The End of Colonial Empires : British, French and Portuguese Decolonization (1945-1975)

The End of Colonial Empires : British, French and Portuguese Decolonization (1945-1975)

The world-historical significance of decolonization is clear - it meant the end, not only of British, French and Portuguese colonial rule, through a sudden process lasting only three decades, but also of the millennia-long history of empires as a normal part of world politics. Formal imperialism is no longer acceptable internationally, decolonization signaled the demise of empires as normal entities in the global political landscape. The end of empire became one of the cornerstones of contemporary international society, where open conquest and lasting imperial occupation and annexation no longer have a place, certainly not in terms of prevailing international norms, with some important consequences in practice. Yet there was no total and clear military collapse of these colonial powers comparable to other cases of imperial demise as recent as that of the Nazi empire in 1945. Further study of why this happened in a comparative framework seems particularly important precisely because the end of European colonial empires in Asia and Africa took place in broadly parallel processes in the decades between 1945 and 1975. Much of the generic literature on decolonization has focused on the role of changes in the balance of power in the international system (either in the Neo-Realist Realpolitk mode or the World System Dependency mode), or on international normative and institutional changes and diffusion (either in the Neo-Liberal mode or the Constructivist mode). In this project these more traditional approaches will be questioned in light of bibliographical and archival research on British, French and Portuguese decolonization following a methodology of structured comparison. The conclusion will come in the shape of a middle range theory of decolonization allowing us to place the Portuguese case in a more generic framework.

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
No
Keywords: 

Decolonization; Empire; History; Comparative Politics/International Relations

The world-historical significance of decolonization is clear - it meant the end, not only of British, French and Portuguese colonial rule, through a sudden process lasting only three decades, but also of the millennia-long history of empires as a normal part of world politics. Formal imperialism is no longer acceptable internationally, decolonization signaled the demise of empires as normal entities in the global political landscape. The end of empire became one of the cornerstones of contemporary international society, where open conquest and lasting imperial occupation and annexation no longer have a place, certainly not in terms of prevailing international norms, with some important consequences in practice. Yet there was no total and clear military collapse of these colonial powers comparable to other cases of imperial demise as recent as that of the Nazi empire in 1945. Further study of why this happened in a comparative framework seems particularly important precisely because the end of European colonial empires in Asia and Africa took place in broadly parallel processes in the decades between 1945 and 1975. Much of the generic literature on decolonization has focused on the role of changes in the balance of power in the international system (either in the Neo-Realist Realpolitk mode or the World System Dependency mode), or on international normative and institutional changes and diffusion (either in the Neo-Liberal mode or the Constructivist mode). In this project these more traditional approaches will be questioned in light of bibliographical and archival research on British, French and Portuguese decolonization following a methodology of structured comparison. The conclusion will come in the shape of a middle range theory of decolonization allowing us to place the Portuguese case in a more generic framework.

Objectivos: 
This research hopes to provide new insights into four key questions: How did European colonial empires come to a relatively abrupt end? Why was that the case? Was decolonization inevitable in the shape, timing and locations where it happened? Last but not least, where does Portuguese stand in comparison with others, and more specifically those of the two major empires that largely defined the pace and shape of decolonization alongside In answering these questions it seeks to revise some of these more established explanations of decolonization by an trans-disciplinary approach that uses both historical research of decision-making as well as IR theoretical models in its aim to explain this great transformation while contributing the on-going debate on these issues in both these disciplines.
State of the art: 
Decolonization is understood here as a change of international juridical status from one of dependant territory to that of sovereign State. There are significant disagreements about the actual meaning of this. Decolonization had more far-reaching implications than many in government in Paris or London had expected, but less so than many of the leaders of the newly independent nations expected. We do not ignore the debate on the actual nature and real impact of decolonization that gave rise to the notion of neo-colonialism and is the focus of much research in post-colonial studies. Yet even if decolonization resulted in little more than a formal change, indeed perhaps especially if that was the case, this process of imperial disengagement deserves further study. <p>Given the nature of the process a comparative study of the phenomenon seems of evident relevance, yet it presents significant challenges. Each colonial empire often included very different geographical areas and produced a great variety of archival and other sources. But every level of analysis presents specific difficulties and limitations, while offering specific insights. Furthermore there has been a growing trend to recognize the importance of macro-level comparative approach to imperial studies both in the field of international history and of international relations. Robert Holland, for instance, argues that &lsquo;thematic comparison' is crucial because what might appear unique in single case study of empire may actually not be original. Therefore, looking systematically at convergences and divergences will provide a better understanding of the actual workings of empires. A number of edited volumes has followed in this line, but very recently the same author reaffirmed that &lsquo;overviews' on the &lsquo;end of empire are much needed, but to make any mark in future they must surely have some special slant, such as a genuinely comparative reach'. Also, few books in the field of political science and more specifically of international relations have addressed in generic terms the question of imperial demise. One exception is Moytil's Imperial Endings that formulates a general theory of imperial decline; another, closer to our aims and level of analysis, is Spruyt's Ending Empires that looks at British, French, and Portuguese - but also, Dutch, Russian, Israeli - processes of territorial devolution in terms of the impact on them of domestic political structures. </p><p>Still, probably the most common explanation of decolonization is in terms of a major change in international systematic power variables. The Cold War system &lsquo;with the shift of power from Europe [...] to the US and the USSR', with their relative hostility to traditional colonialism, had led to the disappearance of &lsquo;the European collective security for colonial empire'. More recently there have been influential studies pointing to the importance of normative changes, namely the re-emergence of the principle of national self-determination out the crisis of racist ideas with the demise of Nazism, more or less mediated by internal and international institutions. Here two important lines of analysis have been underdeveloped: One is the normative change in the attitude towards colonized territories by the main Churches; The other is the complex issue of the apparently relatively weak Western solidarity - namely between Britain, France, and Portugal - in these matters despite mutual consultations. These are two specific issues that when looking into norms, and looking at power, geopolitics and alliances will be further pursued. </p><p>But to what degree and in what measure can these factors be shown to have impacted the historically documented elite decision-making process to disengage from empire in each of these three colonial powers? Moreover, the military dimension of decolonization tends to deserve much less attention, because to do otherwise would be seen as giving too much weight to resistance by the imperial periphery in a decision to withdraw that tends to be seen primarily as being taken by the metropole for altruistic/normative or neo-colonial reasons. The research proposed here will, in parallel with those factors, have a further look at the impact of the attritional logic of guerrilla warfare on the calculations of costs and benefits of imperial domination. </p><p>Darwin (1988), pp.6-7. </p><p>For a significant example of this discussion in the context of international relations see Jackson (1993). </p><p>Holland (1994), pp.ix-x. </p><p>Holland (2008), p. 137. </p><p>Motyl (2001); Spruyt (2005). </p><p>Robinson (1984). </p><p>E.g. Finnemore (2003). </p>
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
02/05/2010
End Date: 
02/05/2013
Duração: 
36 meses
Closed