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We live in a colonial global economy. Colonialism has always operated through the creation and maintenance of racial hierarchies and exclusions. Financial practices and financial institutions have been as intimately entangled with racial hierarchy, racism and white supremacy as have colonizing states and their bureaucracies. The chapters in this book all share a concern with the entanglement of race, empire and finance in the colonial present. Each and every chapter is organized around an image: a photograph, work of art, map, advert or diagram. For some, the central concern is the relationship between hostile borders, race, migration and personal indebtedness. For others, it is the relationship between extractive infrastructure and the transition from European to Chinese investment in Africa. Several chapters are concerned with the settler colonial settings of contemporary Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Some are historical, some personal and others based on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. We have chosen to organize this book around a set of images to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and learning. We invite you to explore your own connections as you unpick and identify the manifold entangled legacies which make an appearance in this collection.

Race, finance and inequality: enduring legacies

We live in a colonial global economy. It is of course true that many territories which were conquered, annexed and settled during the expansion of European empires formally gained their independence during the twentieth century. 1 Settler colonialism, however, clearly persists in Britain's former ‘white dominions’ of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Israel/Palestine. 2 As you might imagine, the colonial world did not disappear overnight for the citizens of newly independent former colonies. On the level of crude imperial 3 relations of exploitation and extraction, much appeared to stay the same. Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah (1965) wrote in his book Neo-colonialism that African industrialization had been frustrated because of the extraction of Africa's mineral resources for Western benefit. More than half a century later, the Tricontinental Institute and Third World Network-Africa observed similar patterns of economic exploitation. Only 1.7% of global returns from Ghana's gold remain in Ghana's domestic economy, the majority flows out to shareholders of British, American, Canadian and Australian mining companies. Many see this as effective neo- or re-colonization of many African territories, resulting in de-industrialization (Tanoh 2019). Sovereign debts incurred by African governments to pursue development are the basis for a continued source of pressure by the World Bank to use meagre taxes and royalties from mining companies to service their sovereign debt, rather than using that mineral wealth for the kinds of national development envisioned by independence leaders (see also Styve, Chapter 21 and Schubert, Chapter 11).

The colonial global economy and its effects are not only found in formerly colonized territories. There are intimate connections between the extraction of wealth and production of poverty and inequality in former colonies, and the accumulation of wealth and even the birth of modern welfare states in the former ‘metropoles’ or parent states of European empires (Bhambra 2020; Hancox 2021). To stick with the example of Nkrumah and Ghana, upon independence, Nkrumah discovered that the Crown Agents, the quasi-governmental office responsible for managing Britain's colonial finances, had been pressured into investing the foreign currency that Ghana (and other colonies) earned from their raw material exports into long-term UK government bonds (Landricina 2020). That is, Britain had borrowed at very favourable rates from Ghana. What little Ghana had earned through its exports (much of which went to the European financiers documented by Nkrumah in his Neo-colonialism) ended up financing Britain's post-Second World War reconstruction, rather than development in the colonies, well into the 1970s. 4

And, as we shall see, the relations of colonialism and coloniality have also come to shape the patterns of economic wealth and poverty, the labour market and the broader political realm in colonizing countries like the UK and the US, where today race and racism continue to drastically shape people's lives and the fate of nations.

The development of Europe at the expense of its colonies and those enslaved by colonizers has been a central concern of the radical Caribbean scholars Walter Rodney and Eric Williams. There have even been attempts to put a monetary value on the wealth stolen and extracted from slave labour in the Caribbean, as well as the trauma caused by enslavement. One estimate in 2005 was of £7.5 trillion or three times the UK's 2005 gross domestic product (GDP) (Beckles 2007). Such monetary reckonings can never fully account for the harm and injustice resulting from the transatlantic slave trade. There is also a risk that critics will focus their energies on quibbling over ‘getting the numbers right’, at the expense of recognizing and responding to the intergenerational harms and inequalities that can be found at the centre of our colonial global economy. Still, such estimates are a powerful reminder of the scale that genuinely reparative relations between former colonies and former colonizers will require. And, turning back again to the metropole, we can observe through the work of economic historians how central wealth derived from slavery (whether directly through trafficking in enslaved persons, being ‘compensated’ for the ‘loss’ of slave property upon abolition, or in profiting from slave labour in the sugar and cotton trades) has been to the establishment of British infrastructure and institutions. In terms of ‘public’ infrastructure, the payment of compensation to British slave owners coincided with the 1830s railway boom, and on some lines at least 10% of railway investors were slave owners; in the private sphere, two of the biggest audit and consultancy firms in the UK were founded by families (Deloitte and Waterhouse – now part of PWC) who acquired their wealth from slave ownership and investing in slavery (Draper 2014). The metropoles, as much as the former colonies, are inextricably part and parcel of the colonial global economy.

Accounting for, and giving an account of, injustice

This book has been produced during a period in which a resurgent passion for furthering the decolonization of universities, museums and media institutions is not only accompanied by the watering down and appropriation of anti- and decolonial agendas, but met by a ‘recolonial’ backlash in a number of former metropoles. 5 In Britain, historical narratives which incorporate ‘unpalatable elements of the national story’ have been seen as morally threatening and challenging to redemptive visions of Empire (Fowler 2020). More subtle attempts to leave colonialism in the past have been made even by critical scholars famed for their opposition to neoliberalism. David Harvey has argued that ‘historical draining of wealth from East to West for more than two centuries has, for example, been largely reversed over the last thirty years’ (Harvey 2017: 169). Yet, as Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik (2017) argue in response, such a failure to perceive continuity within the colonial global economy seems to stem from an inadequate analysis of colonialism in the first place. The accumulation of wealth by contemporary Chinese and Indian elites is no ‘reversal’ of what Utsa Patnaik calls the colonial ‘drain’ of wealth from India. This drain was facilitated by a convoluted method of accounting through which a portion of Indian tax revenue was transferred directly to London as a ‘charge’ for being colonized, and buyers of Indian exports would deposit gold in London in exchange for some of those diverted tax rupees. The tax rupees would be used to buy agricultural and manufactured goods created by those taxpayers. Indian productivity, exports and economic activity thus enriched London (much of the accumulated gold was used to invest in extractive endeavours elsewhere in the Empire) and created no earnings or accumulated reserves for India. The most conservative estimate of wealth drained from India between 1765 and 1938 was around £9.2 trillion, or ten times the 2015 GDP of the UK (Patnaik 2017).

There is no doubt that such enormous transfers of wealth – or loot 6 – have had significant effects on the structure of metropolitan and former colonial societies; whether through the financing of quasi-public infrastructure, or through the uneven accumulation of wealth.

Financial colonialism persists today, it was never consigned to history, nor ‘reversed’ by the growth of ‘BRICS’  7 economies or development goals being reached in the Global South. Turning to the ‘former’ French empire, the CFA franc used by fourteen countries of West and Central Africa 8 was established explicitly to facilitate French reconstruction after the Second World War (on resistance to colonial currencies see Cordes, Chapter 5 and Comyn, Chapter 4). Imposed on ‘former’ French colonies and tied to the French franc (and subsequently euro), it has always been overvalued, making it cheap for French consumers and companies to buy CFA-zone raw materials, expensive for CFA zone countries to import and uncompetitive to sell their goods anywhere bar France (Pigeaud and Sylla 2021). One of the consequences of pegging to the euro (and historic French control of CFA economic policy) has been a lack of lending to producers and consumers in CFA-zone countries. Any prospect of ‘development’ has been curtailed, and remittances sent by migrant labourers seeking work in the Parisian metropole have in fact been encouraged as a source of ‘development’. Yet many such migrants are forced to live in precarity and are met with racialized hostility (Guermond and Sylla 2018).

A central theme explored by contributors to this book is the relationship between migration, racialized hostility and the new forms of financial insecurity and indebtedness to which migrants from former colonies are subjected (see Dickson et al., Chapter 8 and Medien, Chapter 7). Behind new financial ‘innovations’ which compound the fears, anxieties and vulnerability of migrants in the metropole is the failure to acknowledge the colonial global economy. By consigning colonial ‘drains’ of wealth to the past, we overlook the continuation of those drains and their after-effects in the colonial present. In addition, a perhaps deliberate failure to recognize that metropolitan welfare states have been built through the extraction and exploitation of wealth from the colonies nourishes racialized hostility towards former colonial subjects and the indigenous inhabitants of settler colonies. Colonialism has always operated through the creation and maintenance of racial hierarchies and exclusions. For instance, racialized distinctions determined who could be a ‘sport hunter’ and who was a ‘poacher’ subject to vicious penalties, and there were clear racial disparities regarding who was taxed (‘natives’) or untaxed (settler agriculturalists in much of British Africa). Such hierarchies did not simply fade away with formal independence. They persisted in the metropole, and they persisted in the imaginations and practices of Western investors seeking a return from former colonies, as several chapters in this collection show (see Alami, Chapter 10, and Kalba, Chapter 18). After all, financial practices and financial institutions have been as intimately entangled with racial hierarchy, racism and white supremacy as have colonizing states and their bureaucracies.

Haiti was the first colony of Europe's modern empires to declare its independence. In 1803, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian revolution, tore the white portion out of the French flag and declared the Haitian Republic. France had made it clear that their revolution of 1789 did not extend its liberty, equality and brotherhood to Black Haitians. France recognized Haiti's independence in 1825, yet demanded repayment of 150 million francs extended to former planters (to be echoed by Britain's payment of compensation to slave-owners upon abolition a decade later) and a 30-million-franc loan. Opportunities to invest in Haitian government bonds (to ‘lend’ to Haiti in return for interest and repayment of the original sum) created a flurry of interest among Parisian investors (Yates 2021). Their financial prospects were premised on a punitive debt imposed on Haiti for demanding Black freedom and equality. Almost a century later, in 1915, the first of several US military occupations would take place to defend the interests of an American financial institution which had taken over management of the national debt, revenue collection and a large interest in national railways (Hudson and Pierre 2021).

The financial institution in question, the National City Bank of New York, made no secret of its white supremacist convictions or ambitions. City Bank decorated its Wall Street headquarters with plantation scenes, staffed its social events with waiters and performers in blackface and, along with other Wall Street banks, circulated stories ‘casting Black people as economic illiterates whose engagements with modern banking and finance were marked by repeated incomprehension, befuddlement, and vexation’ (Hudson 2017: 15). The rogue bankers at the centre of the legal ‘innovations’ that allowed US banks to open their first branches overseas – culminating in the effective financial recolonization of Haiti during the early twentieth century – likewise made no secret of their white supremacy in their writing, their daily interaction with Black bank staff and their attitude towards Haiti's people and sovereignty. Racial hierarchies and white supremacy shape modern finance in more ways than just the underwriting of colonial endeavours by those financiers. The extractive dimensions of the colonial global economy are bound up in the entanglements of race, empire and finance, which did not disintegrate with the formal end of European colonialism.

In 2001, the South African rand was devalued, in part because traders in currency futures (contracts allowing their holder to purchase a currency at a certain price at a fixed time in the future) were betting against the rand, based in part on the perceived ‘risk posed by a Black African government’ (Koelble and LiPuma 2006: 621). In a self-fulfilling prophecy, this devaluation of the rand brought economic turbulence to South Africa. Among contemporary mining investors in the City of London, racial hierarchies are invoked to categorize mineral-rich territories from most stable and compliant (or ‘Europeanized’) to most ‘unruly’ (Gilbert 2020). Even financiers’ experience of place and architecture in global financial centres is experienced in terms of racial hierarchies and white supremacy. Lars Meier (2016) has described how German financiers experience the City of London as the ‘real’ centre of world finance, and its architecture as a marker of tangible empire. While whiteness is normalized in the London, in Singapore the same group of financiers construct themselves less as arriving at the centre of the financial world, and more as enabling Singapore to prosper through their (white) presence.

Snapshots of the history of our world

The chapters in this book all share a concern with the entanglement of race, empire and finance in the colonial present. And each and every chapter is organized around an image: a photograph, work of art, map, advert or diagram. For some, the central concern is the relationship between hostile borders, race, migration and personal indebtedness. For others, it is the relationship between extractive infrastructure and the transition from European to Chinese investment in Africa. Several chapters are concerned with the settler-colonial settings of contemporary Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US. Some are historical, some personal and others based on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork.

We have chosen to organize the book around a set of images to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and learning. Using images allows us to bring together writers from a range of disciplines (including political economy, cultural studies, economics, anthropology, sociology, history, media studies and the arts) around a shared format. We have drawn together conversations about race, empire and finance occurring in a vast array of widely dispersed disciplinary nooks and crannies. The hyper-specialization of most academic publications, and the differences in disciplinary writing styles, normally prevent such conversations, but the image-driven approach taken here has offered one route towards interdisciplinary engagement.

More importantly, we believe images make the subject matter accessible. Finance, and the language of finance, can be particularly – sometimes deliberately – alienating, and considerable collective sense-making is required for those on the receiving ends of financial crashes and crises (Bourne 2017). Traversing historical and contemporary case studies from across an array of geographical locations can be discombobulating. Spinning each chapter's argument around a specific image helps to make the scope and subject matter less impenetrable. A third reason is because visual media have proven powerful for tracing and untangling the links between empire, race and finance – just as maps, documents and images have been instrumental in presenting colonial territories as investment opportunities and expanding new forms of racialized personal debt.

To take one example, consider the Traces of Nitrate project. 9 Tracing the connections between nineteenth-century nitrate extraction in Chile and investors in the City of London, Xavier Ribas, Louise Purbrick and Ignacio Acosta assembled documents such as a photograph album documenting nitrate production in 1900, designed as publicity material to raise investment in London and Liverpool. The sanitized images, designed to promote share sales, ‘give no indication that this was a time of great unrest and violent repression, a memory they do not contain’ (Traces of Nitrate 2009). The photograph album in question was sent to Henry Hucks Gibbs, a British banker and politician based in London who planted an Araucaria araucana, the national tree of Chile, in his Tyntesfield country estate near Bristol (Traces of Nitrate 2011). The entanglements of finance and empire, of extractivism and the erasure of violence that are revealed in this snapshot from the Traces of Nitrate can become threads for us to trace further.

We might, for example, go on to discover from University College London's Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project that Henry Huck Gibbs, the recipient of the sanitized photograph album from Chile, belonged to a family which was actively involved in the financing of English and Scottish railways in the 1840s and 1860s. His father's cousin George was both at the centre of railway financing and a slave-owner in Jamaica (Draper 2014). We may then encounter the fact that the Gibbs family home at Tyntesfield was among the houses with links to slavery and colonialism discussed in a report by the UK's UK's National Trust (Huxtable et al. 2020: 106). The report became the centre of a hostile campaign orchestrated by the then UK culture secretary and right-wing media, who accused the National Trust of ‘changing the past’ by writing histories of exploitation, extraction and Black presence back into the British national narrative and thus ‘threaten[ing] national virtue’ (Fowler 2020: 126). This hostility to the very idea of a history of Black presence in the colonial metropole, as well as a denial of the degree to which metropolitan wealth, infrastructure and indeed aesthetics depend on a history of colonial looting and enslavement, lies behind the deliberate cultivation of a hostile environment for racialized migrants in the UK. This hostile environment frequently forces migrants into greater risk of indebtedness (see Dickson et al., Chapter 8, and Medien, Chapter 7)

Our entanglements

It is this mode of engagement, of picking up threads and traces, making connections between chapters, images and artworks and other stories found outside this book that we hope to encourage in its readers as you unravel for yourselves the entangled legacies of race, empire and finance. A number of contributors to this book deal explicitly with the problems caused by assuming that colonialism or coloniality (i.e., colonial forms of rule and organization) can be consigned to the past (see particularly Styve, Chapter 21, and Samaniego and Mantz, Chapter 20). How are we to make theoretical sense of colonial traces in the present? How do we know they are ‘colonial’? Some scholars of colonialism have cautioned that the language of colonial ‘legacies’ suggests too easy a connection, too straightforward a continuity between forms of racism, extraction and control in the past, and those found today (Stoler 2016). The contributors to this volume seek precisely to unpick what colonial legacies might look like in the present, tracing out from particular images, encounters and events to find sometimes surprising and contradictory relations between former colonizers and the formerly colonized (see Ferrini, Chapter 13, and Abdul Rahman, Chapter 6).

It is for this reason that we have titled this book Entangled Legacies. Here, over twenty-five contributors have sought to trace how imperialism, colonialism and capitalism have been woven together throughout the history of the last 500 years. The word ‘legacy’ calls to mind something inherited, for good or for ill, or a past that is still active in and transforming the present: wealth left by a deceased relative, or a debt owed for a past harm. The term ‘entanglement’ asks us to recognize that the patterns of economics and histories we will be exploring are dense and complex. The European empires that dominated the world until the post-Second World War era of decolonization were globe spanning. Driven by a combination of central planning and disorganized entrepreneurialism, they shaped global supply chains and migrant labour forces well before the advent of networked computing or the shipping container. We, each and every one of us, are the products of that history. More likely than not, it moved our ancestors from their traditional homes or transformed their way of life, enriching some while immiserating or enslaving others. To speak of entangled legacies, then, is to ask us to dwell with this complexity and pay close attention to both the specifics and the generality. Further, it asks us to understand the complexities and injustices of our own day and age in light of what came before.

Here ‘legacies’ articulates the ways in which ‘pastness’ inserts itself into the present, through physical infrastructure, state institutions or financial bonds. We embrace the etymological roots of ‘legacy’ as that which denotes both an inheritance and a body of persons appointed on a particular mission. We all share a concern with understanding what the colonial past – and enduring colonialism in the present – means for our collective futures. As the chapters in this collection demonstrate, tracing out the legacies of empire means grappling with entanglements of finance, race and inequality. Equally, by considering the legacies of empire to be ‘entangled’, we emphasize the degree to which indigenous communities and historically marginalized groups in the Global North and the Global South have been caught up in relations of exchange and oppression with colonizing agents for hundreds of years, shaping the experiences, self-understandings and attitudes to history of those in the colonies and the metropole alike. As Michelle Murphy (2018: 121) notes, ‘No single being on this planet escapes entanglements with capitalism, colonialism and racism.’ Thinking in terms of ‘entangled legacies’ encourages us to think about the different ways in which empire, race and finance come to be bound up with each other across time and space; it invites us to consider parallels between forms of entanglement in seemingly disparate social and geographical settings; and it also offers a way to think about encounters with colonialism that do not necessarily end in totalizing forms of annihilation or assimilation. We hope that this book might act as a guide towards generating solidarities and tracing out fault lines around which the entangled legacies of empire can be unravelled, or remade.

How to read this book

This collection is organized into eight parts: ‘Blowouts’, ‘Circulations’, ‘Borders’, ‘Emergence’, ‘Gestures’, ‘Play’, ‘Control’ and ‘Imaginaries’. Each part focuses on two or three authors and their respective modes of seeing, such as images and other visual resources. Each chapter highlights ways of engaging with the topic, with ‘Works cited’ and ‘Further resources’ sections outlining academic texts, audio and video recordings or blogs on the topic. The dialogue between each voice is drawn out by the editors in a short overview section.

In Part I, ‘Blowouts’, Szeman (Chapter 1), Lassiter (Chapter 2) and Kushinski (Chapter 3) concern themselves with what lies behind banal images of oil extraction sites ‘working properly’. What can we learn from the very ordinariness of the images of oil wells and oil derricks that populate settler-colonial landscapes in North America? And when images of leaky infrastructures and oil spills are broadcast to us, what are we really seeing? Is this transparency, or do live-streamed images of oil spills disguise more than they reveal?

The images considered by the three chapters in Part II, ‘Circulations’ are of paper money, coins and a tin can – though it is these objects themselves, rather than the pictorial representation of them, which are the authors’ real concern. Comyn (Chapter 4), a Ngāti Ranginui/Pākehā writer and researcher, focuses on a banknote issued by Te Peeke Aotearoa, or the Bank of New Zealand. Te Peeke Aotearoa is understood here as an institution that sought to reassert Māori control over credit creation, given the extensive indebtedness to which Māori were subjected through Native Lands Acts titling procedures. Cordes (Chapter 5), chair of the Coquille Nation Culture and Education Committee, then considers 1853 and 1854 US dollars to highlight another dimension of ‘financial colonization’: the appropriation of Indigenous motifs on 1854 dollar coins, attempting to fold Indigeneity into American settler identity even as Indigenous currency was counterfeited and devalued in an effort by settlers to force sale of their lands. Abdul Rahman (Chapter 6) takes us away from the ongoing settler-colonial economies of Aotearoa/New Zealand and North America to consider the social life of a Milo tin in Malaysia. We move from collective practices of Milo consumption that nourish national sentiment, to the derogatory designation of Malaysian-made cars as ‘milo tin cars’, to the sale of Malaysia's flagship car company to a Chinese firm. As in Schubert's Chapter 11 on successive Portuguese and Chinese investment in Angolan infrastructure, in Abdul Rahman's Chapter 6 we also find sedimented imperial legacies: the financial – rather than physical – trade of tin on the London Metal Exchange is still of significance to the UK economy, decades after British colonists brutally extracted Malaysian tin to trade for Chinese tea, leaving behind a legacy of racial capitalism that has shaped the automobile labour market in Malaysia today.

In Part III, ‘Borders’, Dickson, Rosen and Sorinmade (Chapter 8), Medien (Chapter 7) and Rossipal (Chapter 9), turn to the UK and the US to examine racist border regimes which rely upon a refusal to acknowledge colonial citizenship and mobility. The images examined by Dickson et al. and Medien are images of documents and letters, powerful artefacts of bureaucracy that produce state authority as much as they reflect it. But, as much as they produce state authority, these documents and letters also induce fear and shame in their recipients who grapple with indebtedness as they try to navigate the outsourced companies which manage the UK's hostile border regime. For Rossipal (Chapter 9), the central image is an advertisement for a firm that engineers indebtedness by inserting itself into the US's predatory, racist border regime. What draws these chapters together is their concern with the way the racialized politics of migration simultaneously produce indebtedness, financial surveillance and ‘borders in every street’ (Keenan 2018).

The chapters in Part IV, ‘Emergence’, by Alami (Chapter 10), Schubert (Chapter 11) and Ly (Chapter 12), turn to speculative investment in South Africa, Angola and China. Drawing on a diversity of visual forms – a magazine cover, a photograph from the author's own fieldwork and a satellite image – the authors in Part IV share a concern with the way colonial pasts shape contemporary landscapes of investment, in sometimes unpredictable ways. Angola's rail infrastructure, Schubert (Chapter 11) argues, carries the traces of the extractive orientation of Portuguese colonial rule, even as Chinese ‘upgrading’ of the railways speaks to a change in patterns of extraction and trade. Ly (Chapter 12) shows that Chinese investment in Inner Mongolia's rare earth-rich frontier zone is the latest in a long line of speculative attempts to bring the Mongolian landscape into the (Han) Chinese future, and equally implicated in attempts made by Euro-American extractive industry corporations to ‘green’ themselves through investment in rare earth-dependent renewable energy systems. Alami (Chapter 10) emphasizes the racist imaginaries through which investors calculate the ‘risk’ of investing in Black-ruled South Africa. In all three cases, imaginaries inflected by the colonial past directly influence investment decisions and extractive landscapes in the present.

The photographs considered by Ferrini (Chapter 13), Randell-Moon (Chapter 14) and Kish (Chapter 15) in Part V, ‘Gestures’, all concern moments of (possible) repair and reconciliation. In each case, the authors take us behind the lens to consider the framing, authorship and afterlives of the images. Ferrini's (Chapter 13) image of Italy's Berlusconi meeting Libya's Gaddafi is an opportunity to unpick Libya and Italy's complex relationship in the (post)-colonial present. While Libya has sought apologies and reparations from its Italian colonizers, and Italian leaders have been less than forthcoming, a new ‘Treaty of Friendship’ simultaneously cements Italy's foothold in Libya's oilfields, while also allowing opportunities for Libyan elites to profit from Italian state oil firms. Randell-Moon (Chapter 14) explores in parallel Mervyn Bishop's photograph of the Australian Prime Minister returning land to Gurindji Elder Vincent Lingiari, and the biography of Murri photographer Bishop, to tell a story of long-standing Aboriginal mobility and relations with Country in spite of decades of racial capitalism and settler-colonial exploitation of land and labour. Kish's (Chapter 15) chosen image is from the front cover of ‘impact investor’ Jacqueline Novogratz's biography, which takes as its starting point Novogratz's discovery of ‘her’ old sweatshirt worn by a child in Rwanda. Novogratz has spun this personal story of ‘connectedness’ into a highly personal model of humanitarian investment through her Acumen fund – even as this model denies the historical legacies and contemporary forms of ‘connection’ entanglement that integrate us into an uneven colonial global economy. 10

In Part VI, ‘Play’, the chapters by Nir (Chapter 16) and by Stork (Chapter 17) explore the saturation of childhood by the logics of debt. Whatever we may imagine that the time of childhood should be, Part VI highlights the degree to which the time of childhood cannot escape the temporal experience of financialization (Haiven 2012). Nir takes us to an underground playground in Sderot, in Israel/Palestine. In Israel, ballooning household debt and a constant attentiveness on financial markets through which Israelis must plan for their future and retirement sits alongside a welfare state that provides for poor Israelis settling in occupied territories. Here, conflict is endless, life can be planned only by constantly focusing on the financial future and childhood play is stripped of its embeddedness in a specific time or place, retreating to the subsurface. Stork (Chapter 17) turns to the US, where student indebtedness has become a precondition for social participation (Montgomerie 2013) and a college education is treated as a ‘hedge’ against uncertain job market outcomes. Black students in particular are exposed to widespread predatory lending – overlapping with the predatory lending that forms part of the ‘carceral state’ discussed by Rossipal (Chapter 9). Black participation in higher education, where racial hierarchy is vociferously manifest, is increasingly reliant on students becoming a ‘financialized person’ who provides a ‘return’ to the philanthropic investors that fund their future (see also Kish, Chapter 15, on Novogratz).

Part VII, ‘Control’, draws together considerations of seemingly futuristic financial infrastructures (data centres) and nineteenth-century stock exchanges through a consideration of architecture and architectural plans. Drinkall (Chapter 19) considers windowless data centres as key nodes in the expansion not just of financial transactions but of financial surveillance as we are reconstituted as credit scores by algorithms that track our consumer behaviour and indebtedness, and so determine our ‘life chances’ (Fourcade and Healy 2013). As Medien (Chapter 7) shows in her chapter, such algorithmic credit scores can have enormous consequences for migrants and their financial precarity. Kalba (Chapter 18) takes us back to the 1850s and floor plans for the redesigned London Stock Exchange, where opacity was just as important to traders who preferred not to be subjected to the eyes of the prying public. This insulated traders from seeming embedded in, or responsible for, broader financial relations – including investment in the colonies, during a time when 30% of Britain's wealth was invested overseas. Kalba invites us to consider the maps which were the primary visual device used by stock exchange members to envision colonial territories as blank canvases, ripe for investment opportunity. It is perhaps only independence that has made these former colonies now appear ‘risky’, rather than merely inviting, as Alami (Chapter 10) suggests.

In Part VIII, ‘Imaginaries’, the closing part of the volume shifts to focus on artworks which both represent and challenge the extractive forms of finance that characterize the colonial global economy. Samaniego and Mantz (Chapter 20), Styve (Chapter 21) and Bhattacharyya (Chapter 22) all share a concern with disrupting the notion that colonialism can be consigned to ‘the past’ in artworks produced by collectives, artists and, in Bhattacharyya's case, the author herself. The form of the artworks challenges any linear narrative of modernization or universal capitalist ‘developmentalism’ that places economic growth at the centre of visions of progress. These artworks all reveal the violence underlying claims that the colonial global economy is oriented towards producing ‘plenty’, but also point to possibilities for thinking about co-existence through visual productions that stretch space, challenge linear disruptions of time and share stories of the interdependence that can be found within the colonial global economy and what Bhattacharyya calls ‘racial capitalism’.

While we have grouped the chapters to facilitate the exploration of particular themes or visual forms, and to feed neatly into possible teaching session plans, we also encourage you to read across the entanglements that draw chapters from different sections into dialogue. Thus, for instance, numerous chapters consider questions of asylum, predatory finance and racialized borders – primarily the chapters in Part III, ‘Borders’, but equally Ferrini's (Chapter 13) contribution in Part V, ‘Gestures’. Similarly, playgrounds and childhood are clearly central to Stork (Chapter 17) and Nir (Chapter 16) in Part VI, ‘Play’, but are also key to Dickson et al. (Chapter 8) in Part III, ‘Borders’. Both Rossipal (Chapter 9 in Part III, ‘Borders’) and Kish (Chapter 15 in Part V, ‘Gestures’) consider the particular ‘humanitarian aesthetics’ used to justify the expansion of indebtedness in the name of ethical, humanitarian interventions. Oil infrastructures are central to the chapters in Part I, ‘Blowouts’, but also to Schubert (Chapter 11 in Part IV, ‘Emergence’) and Ferrini (Chapter 13 in Part V, ‘Gestures’). Offshore jurisdictions, tax avoidance and Britain's ‘second empire’ of tax havens – which emerged as a specific response to the need that white settlers had to get their wealth out of newly independent African nations (Ogle 2020) – are central threads in the stories told by Dickson et al. (Chapter 8 in Part III, ‘Borders’) and Styve (Chapter 21 in Part VIII, ‘Imaginaries’). Styve connects offshore financial flows to the 2013 murder of protesting mineworkers at Marikana in South Africa, while Alami (Chapter 10 in Part IV, ‘Emergence’) examines the decontextualized image of Marikana mineworkers used as a cover image by The Economist to depict a generalized, unruly Black African workforce. We invite you to explore your own connections as you unpick and identify the manifold entangled legacies which make an appearance in this collection.

What you need to know: terminology and vocabulary

Our aim with this book is that it is accessible for students and teachers working in and around anthropology, cultural studies, development studies, geography, media studies, political economy and sociology – within and without the academy. We have therefore flagged a number of terms which might be considered ‘jargon’, or which are contested and most easily understood as part of specific academic debates and dialogues. The remainder of this introduction is given over to providing background to some of these key terms, many of which appear in italic type. Readers may consult this book’s index for the location of other sections where these terms are addressed.

It is perhaps worth starting with a note on the specificities of settler colonialism, which is the focus of a number of chapters throughout the volume focusing on Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Israel/Palestine. Settler colonialism is often understood in terms of the ‘logic of elimination’ (Wolfe 2006). That is, settler colonialism entails a structure of genocidal elimination of Indigenous people from their land, and is organized through the grammar of race; it is not a one-off event but a persistent reality for colonized Indigenous people. For Tuck and Yang (2012) settler colonialism can also be understood as a combination of ‘external’ colonialism (through which fragments of Indigenous wealth and indigenous plants and resources are extracted and fed to the metropole) and ‘internal’ colonialism (through which Indigenous people and their land are managed within the borders of a nation through schooling, imprisonment and ghettoization).

Tuck and Yang caution against enthusiasm for ‘decolonial’ projects on the part of settlers who have no intention of relinquishing colonized land but merely wish to metaphorically ‘decolonize’ their curricula and themselves – in some cases through ‘re-colonial’ occupations and homesteading. Financial innovation has been central to settler colonialism too. Where English common law protected families from losing land due to indebtedness, English colonizers in the Americas developed a new form of ‘foreclosure’. This initially applied only to Indigenous people, and enabled the manufacture of debts and subsequent appropriation of land (Park 2021; see Cordes, Chapter 5, and Comyn, Chapter 4). Despite the influence of Patrick Wolfe's model of settler colonialism as elimination, there are indeed cases where the logic of settler colonialism seems to be one of exploitation rather than elimination (Englert 2020) – as for example in the case of white settlers in South Africa exploiting Black mineworkers (see Alami, Chapter 10 and Styve, Chapter 21). An emphasis on elimination should indeed be approached with caution, as it can contribute to the erasure of Indigenous scholarship and discussions of what it means to decolonize ongoing settler colonialism (Curley et al. 2022) The entanglements of race, finance and inequality that emerge through settler-colonial projects can also be approached through the lens of racial capitalism – a term that many authors in this collection use (on settler colonialism and racial capitalism, see Randell-Moon, Chapter 14). Before reviewing thought on racial capitalism in more depth, let's take a look at the two terms that make it up.


Capitalism is an economic system based on (1) the private ownership of the ‘means of production’ and (2) the exploitation of labour, and that is (3) driven by profit. An economic system is an overarching framework for organizing labour and distributing goods. Different civilizations have developed diverse economic systems, many of them exploitative, where some people do most of the work and get little rewards and a few people do very little work (or only managerial work) and reap the benefits. Capitalism is, by its nature, exploitative, but, unlike any other system, its exploitation is based on a small number of people (capitalists) owning the factories, the plantations and the infrastructure that society uses to create wealth. Unlike any other system, in capitalism money runs the show: its acquisition is what drives capitalists to compete with one another for profit, it is what capitalists use to pay workers and it is what workers use to survive by buying back goods and services from capitalists.

Because capitalism is so adept at motivating certain kinds of action, we often talk about the system capitalism as if it had a life or mind of its own: we speak of ‘capital’ and its desires (to move around the world freely) and drives (to transform anything of value into a commodity to be traded for money) or its logics (its laws of motion). But, in actual fact, capitalism is driven forward by a kind of collective momentum created by conflicts – much as wind, while it can appear to have its own force, is actually created in the atmosphere by the tension between pressure zones. While capitalism does create a small, very wealthy and powerful elite, it is not a conspiracy: it is driven forward by competition between capitalists as they seek market share and to better exploit workers to gain profit.

The competition might be between firms in the same industry (Apple vs Google, Ford vs Tesla, HSBC vs Goldman Sachs) or by capitalists in one country or region against those of others (Chinese vs American; Brazilian vs South African). This competition, alongside the resistance of workers to capitalism at every point (demands for higher wages, better conditions or even a different system), creates contradictions within the system, and these contradictions can easily become crises, as for instance when several firms competing in the same industry all try to cut wages so deeply that workers leave or starve.

To manage these contradictions, capitalism often relies on a state (government) to regulate and create universal rules. States also use militaries and police to suppress workers’ and oppressed people's uprisings. Through colonialism and imperialism, states aim to gain access to resource or new markets for their local capitalists. But, over the past centuries, workers and oppressed people have organized to also influence or sometimes take over the state, including using it to defend their rights to adequate wages, social services and protections from capitalism or using it to replace capitalism with other economic systems.

Because this book approaches its topics from a critical perspective, most of the authors in this book are sceptical towards capitalism and would propose that, in order to produce greater equality and fairness in the economy, the capitalist system must be either heavily regulated to prevent excesses and abuses or abolished altogether. They are generally sceptical towards neoliberal claims that greater and freer markets lead to peace, human rights and the possibility of universal prosperity.

Race and racism

Historically, capitalism has never existed without colonialism and imperialism and has always depended on racism in order to divide workers and justify the exploitation of some by others. But to understand ‘racial capitalism’ we also need to understand race. It is plain enough for anyone to see that humans are a very diverse species, genetically and culturally. But what is the story we should tell about those differences? Race names a very specific way of categorizing humans, a specific story about what makes us different from one another. It's also a fiction, with very dark origins and terrible consequences.

Its roots go back to early modern Europe, but it really consolidated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because it was an essential ingredient in the ideology of imperialism and colonialism by which capitalism expanded during that time. It is based on the bogus idea that people's phenotypical appearance (i.e. traits like skin colour or hair type that can be observed with the naked eye) are somehow demonstrative of a person's inherent qualities (like intelligence, morality, capacity or character), often tied to a person or a group's (presumed) region of origin. So, racial ideologies try to understand qualities that unite all people whose ancestors came from Africa, a region with huge diversity, or from Europe, also a diverse region and one only imagined as a unified ‘culture’ or race in recent times. Racism is not simply another word for prejudice. It is, specifically, the construction of a mythical hierarchy based on the categories of race and has its roots in the way Western European thinkers and scientists began to dream up rationales for colonialism and empire: it helped them to argue that those ‘races’ of people who were being subjugated were inherently inferior.

Race is a fiction that makes itself real through violence. For instance, in the transatlantic slave trade, Europeans pointed to the fact that Africans were enslaved and Europeans were not so as to suggest not only that Europeans were superior to Africans but that such a thing as ‘Europe’ or ‘Africa’ even existed: though indeed these describe more or less distinct landmasses, they are each home to vast cultural and human diversity and have never been homogeneous. The idea that either is a coherent civilization that has specific inherited qualities is a pure invention.

Over the centuries, theories of race take on different forms. At an earlier moment, race was largely a story told in religious language: the conquistadors justified their subjugation and enslavement and destruction of Indigenous people in the Americas because the latter were not Christians. Later, as religion gave way to the modern thinking of the Enlightenment, race and racism cloaked themselves in the mantle of science. Vast resources were dedicated to ‘proving’ that races were biological fact and that phenotypical differences were indeed reflections of inherent character based on ancestral origin. After the Second World War such scientific theories fell out of favour, partly because of how the Nazis used scientific theories of race to justify genocide, partly because of struggles for decolonization and anti-racism and partly thanks to the development of the study of genetics that has proven that ‘race’ as we tend to imagine it is a bogus concept. But racism has shifted again.

Today, it is common for us to imagine that the world is broken not into genetic groups but distinct ‘cultures’. This argument has justified a new wave of imperialism and neocolonialism, for instance in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York which led to a two-decades long War on Terror, presented as a ‘clash of civilizations’. Today, white supremacists in Britain, the US and Europe no longer necessarily publicly espouse a belief that white people are inherently superior but do suggest that all people with white skin share a distinct culture that is under threat from migration. But this lumping of a huge diversity of peoples and cultures under ‘whiteness’ is a dangerous fiction.

From the critical perspective that informs this book, racism persists not because humans are naturally xenophobic but because it remains useful for reproducing divisions between people that serve the interests of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. It is an ideology which supports existing power relations. We call the process by which people are categorized into races ‘racialization’. We speak about the dominant beliefs about racism as racial imaginaries.

On the other hand, today it is common to hear politicians and pundits tell us that we live in a society that has overcome racism, a ‘post-racial’ society that is ‘colour blind’ because, today, at least in capitalist democracies in the Global North, there are supposedly no longer any legal barriers preventing racialized and non-white people from participating in society and competing in the marketplace. This is a pernicious myth, but even when one presents the irrefutable evidence that, in the US and UK and on a global level, non-white people suffer lower wages, fewer opportunities, higher rates of poverty, poorer health indicators and more, the response is often (a) outright denial or (b) the argument that this is a residual effect of past racism that will soon be eliminated or (c) outright racism that claims that these statistics prove that these people must indeed be inferior because the impartial market has spoken. The reality is more complex.

Centuries of colonialism and racism have undermined the wealth, achievement and security of non-white peoples both in nations that were colonized and also in colonizing nations. But we also need to pay attention to the ways that seemingly universal policies, when they fail to account for the histories of racism and colonialism, can participate in their perpetuation without anyone intending it to be so. For instance, privatizing, commodifying or cutting funds to public school lunch programmes may seem to affect all children equally. But we live in a world where it will impact on poorer families more severely, and many poor children will go hungry and have poorer academic performance, which will lead to poorer competitiveness in the capitalist economy. In a context like the UK or US, where non-white people are much more likely to be poor, thanks to generations of racism and colonialism, this seemingly universal policy is functionally racist: it will tend to impact on racialized people the hardest. These forms of institutional and systemic racism are much more common than a racist taunt or joke, but are arguably much more damaging, in large part because they are made invisible. While race thinking is often the foundation for dehumanizing ideologies and forms of organization, acting ‘as if’ race no longer matters because we live in a putative post-racial society does nothing to chip away at institutionalized and structural forms of racism: instead, it simply makes them harder to combat.


Before finally turning to define racial capitalism, it is worth noting here the power of the imagination, a theme that recurs in this book. Even though ‘race’ properly speaking is not real, it becomes real because of its power over our imaginations. Racism is real, and it's deadly, but it is made real because of the way it shapes how we imagine the world and who and what we imagine are valuable. When you think about it, this is true of many things: money, for instance, usually takes the form these days of paper bills or digital numerals that only really have value because we, as a society, agree to a kind of mutual hallucination. Even the idea of nationhood is an ‘imagined community’ that is constantly being recreated. For this reason, many authors in this volume will speak of different ‘imaginaries’, which refers to shared structures of the imagination, ways of envisioning and understanding the world. For these authors, the imaginary and the material are two sides of the same coin: systems of exploitation and inequality produce imaginaries that justify them. Speculative investments require people to buy into convincing imaginaries of what future development (or future technologies) might look like: perhaps an imaginary of ‘world-class cities’ justifies slum clearance, or an imaginary of ‘decarbonized transport by 2030’ could justify destructive extraction of the battery metals required for ‘green’ electric vehicles. The justifications provided by certain imaginaries help to shape people's and government's behaviours and so help to reproduce systems of exploitation and inequality. For this reason, many of the chapters in this book are dedicated not only to explaining reality but also to helping us understand these imaginaries so that we can help to break the cycle.

Racial capitalism

Perhaps the most commonly used term throughout this collection is racial capitalism, a term that has spread through academia with renewed vigour and entered journalistic and online discourse, particularly in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising. The widespread use of this term has perhaps only added confusion, since not everyone is specific about how they use ‘racial capitalism’, even though its meaning is by no means fixed or traceable through one particular genealogy. We welcome the democratization of such powerful analytical language, of course, but feel that it may be useful to provide an orientation to how contributors to this book – as well as notable historical writers – have used the term. Many authors (including several in this volume) trace the use of ‘racial capitalism’ to Cedric Robinson. Robinson's ground-breaking work challenged what he saw as Marxist orthodoxy's pretention to universalism, all while it ignored racism in the history of capitalism and treated the white European worker as the agent of history. Robinson instead argued that capitalism was simply an extension of European feudalism, which carried with it already the ideologies and imaginaries of racist hierarchy.

Yet Robinson barely actually used the term ‘racial capitalism’ in his own writing. And, in his outright rejection of European Marxism, steered away from concrete, context-specific inquiries into the racial foundations of capitalist exploitation – and the possibility for pursuing projects of anti-racist socialism (Burden-Stelly 2020). As Hudson (2018) has shown, earlier (and highly contested) uses of the term ‘racial capitalism’ can be found, particularly among anti-apartheid activists in 1970s South Africa. Still, Robinson has been something of a touchstone for most writers on racial capitalism. More recently, Jenkins and Leroy (2021), and Gargi Bhattacharyya (2018), have emphasized that describing the system we live in as racial capitalism is an important part of pushing against either a ‘race first’ or ‘class first’ approach to social justice. Both Jenkins and Leroy, and Bhattacharyya, treat racial capitalism as something of a question more than an answer: it is our job to tease out the entanglements between forms of economic exploitation and the racial terms and racial hierarchies through which that exploitation is organized in specific settings – always with an eye on the past forms of racism and racial hierarchy on which capitalism and colonialism have relied. 11

Finance and inequality

A number of other contributors refer to some aspect of sovereign debt: whether that be donor conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes, or oil-backed credit lines. Sovereign debt takes the form of bonds ‘issued’ by governments, which they must then pay back to their creditors (or lenders) in full, plus interest or what is termed bond ‘yield’. Some bonds are referred to by specific names, such as the old British Consols discussed by Kalba (Chapter 18). Heavy sovereign debt burdens limit the amount of spending that is available for social infrastructure, because of the cost of ‘servicing’ debt (i.e., paying interest or the bond yields to creditors). This became a particular burden during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (Munevar 2020), and the capacity of credit-rating agencies to ‘downgrade’ the quality of a given country's bonds (i.e., make it more expensive for them to borrow, or force them to pay more ‘yield’ to creditors willing to lend to them) has both demonstrated the extent of private analysts’ control over international financial markets (Mutize 2020) and raised questions about the racist imaginaries underpinning bond downgrades (see Alami, Chapter 10). Oil-backed credit lines are a specific type of borrowing where a government offers either natural resources or the revenue from those as repayments: in other words, future delivery of resources is promised, potentially mortgaging a nation's resource future to its borrower.

Donor conditionalities, on the other hand, refer to requirements that states open their economies to imports, privatize state-owned industries, remove subsidies (even for vital subsistence commodities) and otherwise liberalize their economies in exchange for donor support. Most often associated with the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed to disastrous effect by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s, donor conditionalities never went away, and in effect undermined possibilities for deliberative governance by predetermining huge swathes of government policy (Adesina et al. 2021; Mkandawire and Soludo 1998). Concerns have been raised about a return of Structural Adjustment accompanying IMF loans made to countries struggling to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Numerous contributors also refer to offshore, tax havens, profit shifting, Britain's Second Empire, as well as specific tax abuse scandals like the Panama Papers. In using terms like ‘offshore’ or ‘tax havens’ it's worth bearing in mind that a great deal of tax abuse takes place nominally ‘onshore’ in places like London, because what matters is the capacity to structure a financial transaction such that you do not pay tax in high-tax jurisdictions, by ‘shifting your profits’ on paper to (or through) a low-tax jurisdiction. Campaigners and economists at the Tax Justice Network prefer the language of ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ to the language of ‘offshore’ or ‘tax havens’ for this reason (Cobham et al. 2015). In addition, the focus on offshore or tax havens often conjures up images of ‘treasure islands’, small island states that are, for various historical reasons, often Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies of the UK. Perhaps understandably, representatives of these nations have resisted the framing of ‘treasure islands’ as the problem, when it is firms in London, New York and Singapore who act as the brokers and nodes in networks of tax abuse and profit shifting. Still, the degree to which London has acted as a hub for shifting profits and hiding wealth ‘offshore’ in the vestiges of its empire has led a number of analysts to term this network (taking in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Gibraltar, Bermuda as well as Singapore and Hong Kong) Britain's ‘second empire’. To consider the bridge between questions of sovereign debt, donor conditionality and ‘offshore’ financial flows, it is worth bearing in mind that between 1970 and 2018, capital flight of around $2 trillion ‘disappeared’ from thirty African countries, exceeding the $720 billion of debt owed by the same countries, as well as the donor aid they have received over the same period (Ndikumana and Boyce 2021). As Ndikumana and Boyce show, while it might be argued that money was flowing out of African countries during economic downturns as investors (including African investors) sought opportunities elsewhere, the opposite is true: the more economic value is produced in African economies, the more capital flight is registered leaving the continent.

Unsurprisingly too, a number of authors refer to financialization, speculation, securitization and liquidity. Each of these terms is widely used, but not always in the same way, depending on the user's theoretical orientation. The term ‘financialization’ has been used variously to describe how companies come to rely on financial products for their income, even more than they do on selling commodities as part of their ‘core’ business. In some cases, financialization is used to refer to the proportion of a country's economic activity that takes place in the financial sector as opposed to other ‘productive’ sectors. For others, the financialization of everyday life is a question of how far even our imaginations are subordinated to the need to think about the future in terms of punctuated rhythms of debt repayment and personal investment in the absence of collective welfare (Haiven 2011). It has also been used to refer to firms being run according to financial imperatives, rather than those of their other ‘stakeholders’. Not only private sector firms, but nominally ‘public’ services and organizations can change their organizational form when they are run with the interests of creditors rather than users and workers in mind (Hildyard 2017).

‘Speculation’ is a term perhaps more widely used than financialization, and in general comes along with some kind of moral judgement: speculative investments may be unsound, reckless, contributing merely to financial return rather than ‘real’ or ‘productive’ growth, industry and jobs. In truth though, it can be hard to pin down what exactly counts as speculative investment and what counts as investment in the ‘real’ economy: since almost all valuations of companies and investment products are ‘forward looking’, or based on future earning potential, they are all to a degree speculative. It may thus be more productive, in engaging with speculation, to think about how speculative projects rely on specific imagined futures, and how successfully drawing money in to fund a speculative endeavour reshapes our lives and landscapes (Gilbert 2019; see Ly, Chapter 12).

Securitization carries two terms in academic and more common use, both at play here, and it is worth a brief note of clarification. In the financial sense, securitization refers to the process of taking a commodity or asset and selling the rights to income from that commodity or asset. You can therefore trade a ‘security’ that gives you the right to income from a specific mining company, for example, or that gives you the right to income from someone's mortgage (or thousands of peoples’ mortgages, as was the case with some of the products implicated in the 2008 financial crisis). In the other sense, securitization refers to matters of violence, conflict and military control, and the act of not only making something ‘secure’ but making something a ‘security problem’. Particular racially marked or religious groups might be ‘securitized’ by governments that treat them as a certain risk, subjecting them to additional restrictions and surveillance. Or specific places might become ‘securitized’, subject to a set of controls and restrictions on movement. ‘Liquidity’, also a common term heard in the financial press, refers for the most part to the ease with which something can be sold: ‘liquid’ assets being those that can be turned into cash, with less liquid assets being those that might be difficult to price or sell. As Nesvetailova (2010) has shown, financial practitioners’ understanding of ‘liquidity’ has come to be in terms of ‘liquid markets’ (i.e., how can we keep trades going by creating more and more new products, often by ‘securitizing’ old ones?), rather than understanding liquidity as a property of specific assets, and, as such, a ‘liquidity illusion’ is often at play when high turnover is mistaken for robust and resilient markets.

Finally, numerous contributors engage with neoliberalism and the associated notion of accumulation by dispossession. Neoliberalism has perhaps become used to describe such a vast array of capitalist and market-based ills that advocates of market-based reform often point to this profusion of meanings to deny there is such a thing as ‘neoliberalism’. Yet a more or less coherent consensus has emerged among critical scholars: neoliberalism is not and never was about the state ‘getting out of the way’ for markets to work, but about the organization of more and more aspects of our lives (from education, to welfare services, to local government) around the principle of competition, where a ‘winner takes all’ vision of markets is used as the template for organizing these competitions. Such competitions require endless resources from the state, and are perhaps related to the arch-neoliberal Hayek's philosophy, to the degree that he viewed states (fascist and socialist alike) as tending towards totalitarianism and saw market competition as a way to retain uncertainty (i.e., avoiding excessive control) while providing order in society (Davies 2016). The irony being that increasing financialization, often welcomed by advocates of neoliberalism, exerts ever more control on us through our debt-laden financial futures, and finds comfortable bedfellows in authoritarian, populist-nationalist governments around the world (see Medien, Chapter 7, and Nir, Chapter 16).

Several contributors refer to David Harvey's widely read and widely cited works on neoliberalism, as well as to Harvey's notion of accumulation by dispossession, a term that he uses to extend Marx's ‘primitive accumulation’. For Marx, primitive accumulation was the brutal, force-based appropriation of resources that came before capitalism set into motion, as ‘extra-economic force’ was used to push rural peasants into the workforce through ‘proletarianization’. Harvey argues that such dispossession continues to this day, and was not so ‘primitive’ after all. Harvey's work and concepts are a useful guide for many students, but we would, in closing this Introduction, encourage the readers of this volume to equally turn beyond the amplified voices of the Global North in seeking to engage with the entangled legacies of empire. Behind some of the most highly cited work on neoliberalism is, as Moyo, Yeros and Jha (2012) show, a separation of contemporary ‘neoliberal’ accumulation by dispossession driven by the logic of capital, and past Scrambles for Africa in the nineteenth century, which Harvey sees as driven by a territorial logic of control. We must come to understand the legacies of empire fully if we are to make sense of the present as a continuation of the colonial global economy – albeit one whose form we cannot always predict. This is not merely to ensure analytical correctness but, as Moyo et al. (2012) argue, because we cannot understand the unity of struggles against racialized borders, land dispossession, indebtedness, extractive violence and putatively humanitarian forms of investment without recognizing the colonial structure against which these struggles are mobilizing. We hope that the chapters in this book can help you to understand, engage with and visualize possibilities for these struggles.

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1 In British, French and Portuguese Africa between the 1950s and 1990s; in Spanish and Brazilian South America during the nineteenth century and the British and Dutch Caribbean between the 1960s and 1980s; in French Asia during the 1940s and 1950s, British Asia between the 1940s and 1990s and Portuguese Asia between the 1960s and 2000s. Asia here is understood as inclusive of West Asia or the ‘Middle East’.
2 Chapters in this collection engage with settler colonialism as well as the afterlives of colonialism – and the colonial present – from a variety of localities across the globe, although the workshops and networks through which this volume emerged have resulted in an undeniable emphasis on Anglophone, North Atlantic scholarship.
3 The terms ‘colonial’ and ‘imperial’ are often used interchangeably, and they are of course interconnected. Colonization and colonialism are often associated more with settlement, annexation and conquering of territories, whereas imperialism tends to be used to highlight (largely economic) forms of domination by external powers.
4 See also the history of the West African Currency Board, founded in 1912 without any African involvement or consideration of how the Currency Board might ‘enlarge internal economies’ but, rather, to resolve disputes between expatriate traders to ensure that benefits accrued to Britain rather than the colonies (Hopkins 1970).
5 In the UK, the 2021 Sewell Report has been a key moment in the Conservative government's attempt to deny racial inequality, denounced by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent as an attempt to normalize white supremacy. The then culture secretary Oliver Dowden's response to a National Trust report on colonial and slave-owner links to country houses was also a meeting point for self-proclaimed ‘anti-woke’ sentiment in government, media and higher education. In France, the Observatoire du Décolonialisme has curated hostility to scholars concerned with race and decolonialism. In the US, organized opposition to (an imagined version of) Critical Race Theory has also fed into white supremacist politics. A tangential current is running through the supremacist movement in India, where the language of ‘decoloniality’ has instead been co-opted by some on the Hindu far right, and repurposed towards supremacist ends – including providing justification for the targeting of non-Hindu minorities.
6 Utsa Patnaik has revived an earlier anti-colonial, Indian nationalist strand of economics concerned with accounting for the ‘drain’ of wealth from colonized India, previously associated with R. C. Dutt and Dadabhai Naoroji – an economist and also Britain's first Indian MP. Patnaik and her predecessors frequently use the term ‘loot’ to describe the drain of wealth from India to Britain. Though now widely used, this term's history also lies in colonized India. Loot comes to English from the Hindi lut, but was originally used by British colonizers and Anglo-Indians to denigrate the actions of Indian soldiers rising up during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. It was subsequently turned against the colonizers by nationalist economists, but use of ‘loot’ to denigrate unruly racialized protestors continues today on both sides of the Atlantic.
7 Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Goldman Sachs’ Jim O'Neill – now Lord O'Neill – created the acronym ‘BRICs’ (with a small ‘s’) in 2001 in an attempt to break the distinction between developed and developing nations. His focus was on investment opportunities arising from the export of Brazilian and Russian raw materials to Indian and Chinese manufacturers, who then sold to US and European consumers. South Africa later joined the BRICS as a formal political grouping who have at times sought to break away from the Bretton Woods system (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund), setting up the ‘New Development Bank’ in 2017 as a possible rival to the World Bank. While sometimes claiming to speak for ‘the Global South’, the BRICS often operate – especially, for instance, in African mining investments – as ‘sub-imperialists’ if not imperialists. The work of Ana Garcia, Vijay Prashad and Patrick Bond is particularly helpful in getting to grips with ‘the rise of the BRICS’.
8 Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mail, Niger, Senegal and Togo (UEMOA group); and Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Republic of Congo (the CEMAC group).
10 Kish focuses on the image of a child in blue from the cover of the HarperCollins edition of Novogratz's book, since it resonates with her story of finding ‘her’ blue sweater in Rwanda. In the PenguinRandomHouse edition, the cover photo by Susan Meiselas/Magnum is of ‘a Tanzanian girl stand[ing] in her doorway behind a curtain made from an insecticide treated bednet manufactured by an investee of the Acumen Fund’, and so is as much an advert for the Acumen fund as it is a representation of ‘connectedness’ that might give rise to personal humanitarian-entrepreneurial obligations.
11 This approach overlaps somewhat with what Ralph and Singhal (2019: 866) – who are somewhat sceptical of the vagueness of racial capitalism scholarship – term the ‘forensics of capital’, which allows us to consider ‘how, in every society and throughout history, people establish institutional protocols for determining … which forms of difference are salient and how they shape access to capital and to political possibilities’.
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The entangled legacies of empire

Race, finance and inequality


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