How do empires work?
How do empires work?

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Finally, we need to take the discussion of the sinews of empire beyond the realm of guns and chests of opium – into the realm of ideas and culture. What role did ‘Imperial cultures’ play? What ideas, for instance, made Empire seem acceptable to British and French elites? The works of Edward Said and Frantz Fanon have suggested that European culture and science were used to keep colonised people subordinated, not just militarily or economically shackled, but with their very thoughts reprogrammed. By contrast, how far could the colonised both thrive by adopting metropolitan models, and also sometimes challenge them and assert agency?  In short, how far did empires rest on non-military mechanisms? How far were empires constructions of the mind – of schools, languages, maps, novels and societies – as well as of the sword.

No brief discussion could do more than scratch the surface of how empire is ‘done’, and systems of power kept in being. But we do believe that when added to the issue of communications systems discussed above, the four themes we have just discussed – military, economic, bureaucratic and cultural – give you the most important four ways of analysing the sinews of empire. If you can at least start to look for and ask informed questions about the different ways these sinews of power are organised, and embedded in institutions, when you meet new imperial situations, this introduction will have been worthwhile.

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