The Uses of Decolonisation

  • Camilla Schofield (Organiser)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


What, when and where was decolonisation? What of it remains unfinished? How do historians understand its shifting rhythms, trajectories, and demands?

The age of empires from which the vocabulary of decolonisation emerged is over, and yet the demand to decolonise has assumed a new intensity in our contemporary moment—its reach ever-expanding as new dimensions of social life are found complicit in coloniality, and in need of intervention. It is a demand articulated across the formerly colonised world but by no means limited to those territories: the old imperial centres are also in its sights. For historians of modern Britain, this decolonial drive is surely a welcome riposte to those accounts of colonisation that attempt to confine it safely to the past, and to interpret it as something that really happened elsewhere. But in a world in which coloniality is everywhere, and the decolonisation demand appears as all-encompassing, does the meaning of decolonisation risk losing its critical purchase? How can historians both account for decolonisations past—seeing our contemporary world as a product of both empire and decolonisation—and at the same time heed the implications of the renewed decolonial demand, recognising what remains unfinished of decolonisation projects, and what new agendas a reworked understanding of decolonisation offers for the future?

In this discussion, we seek to probe the limits and possibilities of the current decolonising moment for understanding empire and its ends, and for accounting for the weight of the past in our present. What are the appropriate tools and registers for reckoning with the history of decolonisation? What past intellectual movements and methods can guide our way? How are we to make sense of the multi-scalar structures, affects and imaginaries of empire and its end? What are the representational modes suitable to the task of capturing these different scales of history and their interaction? How do we navigate the intersecting temporalities of empire and its end, from deep time to the conjunctural, and between social time and the temporalities of inner life? What stories do the terms anticolonial, postcolonial and decolonising Britain tell?

Speakers include: Bill Schwarz, Catherine Hall, Kennetta Hammond Perry, Yasmin Khan, David Feldman, Stuart Ward and many others.
Period22 Oct 2022
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United Kingdom