Envisioning imperial authority
Power, ritual and knowledge
in Exporting empire
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This chapter assesses the changing bedrock upon which officials’ sense of confidence in their ability to govern African societies rested. A desire for knowledge was not an inherent product of the colonial encounter, but the result of a particular metropolitan mentality. Officials from military backgrounds were more inclined to rely upon force and the use of prestige, and more at ease with their not knowing everything about those they governed, than civilian officials. For officials from civilian backgrounds, the process of collecting information about Africa meant that imperial authority increasingly rested on real power, rather than symbolic power. This underpinned the confidence that meant civilian officials accepted the post-1918 expansion of the imperial remit more readily. There were distinct limits as to how far experiences of the continent were able to re-shape officials’ attitudes towards imperial confidence.

Exporting empire

Africa, colonial officials and the construction of the British Imperial State, c. 1900–1939


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