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3 Aug, 2013

Asia Times Online: How Britain turned tribe against tribe

In Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity, Mahmood Mamdani carries forward his pioneering, hefty contributions to (what I would call) an historical epistemology of world politics: this time by discussing (the European colonization of) not only Africa – his usual focus – but also India, the Malay States, and the Dutch East Indies.

Mamdani argues that the British-colonial turn to indirect rule as a response to India’s Great Revolt of 1857 hinged on producing a set of codependent, dichotomous identities involving native and settler, to which the modern preoccupation with defining and managing difference is traceable. He concludes that “native does not designate a condition that is original and authentic” but was created in specific forms by “the colonial state” using specific tactics (p2).

Unlike previous European imperial governments, “including Roman and British ‘direct’ rule before mid-nineteenth century” and the French policy of “‘assimilation'” as well as its early-20th-century counterpart of ‘association'”, indirect rule shifted the focus from civilizing and assimilating “colonized elites” to defining mass subjectivity in differentia from the elite imperial minority (p1, p43). However, indirect rule’s institutionalization of both political and social differences distinguishes it from “the modern state” as well, which “ensures” political equality “while acknowledging” civil differences (p2).

Read the rest: Asia Times Online: How Britain turned tribe against tribe.