Midgley, James, and David Piachaud, Eds., Colonialism and Welfare: Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy

Article excerpt

Midgley, James, and David Piachaud, eds., Colonialism and Welfare: SocialPolicy and the British Imperial Legacy. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2011. xii + 211 pages. Cloth, $110.00.

Despite changes in the international system, the fundamental historical pattern has stayed consistent during the colonial and post-colonial world. Colonization is defined differently to reflect the type of foreign power that was imposed on weaker societies. However, colonialism is said to be a policy or power, which the powerful exert on weak or indigenous societies. Colonizers tended to shape the way of life of the oppressed, including their institutions, language, and religion. Their power and policies were discriminatory, abusive, and challenging for the colonized societies. The rules of the colonizers designed in their "home country" were imposed upon and adopted by the indigenous societies, which were forced to accept those rules and administrative structures as if they were ordained and mandated.

Like other empires, the British Empire was guilty of all the evils of colonization where its exploitation of weaker societies around the world helped develop the economies of the Crown. The British imperial system and its structures have had a deep impact on the colonized societies through the present day. The literature on the British imperial legacy has undeniably focused on economies, military power, and political institutions. The uniqueness of this book is that the contributing authors, who are sociologists and social policy analysts, examine the neglected social policies promoted by the British imperial system, which have drawn little or no attention in the literature but affected the lives of millions of inhabitants of colonized societies.

Chronologically, the three parts of the book trace the history of the British Empire in the context of world history. The contributing authors discuss the impact of the various social policies imposed by the British invaders in the selected countries and regions, and they consider the complexities of colonial rule and how they shaped the postcolonial era. As is often the case, their interpretations of world history reflect the ambiguity in their analysis and reveal how their background and beliefs tend to influence their conclusions. In this volume, the contributing authors acknowledge British cruelty and lack of respect for the natives, but nevertheless identify some social policies that "came closest to being a visible presence" (p. 22) in improving the quality of life of the native societies. They thus connect to a pro-colonial literature championed by historian Niall Ferguson, which recalls a British Empire that enhanced global welfare through capitalism, increased literacy, and established parliamentary institutions and the rule of law.

One of the strengths of this publication lies in the meticulous identification of the selected countries and regions, including: India, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong, whose distinct qualities are discussed in detail. …