Colonising Egypt

Colonising Egypt

Colonising Egypt

Colonising Egypt

Synopsis

Extending deconstructive theory to historical and political analysis, Timothy Mitchell examines the peculiarity of Western conceptions of order and truth through a re-reading of Europe's colonial encounter with nineteenth-century Egypt.

Excerpt

This book is not a history of the British colonisation of Egypt but a study of the power to colonise. While focussing on events in Egypt in the latter part of the nineteenth century, its argument is addressed to the place of colonialism in the critique of modernity. Colonising refers not simply to the establishing of a European presence but also to the spread of a political order that inscribes in the social world a new conception of space, new forms of personhood, and a new means of manufacturing the experience of the real. Colonising Egypt analyses in the everyday details of the colonial project the metaphysics of its power.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the book examine the development in Egypt of the power to colonise. Chapter 2 begins by describing a novel attempt in the early nineteenth century to regulate the daily life of rural Egyptians. In the 1820s and 1830s orders were issued from Cairo prohibiting the movement of villagers outside their native districts, prescribing the crops they were to grow and the means of cultivation, distribution, and payment, and stipulating the hierarchy of surveillance, inspection, and punishment by which these rules were to be enforced. Attempting to control from Cairo the agricultural revenue of the Nile valley was nothing new. But earlier forms of control were always porous and uncertain. Typically, a powerful central household imposed levies on less powerful regional households, which in turn imposed obligations on those around them. Revenues flowing towards the center were liable to leak at each juncture and could be increased only by further expansion outward, which weakened the network by adding further points of leakage. The new controls of the nineteenth century attempted not just to appropriate a share of the agricultural surplus but to penetrate the processes of rural production, manipulate its elements, and multiply what John Bowring (an English advisor to the Egyptian government) called ‘the productive powers’ of the country. The effectiveness of disciplinary methods, as Michel Foucault has termed these modern forms of power, lay not in their weight or extent, but in the localised ability to infiltrate, rearrange, and colonise.

Bowring, the advisor in Cairo, was the friend and assistant of the En-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.