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Durham e-Theses
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Constructing imperial mindsets: Race and development in Britain’s interwar African colonial administration

Prior, Christopher (2007) Constructing imperial mindsets: Race and development in Britain’s interwar African colonial administration. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Very few have attempted to discuss interwar British colonial officials' intellectual interactions with the metropole in the early twentieth century. And yet such interactions are key if we are to really understand the way administrators understood race, imperial power and development. Where the ideas of colonial officials in interwar Africa have been examined, academics tend to coalesce around one of two arguments. Some believe that the British were cautious and conservative, which is said to account for the rise of the doctrine of 'indirect rule' and an aversion to the introduction of educational provision to thecontinent. Others, predominantly postcolonialists writing in the last twenty years or so, have argued that the British in Africa were ambiguous as to what their role was, because, they were attached to both ideas of the 'civilizing mission' and the 'noble savage.' In contrast to the first line of thinking, the British were in fact consistently interventionist, due to a moral universalism, a belief in the 'good' of the British, and an excited advocacy of the act of change. In contrast to the second line of thinking, the British genuinely felt that they were effecting coherent programmes of political, economic and social infrastructural development. The enthusiasm for change and a perception of Africa as robust and adaptable more than countered any sense of loss at the passing of a pre-colonial Africa that was usually depicted in negtive terms, especially when it was felt that what was good about 'traditional' African society could be preserved by indirect rule. The source of British confidence lay to a significant extent in the constant engagement of colonial officials with metropolitan ideas. Elite administrators, anthropologists and other commentators of the day all sanctioned the act of change. British conceptions of racial categories and imperial strength conjoined in such a way that officials felt that they were effecting coherent plans which blended both 'reform' and 'stasis' because both race and empire were felt considerably more robust than retrospective depictions of early-twentiethcentury fears over the validity of the 'civilizing mission' have deemed.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:26 Jun 2012 15:19

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