From Subject of Empire to Citizen of Commonwealth

From Subject of Empire to Citizen of Commonwealth
The citizen in British and French imperial thought

Both the concept of the citizen and orientalism in western thought developed in the context of modern European imperialism. This three cornered relationship between the citizenship, orientalism and imperialism operates in multiple overlapping contexts

Any study of these phenomena that seeks to explain and look beyond western concepts of the citizen and the non-European world must also examine the range of contexts created by empire, such the proto-national (through imperial state-formation of entities such as 'India'), the ethnic (for example in terms of political equality between white-settler societies) and the theoretical (as imperial administrators attempted to design stable and prosperous colonial societies).

If empire is a process of domination, orientalism grew as a series of systems and approaches for consolidating that control and affecting change through it. Moreover, these processes manifested themselves not simply in formal political theories but also in day-to-day operational issues stemming form the business of empire.

Through a series of article on the intellectual history of the British and French empires in the nineteenth century this research programme makes three major contributions to current debates.

Firstly, it attempts to move beyond a focus on 'American imperialism' in postcolonial theory. This angle has been necessary and fruitful. Now, it risks producing research which fails to address current geopolitical realignment produced by the growing international presence of China, India, Russia and Brazil, together with the changing role of international bodies such as the Commonwealth.

Secondly, this research programme studies the supranational nature of imperial enterprises and their legacies, for example in terms of planned settlement and the creation of imperial diaspora. The histories of individual states, whether metropolitan or postcolonial, can obscure both common and particular aspects of the legacy of empire. Even a transnational approach can neglect the overlapping geographical spaces created by empire. For example, the East India Company's government of British India managed territories in the Persian Gulf, East Africa and South East Asia; and it competed with the government in London over control of policy in Central Asia and China.

Thirdly, the history of liberalism and the development of citizenship in an imperial context is best revealed through the study of the experimental initiatives and routine business that comprised empire. This research seeks to avoid a narrow focus on the intellectual history of liberal democracy and the writings of a small group of canonical figures such as Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill. In the same way, this research looks less at grand theories of empire and the growth of representative government and more at debates over individual rights such as the freedom of the press and education.

From Subject of Empire to Citizen of Commonwealth

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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