On Wednesday 27th November 2013, a study half day exploring “colonial and post-colonial mind-sets in policy and decision-making” took place at the University of Portsmouth, organised by the Centre for European and International Studies Research and the Francophone Africa strategic cluster.
The event opened with a paper from Professor Martin Thomas (University of Exeter) on ‘Political economies of French colonial violence in the inter-war period’. Reflecting upon his recent publication, ‘Violence and colonial order: policy, workers and protest in European colonial empires, 1918-1940’ (2012), Professor Thomas explored the importance of industrial violence, both real and imagined, in shaping colonial policing in the inter-war period, demonstrating how maintaining law and order at this time was as much to do with protecting the economic output of the colonies as it was to do with politics. In this context, he placed particular stress on the role played by indigenous auxiliaries in colonial policing, revealing the extended network involved in maintaining colonial order and, in so doing, challenging the notion of “the thin white line” so frequently used to describe the nature of European colonial rule.
The second session of the afternoon focused on colonial and post-colonial mind-sets. Professor Margaret Majumdar (University of Portsmouth) presented a paper entitled ‘Uses and abuses of the notion of progress: the new man in old age’, which explored how the concept of progress was used in Algeria by coloniser and colonised alike in the late colonial period, and also how notions of progress continue to be applied in the contemporary Algerian context. Thus, Prof. Majumdar challenged many of the accepted binaries associated with the history of empire in the twentieth century, such as coloniser/ colonised and colonial/ post-colonial. Breaking down traditional modes of studying the imperial past was also the subject of Dr. Olivia Rutazibwa’s (University of Portsmouth) presentation on ‘Decolonizing international relations: the Euro-African encounter’. Mixing personal anecdotes, journalistic reportage and IR theory, Dr. Rutazibwa explored the ways in which the study of relations between Africa and Europe needs to be “de-mythologized”, “de-silenced” and “de-colonized”, and the opportunities that this process presents to academics, as well as to society more widely.
The final speaker of the study half day was Dr. Andrew Smith (UCL/ University of Chichester), whose paper entitled ‘Future perfect: capital, clients and colonial futures’, brought to light the importance of the loi cadre of 1956 as an attempt by the French colonial administration to deal with the perceived threats of the time, from both within and without the French Empire, and, in so doing, maintain French colonial rule in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Smith placed particular emphasis on the financial aspects of the loi cadre, giving further weight to the recent work of scholars, such as Cumming (2005), who have revealed the importance of the economic dimensions of French colonial rule, alongside the traditional concentration on culture and language.
This study day was a wonderful opportunity to come together to discuss and share ideas about colonial and post-colonial mind-sets, particularly with regards to relations between France and Francophone Africa, but also North-South relations more widely. It brought to light the numerous different ways in which scholars from across the disciplines are challenging dominant discourses and offering us new insights into the encounter between the global North and the global South, and the possibilities that this process of re-conceptualisation offers to us as scholars and students. A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking day.