From Postcolonialism to Contact Zones?: Nadia Bureiko Comments on Ulrich Schmid’s Lecture
From Postcolonialism to Contact Zones? Time to Reconceptualize Ukrainian Cultural Studies
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the study of contemporary Ukrainian culture has been largely influenced by the interpretation scheme of postcolonialism, especially by Pavlyshyn’s (1992) ‘colonial-anticolonial-postcolonial’ pyramid. However, the concept of postcolonialism was initially applied to postcolonial India and its interplay with the British Empire, the case of Ukraine is significantly different. The Ukrainian culture has been developing in proximity to the Russian one. In addition, the current relations between Ukraine and Russia do not entirely fit into the paradigm of the former empire and the young nation.
Having this in mind, Ulrich Schmid, Professor at the University of St. Gallen, urged us in his lecture “Contact Zone vs. Postcolonial Condition” to reconsider the theoretical framework for Ukrainian cultural/literary studies and to move beyond the notion of postcolonialism. In particular, Prof. Schmid proposed to complement the postcolonial discourse of Ukrainian cultural studies with the concept of contact zones from Latin American studies.
The concept of contact zones was introduced by Mary Louise Pratt in 1991 to define “social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they lived out in many parts of the world today”. Interestingly, the “contact zones” concept (first applied for a study of indigenous people in Peru and the Spanish conquerors in early modern times) is not centred around states or nations. Instead it is built upon nine categories – auto-ethnography, transculturation, collaboration, hybridity, bilingualism, mediation, parody, imaginary dialogue, and vernacular expression – which all together potentially contribute not only to framing a case study in a colonial or postcolonial context but also in a space marked by heterogeneity as contemporary Ukrainian culture is. Each of nine categories has been illustrated by Ulrich Schmid with carefully selected examples from the Ukrainian culture.
Ulrich Schmid does not reject the usage of postcolonialism in Ukrainian cultural studies, but he believes that postcolonial discourse may put Ukrainian culture in the danger of being entrapped in a self-victimization narrative. Therefore, he argues that the concept of contact zone will better explain and capture the complexity of the Ukrainian cultural domain. This concept will arguably enable us to abandon the ‘hegemon – colony’ dichotomy in the discourse of Ukrainian cultural studies and, thus, focus more on cultural production rather than perpetuate a certain regressive perspective. Such analytical endeavour looks promising since it generates a new broader approach that goes beyond the discourse of postcolonialism and offers new ways of conceptualizing the Ukrainian cultural space.
 Pratt, M.L. (1991) Arts of the Contact Zones, Profession, p. 34