Ever since its introduction into the vernacular of imperial historiography over a half century ago, the concept of “informal empire” has had a profound influence on how historians have understood the size and nature of British expansion in the modern world. While offering a crucial corrective to definitions of empire that had focused exclusively on “formal” colonial holdings, such a division has also obscured other frameworks through which we might understand the contours of imperial power, while also underscoring traditional bifurcations between early modern and modern forms of empire. This paper suggests instead an approach that privileges schema that take into account the different institutional and constitutional forms that shaped imperial expansion, and specifically argues that the corporation was one such form, in competition with others including the monarchical and national state. Looking specifically at the early modern East India Company and its modern legacies, particularly George Goldie’s Royal Niger Company, it also suggests that institutional approaches that de-emphasize distinctions between behavioral categories, such as commerce and politics, allow the possibility of excavating deep ideological connections across the history of empire, from its seventeenth-century origins through the era of decolonization.
I would like to thank Emily Erikson, the anonymous reviewer, and all of the participants in “The Companies: Continuities, Transition or Disjuncture” workshop at Yale University in May 2013 for all of their helpful comments; special thanks also go to Corinna Zeltsman, who provided invaluable last-minute research assistance in preparing the paper for press.
Stern, P.J. (2015), "The Ideology of the Imperial Corporation: “Informal” Empire Revisited", Chartering Capitalism: Organizing Markets, States, and Publics (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 29), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 15-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920150000029002
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