barbara arneil on liberal colonialism, domestic colonies and citizenship


Barbara Arneil, ‘Liberal Colonialism, Domestic Colonies and Citizenship’, History of Political Thought 33, 3 (2012).

There is a growing body of literature which argues that the two major theories of liberal citizenship (those of John Locke and J.S. Mill) were deeply enmeshed with both colonization (the processes by which the imperial state takes over the land and/or sovereignty of another country) and colonialism (the theoretical framework by which colonization is justified). This article, builds upon this literature but asks whether the existence of hundreds of domestic colonies within (as opposed to outside) the borders of Britain and British settler states for citizens (as opposed to foreigners) at the turn of the twentieth century challenges the scope and definition of ‘colonialism’ in previous literature. Liberal colonialism, it is argued, seeks to transform those deemed to be ‘idle’, ‘irrational’ and/or custom bound, both at home and abroad, into ‘industrious and rational’ citizens. Domestically this meant housing the idle poor and mentally ill/disabled in labour and farm colonies, respectively in order to break them free through segregation from their bad customs/habits and teaching them, through education and agrarian labour, to become proper citizens. Ultimately, it is hoped that this analysis will help to explain how liberal states could come to embrace rather than reject within their own borders such deeply illiberal practises as segregation and assimilation against ‘internal’ others well into the twentieth century.

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