International Relations-PSC 201
COLONIALISM, NEO-COLONIALISM & IMPERIALISM
Colonialism is an elusive concept. It is a political, a legal, an economic, a cultural and a social phenomenon,
which does not lend itself to a short and clear definition. While colonizing states refrained from defining
colonialism, many scholars of various disciplines have written about the subject.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the mid-14th century "colonye" was used to describe the
Roman settling, creating outposts, or occupying lands outside the Roman city-state. Colonialism emerged
around the 19th century to reify a European practice that was becoming prevalent across the world.
The element of 'alien domination' appears to be at the heart of the colonial experience. Colonialism is
foreign rule imposed upon a people. Colonialism is a system in which a state claims sovereignty over
territory and people outside its own boundaries, often to facilitate economic domination over their
resources, labor, and often markets.
Colonialism can be defined as rule over people of different races living in separate lands by a single colonial
power. Colonialism also refers to a set of beliefs used to legitimize or promote this system, especially the
belief that the values and systems of the colonizer are superior to those of the colonized. Colonialism can
thus be seen to imply domination of an alien minority asserting racial and cultural superiority over a
materially inferior majority. Hobson describes colonialism `in its best sense' as the natural outflow of
nationality, its test is the power of the colonizer to transplant the civilization they represent to a new social
and cultural environment.
Defenders of colonialism argue that colonization developed the economic and political infrastructure
necessary for modernization and democracy (they point to former colonies like Singapore as examples of
Post colonialist such as Franz Fanon argue that colonialism does political, psychological, and moral damage
to the colonized as well.
Let us consider the case of British colonist for example. The British Empire, in the early decades of the 20th
century, held sway over a population of 400500 million people - roughly a quarter of the world's
population - and covered roughly two-fifths of the world's land area.
The British Empire came together over 300 years through a succession of phases of expansion, interspersed
with intervals of pacific commercial and diplomatic activity, or imperial contraction. Its territories were
scattered across all parts of the world, and it was described with some truth as "the empire on which the sun
never sets". The Empire facilitated the spread of British technology, commerce, language, and government
around much of the globe. Imperial hegemony contributed to Britain's extraordinary economic growth, and
greatly strengthened its voice in world affairs. Even as Britain extended its imperial reach overseas, it
continued to develop and broaden democratic institutions at the homeland.
From the perspective of the colonies, the record of the British Empire is mixed. The colonies received from
Britain the English language, an administrative and legal framework on the British model, and technological
and economic development. During decolonization, Britain sought to pass parliamentary democracy to its
colonies, with varying degrees of success.
British colonial policy was always driven to a large extent by Britain's trading interests. While settler
economies developed the infrastructure to support balanced development, tropical African territories found
them developed only as raw-material suppliers. A reliance upon the manipulation of conflict between ethnic
and racial identities, in order to keep subject populations from uniting against the occupying power - the
classic "divide and rule" strategy - left a legacy of partition or inter-communal difficulties in several parts of
the world including the Subcontinent.
International Relations-PSC 201
Decolonization is the antithesis of colonization. While anti-colonialist feeling first manifested in the 18th c.
(in the US), decolonization is a product of the post-WW II period. Nationalism in Latin America, Asia and
Africa, as well as the weakening of the colonial powers helped achieve decolonization.
The UN played an important role in ending colonial rule in Indonesia and certain African colonies. It
particularly helped decolonize Liberia, Somalia and Eritrea from Italy.
Elusive: hard to describe
Refrain: desist or avoid
Antithesis: exact opposite
Infrastructure: established system (of communication for example)
Students are advised to read the following chapters to develop a better understanding of the various
principals highlighted in this hand-out:
Chapter 14 in `"A Study of International Relations" by Dr. Sultan Khan.
In addition to reading from the textbook, please visit the following web-pages for this lecture, which
provide useful and interesting information:
Table of Contents: