A short note on the concept of Centre/ Margin (Periphery)

The concept ‘Centre/ Margin’ has been one of the most controversial ideas in the post-colonial discourse. Yet, it is at the heart of any attempt at defining what occurred in the representation and relationship of peoples as a result of the colonial period. Colonialism could only exist at all by postulating that there existed a binary opposition into which the world was divided. The gradual establishment of an empire depended upon a stable hierarchical relationship in which the colonised existed as the other of the colonising culture. Thus the idea of the savage could occur only if there was a concept of the civilised to oppose it. In this way, the geography of difference was constructed, in which differences were mapped (cartography) and laid out in a metaphorical landscape that represented not geographical stability, but the fixity of power.

Imperial Europe became defined as the ‘centre’ in geography at least as metaphysical as physical. Everything that lay outside that centre was by definition at the margin or the periphery of culture, power and civilisation. The colonial mission, to bring the margin into the sphere of influence of the enlightened centre, became the principal justification for the economic and political exploitation of colonialism, especially after the middle of the nineteenth century.

The idea is contentious because it has been supposed that attempts to define the centre/margin model function to perpetuate it. Post-colonial theorists have usually used the model to suggest that dismantling such binaries does more than merely assert the independence of the marginal, it also radically undermines the very idea of such a centre, deconstructing the claims of the European colonisers to unity and fixity of a different order from that of others. In this sense, the dismantling of centre/margin (periphery) models of culture calls into question the claims of any culture to possess a fixed, pure and homogenous body of values, and exposes them all as historically constructed, and thus corrigible formations.