Research themes

(Post-) Colonial Violence: Law, Rights and Repression

Violence was foundational to the colonial order, and to efforts to overthrow colonial rule. In conjunction with the Centre for Study of War, State and Society we have a core research focus on histories of (post-) colonial violence. Centre members have been heavily involved in the Leverhulme research network ‘Understanding Insurgencies’, led by Martin Thomas and Gareth Curless. We have particular expertise in histories of (post-)colonial state violence, repression and surveillance. Martin Thomas has written extensively on the nature and extent of political violence during contested decolonization in French and British empires across Africa and Asia, as well as researching the histories of imperial policing, colonial security services and state violence. Gajendra Singh is currently researching the Ghadar Movement, an anti-imperial revolutionary movement in India during the First World War, highlighting how surveillance methods created to combat subversion could drive imperial panic. Catriona Pennell works on post-war Middle East, particularly the British mandate period in Palestine, Iraq and Transjordan, examining imperial control in practice and the question of ‘power’ behind the mandated thrones. Some of our researchers explore particular forms of colonial, and anti-colonial, violence, with Gemma Clark’s research on the development of criminal fire setting as a social and political protest tool contextualising Ireland's history of non-lethal property damage in conflict within broader global histories of arson and fire-setting. Others highlight the agency and impact of particular violence agents. Stacey Hynd investigates the significance of child soldiers and youth fighters in anti-colonial and contemporary conflict in Africa, whilst Emily Bridger’s work contextualizes female fighters in South Africa against broader histories of women in war and Gareth Curless highlights the relationship between labour unrest, state repression of workers and decolonisation across Singapore, Guyana, Ghana and Sudan. More broadly, our scholars are interested in broader comparative analyses of violence and civil wars, at both local and global levels, with Ljubica Spaskovska currently working on a globalized account of the history of European violence, tracing the relationship between the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and the post-1945 wars of decolonization to show the evolution of interwar anti-imperialism into a broader Third World internationalist alliance.

Law was a key site of colonial control and violence, but also a vector of anti-colonial resistance. Several Centre members study the legal processes at work in colonial states, and the functionality of law as a form of imperial power and repression in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Nandini Chatterjee’s research on forms of law in the early modern Persianate world analyses Persian language legal documentation to investigate how people – commoners to kings – thought and spoke about law, and how their cultural backgrounds shaped their ideas and efforts to secure rights and justice. Silvia Espelt Bombin studies legal practices and peace-making as a lens to analyse cultural exchanges and negotiation of power between Indians, Africans and several competing European colonial powers in the frontier territories located in the Guianas and Brazilian Amazon. Stacey Hynd researches histories of crime and punishment in British colonial Africa, particularly focusing on how capital punishment and mercy in murder reveal the uneven landscape of colonial power. All are engaged with an exploration of how legal norms, discourses and structures were shaped in practice between colonized societies and imperial worlds.  More broadly, the Centre is interested in the intersection between global and local histories of law in Africa, Asia and Latin America.