Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

by Frederick Cooper, Ann Laura Stoler

NOOK Book(eBook)

$22.99 $36.95 Save 38% Current price is $22.99, Original price is $36.95. You Save 38%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520918085
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 02/06/1997
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 463
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Frederick Cooper is Professor of African History at the University of Michigan. His latest book is Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (1996). Ann Laura Stoler is Professor of Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan and author most recently of Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (1995).

Read an Excerpt

Tensions of Empire

Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

By Frederick Cooper, Ann Laura Stoler


Copyright © 1997 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-91808-5


Liberal Strategies of Exclusion

Uday S. Mehta

Pure insight, however, is in the first instance without any content; it is the sheer disappearance of content; but by its negative attitude towards what it excludes it will make itself real and give itself a content.

Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind

In its theoretical vision, liberalism, from the seventeenth century to the present, has prided itself on its universality and politically inclusionary character. And yet, when it is viewed as a historical phenomenon, again extending from the seventeenth century, the period of liberal history is unmistakably marked by the systematic and sustained political exclusion of various groups and "types" of people. The universality of freedom and derivative political institutions identified with the provenance of liberalism is denied in the protracted history with which liberalism is similarly linked. Perhaps liberal theory and liberal history are ships passing in the night spurred on by unrelated imperatives and destinations. Perhaps reality and, as such, history always betrays the pristine motives of theory. Putting aside such possibilities, something about the inclusionary pretensions of liberal theory and the exclusionary effects of liberal practices needs to be explained.

One needs to account for how a set of ideas that professed, at a fundamental level, to include as their political referent a universal constituency nevertheless spawned practices that were either predicated on or directed at the political marginalization of various people. More specifically, one must consider if the exclusionary thrust of liberal history stems from the misapprehension of the generative basis of liberal universalism or if in contrast liberal history projects with greater focus and onto a larger canvas the theoretically veiled and qualified truth of liberal universalism. Despite the enormous contrariety between the profession of political universality and the history of political exclusion, the latter may in fact elaborate the truth and ambivalence of the former.

In considering these issues, I am responding to two distinct though closely related questions. First, can one within the universalistic theoretical framework of liberalism identify a politically exclusionary impulse, and if so, by what means is this effected? Second, does the work of theorists such as both the Mills evince a similar exclusionary impulse with specific reference to the articulation of colonial exclusions? It is by virtue of this latter question that I hope to suggest a way of linking the reading of liberal texts and the interpretation of liberal practices.

The argument of this article involves three related claims. The first concerns the articulation of liberal foundational and institutional principles to make clear the basis of liberal universalism. My purpose here is obviously not to present liberal foundations in all their complexity but rather with an eye to suggesting the anthropological capacities that are allegedly the basis of liberal universalism. This first claim is substantiated by reference to Locke's Second Treatise of Government. The second claim is motivated by the concern with exclusion; that is, with how liberal principles with their attending universal constituency get undermined in such a manner as to politically disenfranchise various people. The strategies involved in effecting this closure are crucial to the general argument. With Locke this involves the subtle invoking of politically exclusionary social conventions and manners. This is the first strategy I consider. It is the political role played by these exclusionary conventions that is ultimately most crucial in understanding the strategies by which universalistic theories, such as Locke's, issue in or at least allow for exclusionary practices. My point here and throughout this article is to underscore the exclusionary effect of the distinction between anthropological capacities and the necessary conditions for their political actualization. Third and finally, I shift my attention to nineteenth-century India to consider once again the strategies through which utilitarianism effected and sustained politically exclusionary practices. Here, in contrast to Locke, exclusion assumes a defiantly self-confident and explicit form. It is defended by reference to the "manifest" political incompetence of those to be excluded and justified by a plethora of anthropological descriptions that serve to buttress the claim of incompetence. With reference to this latter focus on the nineteenth century, I consider exclusionary strategies that involve (i) inscrutability and (2) civilizational infantilism.

In the course of moving from Locke to the nineteenth century, my focus shifts to theorists who are commonly identified as utilitarians. It may therefore be objected that the comparative argument I am making is vitiated by the obvious and important theoretical contrasts between Lockean liberalism and nineteenth-century utilitarianism. The force of this objection is considerable; indeed, it cannot be fully answered within the constraints of this article. Nevertheless, with respect to the issues being dealt with here, namely the anthropological basis of universalistic claims, it will, I hope, become evident that the two theoretical visions share important and relevant similarities.

Because this article makes the claim that liberalism has been exclusionary and that in this it manifests an aspect of its theoretical underpinnings and not merely an episodic compromise with the practical constraints of implementation, it is important to dispel some possible misapprehensions. I am not suggesting that liberalism's doctrinal commitment to freedom is merely a ruse. Nor am I denying that from its inception it has sought to limit the ambit of political authority by anchoring it in constitutional principles, in the process articulating a framework of rights that the state is not entitled to invade. My argument neither rests on the assumption of, nor encourages the denial of, the liberal commitment to respect the claims of conscience and tolerate the voices of dissension. Similarly in emphasizing its exclusionary character, I am not muffling its favorable disposition to representation, universal suffrage, or claims of self-determination, including those of minority groups. To deny these credentials as fundamental to liberalism, one would have to take a stand that is markedly at odds with common usage.

And yet the exclusionary basis of liberalism does, I believe, derive from its theoretical core, and the litany of exclusionary historical instances is an elaboration of this core. It is so not because the ideals are theoretically disingenuous or concretely impractical, but rather because behind the capacities ascribed to all human beings there exist a thicker set of social credentials that constitute the real bases of political inclusion. The universalistic reach of liberalism derives from the capacities that it identifies with human nature and from the presumption, which it encourages, that these capacities are sufficient and not merely necessary for an individual's political inclusion. It encourages this presumption by giving a specifically political significance to human nature. Being born equal, free, and rational, birth—notwithstanding its various uncertain potentialities—becomes the moment of an assured political identity. That long tutelage through which Plato's guardians acquired their political spurs and the revolutions through which in de Tocqueville's words nations and individuals "became equal" is in Locke's ostensible vision compressed into the moment of our birth. However, what is concealed behind the endorsement of these universal capacities are the specific cultural and psychological conditions woven in as preconditions for the actualization of these capacities. Liberal exclusion works by modulating the distance between the interstices of human capacities and the conditions for their political effectivity. It is the content between these interstices that settles boundaries between who is included and who is not. Ironically culture in the broadest sense gets mobilized to compensate for the deficiencies of birth—deficiencies whose very existence allows for the qualification of the inclusionary vision associated with the naturalistic assumptions.

This formulation is meant, in part, to explain the use of the term "strategies" in the title of this article. Liberal exclusion is neither a theoretically dictated necessity nor merely an occasional happenstance of purely contingent significance. The distinction between universal capacities and the conditions for their actualization points to a space in which the liberal theorist can, as it were, raise the ante for political inclusion. To the extent that such a distinction can be identified within the work of a particular theorist or more broadly within liberalism, it points to a theoretical space from within which liberal exclusion can be viewed as intrinsic to liberalism and in which exclusionary strategies become endemic. The distinction becomes, in effect, a gatekeeper to the particular form that liberal society takes and as such allows for the incorporation of a variety of strategic considerations. The considerations may amount to no more than having "a sense of justice" or being "reasonable" as with Rawls. In contrast, they may require the significantly more exclusive benefits of a nineteenth-century, middle-class European mindset as with John Stuart Mill. The details structure the outcome without of necessity violating the presumed inclusionary vision.

The significance of "strategies" can be further elaborated by contrasting it with the common exclusionary bases of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conservative thought. For Edmund Burke, the most influential critic of liberal universalism or "abstract principles," exclusion is registered in the necessary partiality of inheritance: "It has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity." The idea of a shared and exclusive inheritance, which in the hands of a Disraeli becomes the grounds of an explicit preference for the "Rights of Englishmen" over the "rights of man" and which through various interpretive perversions comes to support nineteenth- and twentieth-century polygenics, circumvents the need for strategic exclusion. For both Locke and Burke, birth has a special political significance. For the former, birth signals the universal potentialities requisite for consensual political society; for the latter, it designates the unique and specific tracks of a historical alignment. For Burke, exclusions define the norm; for Locke, a limiting point whose status requires special, even if veiled, theoretical intensity. By way of contrast with both Locke and Burke, birth for Filmer designates a literal, precise and inescapable source of all obligations, including political ones.


Liberal theoretical claims typically tend to be transhistorical, transcultural, and most certainly transracial. The declared and ostensible referent of liberal principles is quite literally a constituency with no delimiting boundary, namely, that of all humankind. The political rights it articulates and defends and the institutions such as laws, representation, and contract all have their justification in a characterization of human beings that eschews names, social status, ethnic background, gender, and race.

In the mere fact of its universality, liberalism is not unique. Indeed, the quest for universal principles and cognate institutions attends political philosophy from its Greek inception. But whereas Plato grounds universal claims in a transcendent ontology, liberal universalism stems from almost the opposite, what one might call a philosophical anthropology. What is meant by this is that the universal claims can be made because they derive from certain characteristics that are common to all human beings. Central among these anthropological characteristics or foundations for liberal theory are the claims that everyone is naturally free, that they are in the relevant moral respects equal, and finally that they are rational. One might therefore say that the starting point for the political and institutional prescriptions of liberal theory is an anthropological minimum or an anthropological common denominator. Precisely because it is a minimum and therefore common to all the normative claims that derive from this minimum are common to all and therefore universal in their applicability.

It is to these common anthropological characteristics that Locke draws our attention at the outset of the state-of-nature chapter in the Second Treatise:

To understand political power right, and derive it from its Original, we must consider what State all Men are naturally in, and that is, a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions, and dispose of their Possessions, and Persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the Will of any other Man.

In this and in the following paragraph, Locke articulates the view that human beings are by their nature free, equal, and rational. It is this view of the individual that becomes the basis of Locke's justly famous opposition to political absolutism and for his endorsement of the sovereignty of the people and for limitations on the authority of government. Freedom, equality, and rationality evince what I earlier called an anthropological minimum. As natural attributes, they attend human beings irrespective of conventional norms. As Locke puts it, "there being nothing more evident, than that Creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without Subordination or Subjection."

Locke's point, here and elsewhere, is not that human beings are devoid of all natural obligations but rather that these obligations do not include natural political obligations. Similarly, the view of natural equality is meant only to establish our moral equality with respect to natural rights and not as a denial of various social and economic inequalities whose existence he explicitly acknowledges. With respect to political authority, the mere fact of our birth gives to all of us equally the natural right to freedom. The political centrality of birth and with it the attending identity of our faculties underscores the informational paucity of Lockean foundations. It eschews, at this foundational level, any reference to a sociological description of individuals. And similarly, in contrast to Filmer, it does not privilege any spatial or temporal context.

Locke's characterization of natural freedom is remarkable not merely for the universal constituency that it champions but also for the explicitly dramatic and expansive elaboration he gives to it. And not only are we told that all men are by their natures perfectly free; this condition itself allows us to give our persons, our possessions, and even our actions strikingly extreme expressions. It is this individual who becomes the subject of the contractual agreement from which liberal institutions derive. Locke's elaboration of the natural condition provokes an obvious question: What ensures that this condition of perfect freedom will not issue in a state of license and anarchical libertinage? Put differently, and only for illustrative purposes, how do the Two Treatises with such unrestrained foundations fortify themselves from being usurped by a variety of theorists who are commonly considered as anathema to liberalism, including not merely anarchists but also, for instance, the infamous French profligate the Marquis de Sade?

To this query, the obvious and immediate answer would be that the interpretation of the passage I have offered overlooks a crucial, even if textually brief, qualification. That is, I have overlooked the point where Locke, having opened the expansive possibilities that issue from perfect freedom, immediately restricts them with the claim that they must remain "within the bounds of the Law of Nature." The qualification is indeed crucial not merely because its exclusion is likely from an anarchist's perspective but also because natural laws play an ostensibly critical role in Locke's political thought. As fundamental moral principles legislated for individuals and societies by God, natural laws are meant as preconventional limits on human actions. For Locke, they designate the plethora of obligations to which we are committed despite the fact of our natural freedom.

Natural laws may sufficiently distinguish the foundational claims Locke is making from those of an anarchist. Nevertheless since access to these laws is (by Locke) emphasized as being through natural human reason, they do not severely qualify the image of the individual I have presented. That is to say, the moral boundaries that natural laws set on the potential liberality of human action are themselves presented as part of the natural endowments of human beings." Further along in this article, I will suggest how the access to natural law, which Locke in the Two Treatises presents as stemming from reason, in fact requires a highly conventionalistic regime of instruction and social manipulations. Such a conventionalistic molding vitiates the naturalistic and universalistic moral limits that natural law is meant to designate.


Excerpted from Tensions of Empire by Frederick Cooper, Ann Laura Stoler. Copyright © 1997 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface, vii,
Acknowledgments, xi,
Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda Ann Laura Stoler and Frederick Cooper, 1,
Part I: Framings,
1 Liberal Strategies of Exclusion Uday S. Mehta, 59,
2 Imperialism and Motherhood Anna Davin, 87,
3 Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse Homi Bhabha, 152,
Part II: Making Boundaries,
4 Images of Empire, Contests of Conscience: Models of Colonial Domination in South Africa John L. Comaroff, 163,
5 Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers: European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia Ann Laura Stoler, 198,
6 "The Conversion of Englishmen and the Conversion of the World Inseparable": Missionary Imperialism and the Language of Class in Early Industrial Britain Susan Thorne, 238,
7 Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the German Colonial Empire Lora Wildenthal, 263,
Part III: Colonial Projects,
8 "Le bébé en brousse": European Women, African Birth Spacing, and Colonial Intervention in Breast Feeding in the Belgian Congo Nancy Rose Hunt, 287,
9 Tradition in the Service of Modernity: Architecture and Urbanism in French Colonial Policy, 1900–1930 Gwendolyn Wright, 322,
10 Educating Conformity in French Colonial Algeria Fanny Colonna, 346,
Part IV: Contesting the Categories of Rule,
11 The Difference—Deferral of a Colonial Modernity: Public Debates on Domesticity in British Bengal Dipesh Chakrabarty, 373,
12 The Dialectics of Decolonization: Nationalism and Labor Movements in Postwar French Africa Frederick Cooper, 406,
13 Cars Out of Place: Vampires, Technology, and Labor in East and Central Africa Luise White, 436,
Notes on Contributors, 461,
Index, 463,

What People are Saying About This

Shelly Orpner

What is important about this book is its commitment to shaping theories through the careful interpretation of grounded, empirically based historical and ethnographic studies…It is by far the best collection that I've seen on this subject.
—Shelly D. Orpner, University of California, Berkley

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews