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The main theme of this special volume is the colonial state and its governmental practices. This chapter introduces and contextualizes the contributions by providing a…
The main theme of this special volume is the colonial state and its governmental practices. This chapter introduces and contextualizes the contributions by providing a brief induction to recent developments within the study of the colonial state. It then presents the contributions under three perspectives which represent separate yet interrelated themes relevant for the understanding of the colonial state: practices, violence, and agency. Hereby, we also accentuate the value of a non-state-centric approach to the analysis of the colonial state.
Drawing upon recent interests in Michel Foucault’s anti-essentialist conception of the state, I provide an analysis of state power in colonial slave societies that is…
Drawing upon recent interests in Michel Foucault’s anti-essentialist conception of the state, I provide an analysis of state power in colonial slave societies that is attentive to the ongoing processes of “statification” and governmentalization of the state. This approach represents an alternative to classic state theory, which seems inadequate to describe the diverse political context of Caribbean colonial slave societies.
I apply the Foucauldian conception of the state to the empirical case of the Danish West Indies in the second half of the 18th century. Here, I focus on the problem of public order and its formation in relation to growing concerns over general economic, social, demographic, and political risks that the institution of slavery posed to colonial society. I argue that the slave laws of the 18th century can be seen as a governmental strategy to manage the risks of slavery by constituting a public order that would be subject to policing by the state. I also argue, however, that the specific circumstances of colonial slavery shaped the regulative practices toward the necessities of a flexible, adjustable, responsive government. I suggest that this should be interpreted as a governmental strategy calibrated to the realities of the specificities of colonial rule, rather than simply a reflection of incoherence and incompetence on the part of colonial authorities. The larger argument is that actual state practices have to be seen as results of problems of government in a given context, and as a function of the dynamic and reciprocal processes of government.
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…
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.