Reminder: ‘The Rhetoric of Empire’ Conference, University of Exeter, 22-23 May

Martin Thomas and Richard Toye

rhetoric of empire pic

The Rhetoric of Empire:Imperial Discourse and the Language of Colonial Conflict Thursday 22 May – Friday 23 May 2014.Venue: Reed Hall, University of Exeter



List of speakers:

Prof Elizabeth Buettner, University of Amsterdam,

Rachel Chin, University of Exeter,

Dr Gerry Hughes, Aberystwyth University,

Simon Mackley, University of Exeter,

Prof James Mark (plus Malgorzata Mazurek, Quinn Slobodian), University of Exeter,

Dr Camilla Schofield, University of East Anglia,

Prof Martin Shipway, Birkbeck, University of London,

Dr Andreas Stucki, University of Berne,

Prof Martin Thomas, University of Exeter,

Prof Richard Toye, University of Exeter,

Elizabeth van Heyningen, University of Warwick,

Day One: Thursday 22 May 2014
 Registration and Welcome, 9.45 – 10.15 
Introductions, 10.15– 10.30: Martin Thomas & Richard Toye
_________________________________________________________________________ Panel One: 10.30 – 11.15, Chair: Iain Smith 
Speaker One: Simon Mackley, ‘‘We don’t want a pirate Empire’: imperial governance, the Transvaal Crisis, and the anxieties of Liberal rhetoric on Empire’ Speaker Two: Elizabeth van Heyningen, ‘‘The people are grateful’. The discourse of modernisation in the concentration camps of the South African War, 1899-1902’
Coffee, 11.15 – 11.45
 Panel Two, 11.45 – 13.15, Chair: Richard Toye Speaker One: Gerald Hughes, ‘Metropolitan elites, the British Empire, Appeasement and overstretch: The rhetoric of denial’ 

Speaker Two: Rachel Chin, ‘Animosity and Identity: Understanding Anglo-French Reactions to Mers el-Kébir through Rhetorical Analysis’


Speaker Three: Martin Shipway, ‘French Late Colonial Rhetorics of Territoriality and Reform: the case of French Indochina after 1945’


 Lunch, 13.00 – 14.15 
 Panel Three: 14.15 – 15.30, Chair: James Mark Speaker One: Richard Toye, ‘An ‘administrative disaster’ in Africa: The Hola Camp massacre and the rhetoric of bureaucratic failure’Speaker Two: Martin Thomas, ‘Repression, Reprisals, and a French Rhetoric of Massacre at Empire’s Close’


Coffee and Close: 15.30 – 16.00 
 EVENING MEAL: The Cosy Club, 1 Southernhay Gardens:

  Day Two: Friday 23 May 2014
Coffee, 9.00-9.30 
 Panel One, 9.30-10.45, Chair: Martin Thomas
Speaker One: Andreas Stucki, ‘‘Beyond Civilization’: Rhetoric of Empire in the Portuguese and Spanish ‘Overseas Provinces’Speaker Two: Elizabeth Buettner, ‘Extended Families or Bodily Decomposition?: Biological Metaphors in the Age of European Decolonization’ 
 Coffee, 10.45-11.15 
 Panel Two, 11.15 – 12.30, Chair, Andew Thompson  Speaker One: James Mark, Malgorzata Mazurek, Quinn Slobodian, ‘The End of Empire and the Rhetoric of Liberation in State Socialist Eastern Europe 1955-1990’ 

Speaker Two: Camilla Schofield, ‘The Rhetoric of Aid at Empire’s End, 1958-72’




12.30 – 12.45: CLOSING REMARKS






Crisis, and the anxieties of Liberal rhetoric on Empire.

Simon Mackley, University of Exeter

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the British Liberal Party found itself struggling to hold a coherent line over the question of imperial affairs: in particular, Liberal speakers found themselves grappling with tensions and anxieties over how exactly to appear ‘Liberal’ when discussing the Empire. This paper makes use of speeches and newspaper reports to examine how two contrasting Liberal ideals of imperial governance emerged in Liberal rhetoric: that of good government and that of self-government. Focusing in particular on the outbreak of the Transvaal Crisis as an episode of imperial salience in British politics, this paper will explore how Liberal supporters and opponents of the conflict attempted to cast their positions and ideals of governance within the wider rhetorical framework of late-Victorian Liberalism. This paper will additionally explore how such rhetoric of governance drew upon broader Liberal assumptions about the nature of imperial expansion, the character of the Liberal imperial statesman, and the role of race in the ‘Liberal Empire’. Furthermore, it will be suggested that such disputes and anxieties over imperial affairs masked a far greater degree of consensus as to what the characteristics of an ideal ‘Liberal Empire’ would actually be.

‘The people are grateful’. The discourse of modernisation in the concentration camps of the South African War, 1899-1902

Elizabeth van Heyningen, University of Warwick

For the past hundred years the concentration camps of the South African War (1899-1902) have been presented as sites of suffering in Afrikaner nationalist discourse. Afrikaners have fiercely rejected the British statements that the Boers incarcerated in the camps were a benighted peasantry, largely responsible for the high mortality because of their primitive sanitary and medical practices.

The energy of this rhetoric has excluded any recognition of the fact that, for the British administrators, the camps came to have an entirely different function. Recognising that the inmates were now British subjects (this did not apply to the black camps), the authorities seized the opportunity to introduce the Boers to the modern imperial world. In the camps they introduced changes which ranged from basic sanitary reform to training programmes for nurse aids and boy apprentices, from tree planting to glee clubs. These projects were embedded in a language of modernisation which permeates camp reports and private papers. British administration of the black camps, on the other hand, was presented in rather different terms. These camps were regarded both as pools of labour and as a means of destroying older forms of labour relations, based on various forms of sharecropping tenure. Instead, the British hoped to impose more modern, ‘civilised’ relations based on regular waged labour. This paper attempts to explore the way in which these notions were presented, and the way in which blacks and Afrikaners responded.


 Metropolitan elites, the British Empire, Appeasement and Overstretch: The rhetoric of denial

Gerry Hughes, Aberystwyth University

Animosity and Identity: Understanding Anglo-French Reactions to Mers el-Kébir through Rhetorical Analysis

Rachel Chin, University of Exeter

Following British bombardment of the French Fleet at the port of Mers el-Kébir on July 3, 1940, The Times ran the following headline: “French Fleet Denied to Germany, Churchill’s Vindication.”  Consistent with the tone of the remaining articles, the event was framed as a necessary tragedy, emphasizing Germany as the enemy and the French people as victims of a duplicitous and cowardly leadership.  The events at Mers el-Kébir have long been referenced as an historic breaking point between Britain and France, however, the rhetorical presentation of the events has been largely overlooked, the assumption being that Anglo-French animosity was already nascent if not nakedly apparent. In fact, the rhetorical evidence points to a more complex and less partisan view of events.

This study will analyze parliamentary, cabinet, and other government papers to understand how the events of Mers el-Kébir were discussed from both a French and British perspective, behind closed doors.  It will also seek to understand how these discussions were then translated into the public sphere through newspaper articles and speeches.  Crucially, it will show how concepts of British and French national identity, couched in the historic Anglo-French rivalry and relatively recent détente, were evident in the description of the event.  It will demonstrate how, for example, the British attempted to bypass historic associations of Anglo-French naval rivalry by emphasizing the un Frenchness of the Petain government and the inevitable and friendly British role in restoring France to greatness.  

French Late Colonial Rhetorics of Territoriality and Reform:
the case of French Indochina after 1945

Martin Shipway, Birkbeck, University of London

One of the characteristics of the late colonial empires is a shift in the relationship, in Saussurean terms, between the rhetorical ‘signifiers’ of empire and their underpinning concepts, their ‘signified’. French officialdom has often been taken to task for changing the rhetoric while ‘nothing really changed’ in the conceptual grasp of empire: was anyone really taken in by the terminological shift , say, from ‘empire’ to ‘Union’ or from ‘colonies’ to ‘territoires d’outre-mer’ (what one scholar of the Portuguese empire has called ‘semantic decolonisation’)? The alternative, perhaps more intriguing possibility is that French officials and politicians might be convinced that the conceptual ‘signified’ had indeed shifted – that, for example, in the words of Pierre Messmer, ‘France had been physically and intellectually erased’ from the face of Indochina after March 1945 – even while the rhetorical tropes of territorial presence and imperial purpose (reformist or otherwise) remained largely unchanged. There was effectively no way for the French ‘colonial mind’ to get this right: either ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they’, or they found themselves constrained by the language of empire to say the same things over and over. In this light, this paper will examine official rhetoric surrounding the French presence in Indochina, both in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and in the run-up to the stunning defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.


An ‘administrative disaster’ in Africa: The Hola Camp massacre and the rhetoric of bureaucratic failure

Richard Toye, University of Exeter

The Hola Camp massacre of 1959, in which eleven Mau may detainees were beaten to death by their guards in an attempt to force them to work, has widely been seen as a seminal moment which undermined the legitimacy of the British Empire. In a celebrated Commons speech on the affair, Enoch Powell declared that it was not possible to have ‘African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home … we cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility.’ Yet it is intriguing to ask why this particular episode of colonial violence became a cause celebre when previous comparable episodes of imperial violence (such as the Batang Kali massacre in Malaya in 1948) had not. This paper explores the rhetoric surrounding the affair, widening discussion to include the government’s defenders as well as its critics. It suggests that the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, drew upon longstanding discourses about the allegedly redemptive power of forced labour. At the same time, by labelling the massacre as a highly regrettable disaster that had been caused by minor misunderstandings and mistakes, in spite of the Kenyan authorities’ best intentions, he and his supporters helped ensure that the scandal was successfully surmounted in the short term.

Repression, Reprisals, and a French Rhetoric of Massacre

at Empire’s Close

Martin Thomas, University of Exeter

From 1945 to 1962 France’s war with Algerian nationalism generated some of the most extreme violence and counter-violence of French decolonization. If anything, repression and reprisal increased in intensity over these years. Some explanation for this escalatory dynamic lies in the rhetorical use of precedent and the related manner in which French civil and military authorities, as well as settler groups and French political parties, justified ever-widening circles of repressive action by reference to earlier notorious instances of Algerian political violence. Focused on materials from these various sources, this paper examines the process of rhetorical violence in action from the Sétif uprising of May 1945 to the final OAS bombing campaign in Algiers during the early months of 1962. Particular attention will be paid to the so-called Constantine massacres of August 1955, perhaps the point at which highly-politicized rhetoric definitively transformed the French imperial public sphere opening the way to a dramatic increase in human rights abuses in colonial Algeria.


‘Beyond Civilization’: Rhetoric of Empire

in the Portuguese and Spanish ‘Overseas Provinces’

Andreas Stucki, University of Berne

After admission to the United Nations in 1955, the southern European dictatorships were under increased pressure to justify colonial domination before international audiences. Expectations that these regimes would provide information on their overseas territories, as well as the increasing global presence of internationalist anti-colonial language each reached a peak in the early 1960s. In the Portuguese case, the official rhetorical devices are well known. Lusotropicalist discourses and the formal change in status of the African colonies, which became overseas provinces in 1951, stressed the alleged pluricontinental character of the Portuguese nation. Less well known is the similar Spanish rhetoric of provincialization (1958/59) and discourse of hispanotropicalismo as applied to the remnants of the Spanish Empire in Africa. The entanglement of the Spanish with the Portuguese official rhetoric and its paternalistic gloss mark the starting point of my paper. I will then discuss the Spanish imperialist rhetoric and identify recurrent patterns in its discourse, bringing out both similarities and differences in comparing the diverse territories (Western Sahara, Ifni, and Equatorial Guinea). This analysis is based on published sources and unpublished archival materials produced by members of the fascist women’s association, the Sección Femenina de Falange, which was involved in educational projects in the colonies. Where possible I will also elaborate on the counter-discourses that evolved locally.

The paper will show, on the one hand, how the Spanish and Portuguese rhetoric of empire fit into the general discourses of (imperialist) modernization after 1945. On the other hand, it will point to the peculiarities and contradictions of their language of the colonial ‘civilizing’ mission. Furthermore, a brief final section will shed some light on the longevity of preconceptions influenced by imperial rhetoric of the 1950s and 1960s and their persistence to this day.

‘Extended Families or Bodily Decomposition?:

Biological Metaphors in the Age of European Decolonization’

Liz Buettner, University of Amsterdam

This paper will explore the recurrence and significance of biological framings of imperial relations in British, French, and Portuguese rhetoric during the last decades of empire (c. 1945-1975).  Examples considered include British depictions of the changing Commonwealth as a ‘multiracial family’ in which ties live on after decolonization; French concerns about the practice of torture in the Algerian War as analogous to ‘gangrene’, ‘cancer’, a ‘pox’, or a ‘virus’ infecting the French body politic and constituting a sickness needing to be cured; and Portugal’s styling of its metropole and colonies (insistently labelled ‘overseas provinces’) as an integrated ‘multiracial’ and ‘pluricontinental’ national body connected and nourished by the sea, which acted as its blood vessels.  Rhetorics of connectedness across continents and peoples will be contrasted with concerns about the consequences of festering colonial ailments as well as amputations and bodily decomposition that decolonization would bring.



The End of Empire and the Rhetoric of Liberation in State Socialist Eastern Europe 1955-1990

James Mark, University of Exeter; Malgorzata Mazurek, Columbia University;

Quinn Slobodian, Wellesley College [James will be presenting the paper]

Sovereign independence, appeals to self-determination, and the emergence of discrete visions of socialist modernisation in Africa and Asia were watched closely in Eastern Europe, where socialist regimes saw new possibilities for the export of their own brand of planned industrial modernity and the construction of a ‘socialist world system’. Post-war global decolonisation reshaped political cultures and societies back in eastern Europe too, where socialist states revived national memories of earlier liberations from European Empires, and attempted to build domestic solidarities with progressive movements in the ‘Third World’. This paper, using material taken from the GDR, Poland and Hungary, will discuss how this global process was understood, and deployed rhetorically, in domestic socialist politics discourse, education and mass culture. First, it will address the rejection of the term ‘decolonisation’ itself, and explore the range of alternative languages, draw from the Marxist lexicon of liberation, earlier languages of class struggle, and progressive national histories, used to describe this global shift. Second, it will explore both the domestic and international origins of alternative languages that articulated a desire to be liberated from Soviet imperialism closer to home. The rhetoric of empire and colony could become polemical terms of opposition to the state-socialist regime, at times drawing on Chinese conceptions of Europe itself as an ‘intermediate zone’ of Cold War colonisation. Third, it will explore the growth of the use of terms such as decolonisation in the late socialist period as a way of making sense of the gradual disintegration of ideological language and a belief in socialist alternatives.

The Rhetoric of Aid at Empire’s End, 1958-72

Camilla Schofield, UEA

Enoch Powell described development aid and Britain’s immigration laws as signs of a ‘hangover’ after Empire. They represented, he believed, the continued hubris of liberal imperialism and the misguided belief in British responsibility without power. This paper will investigate the rhetoric of aid among policy-makers and British aid organisations in the early postcolonial world, as well as popular political support for and opposition to state development aid. Via the VSO archive (founded 1958), this paper will also seek to uncover the motivations of early aid workers, within the complex rhetorical field of postwar internationalism and human rights, (imperial) humanitarian traditions and anti-Communism. It will look to the political treatment of postcolonial refugees—particularly East African Asians—within this rhetorical constellation and their own claims for financial compensation from the British state.