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Resistance and Reforms: The Role of Subaltern Agency in Colonial State Development

Rethinking the Colonial State

ISBN: 978-1-78714-655-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-654-9

Publication date: 20 December 2017


In the periods, following the First and Second World Wars, colonial states across the British empire underwent waves of reforms that were geared toward improving human well-being, from enhancing social conditions, such as health and education, to expanding opportunities for economic and political engagement. The literature on the colonial state typically traces these state-building efforts to the agency of European colonial officials. However, evidence from a historical analysis of Trinidad and Tobago reveals a different agent driving state reform: the colonized. A local labor movement during colonialism forced the colonial state to construct a number of state agencies to ameliorate the economic, political, and social conditions in the colony, thereby resulting in an increase in state capacity. This study, therefore, provides critical intervention into the colonial state literature by showing that the agency of the colonized, as opposed to just the colonizers, is key to state-building, and specifying the mechanisms by which the subaltern constrained colonial officials and forced them to enact policies that improved colonial state capacity.




I would like to thank Aisalkyn Botoeva, Kara Cebulko, Kristoffer Christensen, Orly Clerge, Cedric de Leon, Miguel Jeronimo, Rasmus Sielemann, and Trina Vithayathil for their critical feedback at various stages. I am also thankful to the PPST editor, guest editors, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


Edwards, Z. (2017), "Resistance and Reforms: The Role of Subaltern Agency in Colonial State Development", Rethinking the Colonial State (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 33), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 175-201.



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