Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

Synopsis

Starting with the premise that Europe was made by its imperial projects as much as colonial encounters were shaped by events and conflicts in Europe, the contributors to Tensions of Empire investigate metropolitan-colonial relationships from a new perspective. The fifteen essays demonstrate various ways in which "civilizing missions" in both metropolis and colony provided new sites for clarifying a bourgeois order. Focusing on the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, they show how new definitions of modernity and welfare were developed and how new discourses and practices of inclusion and exclusion were contested and worked out. The contributors argue that colonial studies can no longer be confined to the units of analysis on which it once relied; instead of being the study of "the colonized," it must account for the shifting political terrain on which the very categories of colonized and colonizer have been shaped and patterned at different times.

Excerpt

Collaborations are produced out of differences as much as synergy, and this one is no exception. Our work together began more than a decade ago when we—an anthropologist of Southeast Asia and a historian of Africa—realized that our research interests were following similar trajectories. We had both written books about the political economy of agricultural labor in two very different colonial settings, Dutch Sumatra and British East Africa. We were struck by how much our efforts at studying labor history from the bottom up pointed us, in different ways, toward looking more carefully at the conflicting agendas and shifting strategies of those who were looking from the top down. Both of us were moving toward analysis of colonial states and shared a sense that we knew far less than we should about their workings, their distinctive qualities, and the people who constituted them.

These concerns led us in several distinct directions: first, toward a recognition that systems of production did not just arise out of the impersonal workings of a world economy but out of shifting conceptual apparatuses that made certain kinds of action seem possible, logical, and even inevitable to state officials, entrepreneurs, missionaries, and other agents of colonization while others were excluded from the realm of possibility; second, toward a recognition that what was imaginable in terms of social policy reflected histories of distant metropoles as well as the immediate opportunities and constraints of conquest while the colonial experience shaped what it meant to be “metropolitan” and “European” as much as the other way around; third, toward a focus on the way colonial states sought knowledge and influence over the ways in which individuals, families, and institutions were reproduced. It was this stretch between the public institutions of the colonial state and the intimate . . .

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