1st Edition

Colonial Trauma and Postcolonial Anxieties The Haunted Choices of Economic Development

By Maureen Sioh Copyright 2024

    Colonial Trauma and Postcolonial Anxieties argues that economic decisions reflect unconscious anxieties about survival and dignity experienced in a cycle of repeat trauma tracing back to the original trauma of loss in colonialism.

    Readers will understand how emerging economies evaluate the costs and benefits of key economic policies in the postcolonial era using a psychoanalytical framework.

    While there are psychoanalytic studies of the economy and finance from a western perspective, there have been no sustained psychoanalytic studies from the perspective of East Asian economies, the fastest growing in the world. Scholars will also find the methodology combining archival research with and field studies, including rare interviews with senior decision-makers useful in their own research since it is rare to find studies of social theory that are empirically rich.

    This book will be of interest to policymakers and scholars of political economy, international development, human geography, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and area studies (Southeast and East Asia). The book can also be used as a text for graduate and upper level university courses.

    0.Introduction.  1.Colonial Trauma and Postcolonial Anxieties.  2.The Foundational Fantasy of Colonial Ecology.  3.Dismantling the Colonial Foundational Fantasy.  4.Trauma and the Wound of Race in the Malayan Emergency.  5.Anxiety and Pricing Race at Independence.  6.Postcolonial Anxieties and Performing Territorialization.  7.The Logic of Trauma in Financial Crisis.  8.Anxiety and Economic Policy in Resurgent East Asia.  x.Conclusion


    Maureen Sioh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at DePaul University. She trained as a hydrologist and has worked in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and with First Nations communities in Canada. Her early research focussed on water quality. Concerned with the subjective process of how communities made decisions when confronting environmental issues, her research evolved to postcolonialism, and then to economics and psychoanalysis. She is the coauthor of Global Libidinal Economy with Ilan Kapoor, Gavin Fridell and Pieter de Vries.

    In the 1980s and early 1990s, East Asia economic development was hailed as a miracle. Economists saw it as a model the world could follow: its visionary leadership, its egalitarian values and its future-oriented industrial strategy. For Maureen Sioh, this model has an underside, grounded in the legacies of colonial traumas. These traumas repeat themselves, producing a far more anxious and complex postcolonial legacy than most recognise or acknowledge. In this provocative and passionate book, Sioh brilliantly explores economic development as an ongoing struggle for survival and human dignity. In doing so, she addresses the core questions of global economic development: What are the lasting legacies of colonialism? How can we know what development is? Is economic development only about wealth generation?

    Steve Pile, Professor of Human Geography, The Open University

    This book is a tour de force, convincingly demonstrating that the psyche is not trivial or secondary but central to economic decision-making. Focusing on postcolonial Malaysia, Sioh brilliantly maps the wounds of trauma and anxiety in economic crisis and ‘miracle’.

    Ilan Kapoor, author of Confronting Desire: Psychoanalysis and International Development and Professor of Critical Development Studies, York University, Toronto

    Economic growth, development, progress … belying these self-evidently rational aspirations are unconscious drives for the repair and restitution of psychic wounds running deep within the postcolonial world. Exploring the libidinal economy of the Malaysian state, Sioh expertly brings into relief the anxieties and trauma that surreptitiously play out in the seemingly staid realm of economic policy. Haunted Choices is an important work, marking the beginning of a turn in political economy to the therapeutic.

    Earl Gammon, Senior Lecturer in Global Political Economy, University of Sussex