are in power have no PhD, MA or even a high school degree, but are the greatest of all.” How, if at all, are these two statements by the President of the ‘most powerful country in the world’ and the Minister of a 21st century nation committed to imposing Sharia Law in its most conservative form about being ‘in power’ connected? In this essay, I suggest that the rubric of ‘Postcolonial Pragmatics’ offers an interdisciplinary framework within which to analyze the longstanding, always fraught, relationship between sociopolitical power and academic scholarship.

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