8 Pages


WithAlan Lester

This collection brings into focus some of the processes by which the beliefs and behaviours of the colonial past are carried into the postcolonial present. There is a tendency among both historians and postcolonial scholars to describe this temporal sequence in terms of ‘colonial legacies’ or ‘aftermaths’, and to deploy without interrogation the notion of ‘continuity’. Rarely do scholars research specifically the people, practices, relationships and places that allow for the active repetition of colonial patterns of ‘Western’ privilege in the wider world. This wide ranging set of studies of quite different kinds of people, ranging from temporary sojourners imbibing a romanticised India through those more conventionally thought of as expatriates working on contracts in South and South East Asia, to contemporary German settlers in Namibia, casts much greater light on the postcolonial repetition of the colonial. From these sensitive studies of the everyday lives of individuals, working within particular institutions in particular places, we see that the postcolonial is not simply a matter of passive inheritance; not simply a legacy or continuity of the colonial past. As Massey (2005) argues, places are intersections and juxtapositions of different

trajectories, the differences between places the outcome of differently combined trajectories. It seems to me that one of the points of a postcolonial approach is to note how many and how significant are those trajectories of people, capital, ideas, organisms and objects that track along the routes and replicate the relations carved out by the former European empires. These routes and relations indicate that the taken for granted categories of the West and the rest are suspect since, as Nicholas Dirks puts it, colonialism was less ‘a process that began in the [pre-defined] European metropole and expanded outwards’ and more ‘a moment when new encounters within the world facilitated the formation of categories of metropole [West] and colony [the rest] in the first place’ (Dirks 1992, 6). Aspects of the histories of colonial rule are actively brought into the present by knowing and often unknowing agents following these well-trodden routes, existing according to rhythms and routines worked out through colonial encounters. They do so within particular institutional and ‘real’ spaces that are products of those encounters. The postcolonial is thus not simply a matter of continuity versus change. As ‘thrown together’ sets of trajectories, places are always dynamic, subject to stochastic as well as continuous changes. Where the impression of linear continuity from the past is created, it is in the active performance of routine, rhythm and repetition, the active reconstruction of the categories of West and rest. Let me in turn say something, inspired by this volume, about this active re-working

of the colonial past, first as it applies to people and second to places. Expatriates

occupy a particular position in relation to other kinds of ‘Westerners’ who have and do inhabit or travel through ‘non-Western’ spaces. It is only recently that historical scholarship has become attuned to their closest colonial progenitors. These were not settlers and nor were they explorers and travellers, both groups upon whom the historical literature has tended overwhelmingly to focus. Rather, they were men and women who dwelt for extended periods in one colony, sometimes before moving on to dwell in others. They were people who developed what we might call ‘imperial careers’ (Lambert and Lester 2006). They included administrators and governors, missionaries, police, engineers, public health, customs, and railway workers, speculators, investors and merchants, novelists and journalists, hoteliers and military personnel, as well as their partners and children (Lambert and Lester 2006; Deacon, Russell and Woollacott, 2010; Bickers 2010). Many of these people worked within the bureaucratic institutions that allowed for colonial forms governmentality not just within the formal European empires, but also in regions like South America, parts of the ‘Middle East’ and China that were subject to informal imperialism, and many of them worked for the Dutch and English East India Companies. Within each of the spaces they inhabited, these people differed from travellers because they had opportunities to transcend their initial impressions, ‘to insinuate themselves into personal, business, official, religious and friendship networks. They came, as they saw it, to ‘know’ the local ‘native’ peoples, and to articulate more considered and comparative reflections on the societies in which they dwelt’ (Lambert and Lester 2006, 2). They differed from settlers because they refrained from identifying these spaces and societies as their own. As Massey points out, ‘[a]rriving in a new place means joining up with, somehow

linking into, the collection of interwoven stories of which that place is made’ (Massey 2005: 119). These imperial careerists did so within limits established by colonial forms of governmentality. This meant that they did not necessarily engage to any great extent with indigenous peoples or their histories. These were the kinds of people who established the narrative template that James Farrer identifies here among contemporary expatriates in Shanghai – an idealised image of themselves as locally integrated entrepreneurs, which substitutes for ‘more substantive forms of urban citizenship, while excluding other categories of migrant’. They introduced certain modes of gendered, raced and classed thought to new contexts where they were recreated; reformulated their own identities through trans-imperial mobility; introduced knowledge of other places to new sites, and corresponded with others to create new, unevenly empowered networks (Lambert and Lester 2006, 25-31). As Bickers concludes of Britons who fitted this mould, it is only recently that we have come to appreciate ‘how strongly … [they] were interwoven into the fabric of the imperial experience … The history of these communities, which operated in wide range of political environments, offers insights into the ways in which, mostly outside formal settlement schemes, and what scholars would identify as “settler projects”, Britons took advantage of the often interstitial opportunities provided by imperial power and British ascendancy to migrate overseas, entrench themselves, and thereafter negotiate the passages they faced’ (Bickers 2010: 2, 4). Like the largely American expatriates analysed by here Leggett in Jakarta, communities of these imperial careerists, from a variety of class backgrounds, were able to utilise and re-work racialised social hierarchies constructed in and across many different places. They were one of the most significant of all trajectories inserting themselves into, and helping to shape, the new spatial assemblages of empire.