The Other Empire: Metropolis, India, and Progress in the Colonial Imagination

The Other Empire: Metropolis, India, and Progress in the Colonial Imagination

The Other Empire: Metropolis, India, and Progress in the Colonial Imagination

The Other Empire: Metropolis, India, and Progress in the Colonial Imagination


This is a detailed study of the various ways in which London and India were imaginatively constructed by British observers during the nineteenth century. Their distinct narratives, rhetoric and chronologies forged homologies between representations of the metropolitan poor and colonial subjects--those constituencies that were seen as the most threatening to imperial progress. Thus the poor and particular sections of the Indian population were inscribed within discourses of western civilization as regressive and inferior peoples. Over time these discourses increasingly promoted notions of overt and rigid racial hierarchies, the legacy of which remains to this day. It seeks to rethink the location of the poor and India within the nineteenth-century imagination. Drawing upon cultural and intellectual history it also attempts to extend our understanding of the relationship between "center" and "periphery".


When the Rev. Dr Robert Laws was preparing himself for missionary work in Central Africa in the 1870s, he went to work in a Glasgow medical mission. He was taken by the Superintendent to visit houses in the slums, ‘frightful dens of viciousness and dirt’, in one of which a ‘Roman Catholic virago attacked them as heretics, flourishing a long knife in their faces, and threatened to murder them’ (W.P. Livingstone, Laws of Livingstonia, London, Hodder and Stoughton, n.d. [c. 1924], p. 29). Later he was involved in ‘drives’ in which students of divinity and medicine would act as decoys to lure prostitutes to a hall for a late-night revivalist meeting. On one occasion they collected together a hundred and ‘about forty declared for a new life’ (ibid., pp. 32–3). In the same period and in another Scottish city, Dundee, Mary Slessor, preparing for missionary work in West Africa and herself a slum dweller, was caught up in the establishment of a mission in slums even poorer than her own. There, she and her fellow workers were subjected to violence and frequently found the mission room wrecked (W.P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916, p. 9).

In the 1950s, the same sense of social proselytization survived into my own lifetime and experience. In the West End of Glasgow, Finnieston (later Kelvingrove) Church of Scotland, a middle-class and upper-working-class congregation in a grand Victorian classical building adjacent to the great gates of Kelvingrove Park, continued to maintain a mission in the nearby slums of the Glasgow docklands. It was in a street appropriately named for a mission, but not for the poverty and misery to be found there, Grace Street. In my youthful mind, brought up to loathe the pubs, the drunkenness and alleged criminal fecklessness of such ‘darker’ regions of the city, there was unquestionably a parallel between the Grace Street mission and the stations of the missionaries who came, on furlough, to speak about India and Africa. Indeed, I soon made the connection myself by going to live in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia).

This analogy between missions to the ‘heathen’ poor of Britain and the ‘heathen’ peoples of Africa and Asia is now well known, though it has never been fully researched. In this book, John Marriott takes up this theme, and much more, in relation to the mutually constitutive aspects of encounters with the London poor and with the peoples of India. Travel accounts, topographical mapping, descriptions of the ‘Other’, the adoption of the language of ‘tribe’ and race, anxieties about ‘nomadic’ people who cannot be pinned down and rendered subject to the requirements of the bourgeois state, fears of revolt and revolution, anxieties about degeneration, all reveal striking parallels in the language, form and style used in relation to the London poor and to the inhabitants of India. In its breadth of source material and its range of illustrations, this book constitutes a notable study of these parallel phenomena.

There can be little doubt that similar studies, as indicated above, could be attempted for other parts of Britain and other continents, notably Africa. The . . .

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