|The creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination. Over the last 500 years imperialism has been a predominantly western project and form of dominance that has been shaped by expansionist â€” capitalist and latterly communist â€” systems. Western overseas expansion was initiated by Portuguese and Spanish mariners in the fifteenth century and reached its territorial and ideological climax in the early twentieth century, when many European states were engaged in \'the scramble for Africa\', the British Empire spanned the globe, and imperialism was first defined precisely, as an ethos of state expansion and \'civilizing mission\'. Imperialism is closely affiliated with colonialism. Both processes are intrinsically geographical dynamics that involve the extension of the sovereignty of a ruler or nation-state over the land and lives of an alien people through a mixture of military conquest, colonial settlement, the imposition of direct rule, or the creation of informal empires of trade and political supervision. With the rise of communism in the first half of the twentieth century and the dissolution of colonial empires over the last half, \'imperialism\' has gained other connotations. The term is now used to describe â€” variously â€” the global economic influence of Japan and the USA; the webs of neo-colonial dependency spun by multinational corporations; the international spheres of intervention cultivated by the USA, the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War; the USA\'s recent military campaigns in the Middle East and Central America; and the fashioning and management of the Third World as subordinate to the West. In Marxist-Leninist thought, \'imperialism\' has been used as a synonym for capitalism.
Earlier in the twentieth century, thinkers such as Lenin and Hobson viewed imperialism as a phase of capitalism which would either bring the capitalist world system to its knees or alert states to the need to redistribute wealth to the masses (see Mommsen, 1980). Imperialism has since been subjected to more wide-ranging analysis and critique. It is now usually argued that Europe\'s rise to global dominance in the nineteenth century stemmed from a longer history of exploration, trade, warfare and settlement. There has been considerable debate about whether imperialism was fuelled by an overarching will-to-domination or stemmed from a more haphazard â€” if propitious â€” set of ventures and circumstances. Some argue that the terms \'imperialism\' and \'European overseas expansion\' obscure the variety of European approaches to the world and portray European dominance in much too austere a light. Others insist that we need to conceptualize imperialism in general terms â€” as a logic of power, system of violence, or set of historical tendencies and cultural stances â€” because its effects are pervasive and thoroughgoing.
Many scholars have tried to clarify the distinctiveness of modern (post-1492) imperialism and generalize about \'how it was done\'. Modern European empires were modelled on those of Greece and (especially) Rome, but states such as Spain and Britain built the first truly global empires and they grappled with issues that their predecessors did not. It is important to distinguish between imperial projects of conquest, commerce, settlement and rule, and note, as Elliott (1998) does, that they \'were not always, or necessarily, mutually supportive or â€¦ compatible\'. But this does not mean that they were ineffectual, and scholars have identified a set of tendencies in Europe\'s increasing imperial grip on the world: (a) the creation of a \'portmanteau biota\' in the temperate areas of the world, which helped Europeans to thrive in distant places where land and resources were generally more plentiful than in Europe but labour was scarce; (b) the development of weapons, military tactics and other \'tools of imperialism\' (such as navigational equipment, quinine, steamships and telegraphs), which allowed Europeans to explore, annex and control large and disparate territories; (c) the subordination of the use of violence to the rational and continuous pursuit of profit; and (d) the generation of complex imperial \'imaginaries\' (ideologies of superiority, visions of empire, and conceptual devices for ordering the world), which gave Europeans the confidence and capacity to bring the world under their imperial sway (see Headrick, 1979; Crosby, 1986; Tracy, 1991; Rabasa, 1993).
In recent years there has been considerable discussion of the cultural geography of imperialism. It is becoming increasingly apparent that modern imperialism was characterized by a tension between the universalization and differentiation of European culture and power, and that it nourished both Eurocentrism and nationalism. Imperialism fostered, and was fuelled by, what Gregory (1998) describes as \'the production of Europe as a sovereign [and composite] subject at the centre of an imaginative grid that positioned all the other continents in [antediluvian times and] subordinate spaces\'. Many imperial projects were inspired by the idea that Europe was the hearth and pinnacle of civilization â€” the fulcrum of world \'History\' and \'Geography\' â€” and had the special task of completing human development by bringing the rest of the world up to its mark. Imperial expansion was conceived in triumphalist terms, as a universally beneficent agent of progress and an inevitable consequence of European superiority. As Spurr (1993) neatly remarks, Europeans saw the world as their rightful inheritance and represented colonial intervention as a response \'to a threefold calling: that of nature, which calls for wise use of its resources; that of humanity, which calls for universal betterment; and that of the colonised, who call for protection from their own ignorance and violence\'. These were compelling fictions that had profound material consequences. The configuration of non-European lands and peoples as uncultivated or backward, and hence in need of domestication and rule, is an intrinsic feature of imperialism.
Diverse national imperial agendas were integrated in a broadly European vision of dominance and, far from simply stretching Europe\'s power overseas, colonialism was directly involved in the making of European modernity. Said (1978) has shown how the West engaged (and continues to deal with) the East, and justified colonial intervention, by elaborating \'imaginative geographies\' of \'us\' and \'them\', and representing cultural and geographical differences as unchanging essences. The West fabricated binary oppositions between a dynamic/rational/masculine/ democratic \'Occident\' and an eternal/excessive/ feminine/despotic \'Orient\' (see Orientalism). Geographers have considered the ways in which travellers, geographical societies and professional geographers contributed to empire, and how imperial categories of thought and colonial practices have been shaped by explorers, travelwriters, cartographers, surveyors, photographers and landscape artists (see e.g. Smith and Godlewska, 1994; Bell, Butlin and Heffernan, 1995; cf. art, geography and). In short, imperialism can be conceived as what Said (1993) describes as a multifaceted \'struggle over geography\', and as Driver (1996) suggests, geography should be treated as both \'a discipline and discourse\' of empire: as a set of geographical ideas, institutions and practices that induced and legitimized territorial expansion; and as a dynamic medium through which European attitudes of dominance and metropolitan-colonial relationships were imagined, represented and negotiated.
Yet imperialism was never simply Eurocentric and we can think about its geography in other ways. Imperialism also involved processes of differentiation. European states were vigorously competitive, developed distinct imperial ideologies and styles of power, dealt with diverse subject peoples, and held different views about what constituted an appealing land and ordered colonial society (see Pagden, 1995). Furthermore, different agents of empire (such as explorers and merchants, armies and engineers, settlers and governors) made the world over in the image of particular interests â€” those of class, race and gender â€” and with culturally specific ideas and practices (see Pratt, 1992; McClintock, 1995). Imperialism was riven by covetous national agendas and implicated in the rise of nationalism. For example, British national Identity was shaped by a range of imperial ideas that revolved around the utilization of space. Contemporaries argued that Britain\'s strength and distinctiveness in Europe and the imperial world rested on principles of property and liberty, and practices of cultivation and international commerce. Imperial differentiation also stemmed from what might be called the intensive and extensive geographies of European movement, interaction and expansion. First, geographers note that \'the physical passage of European travellers through other landscapes and other cultures marked the very process of their writing and their representations of those spaces\', and that European identities were often \'renegotiated in the course of the passage\' (Gregory, 1995; cf. Blunt and Rose, 1994). Second, Europeans were never supremely self-confident about their imperial endeavours. Their ventures into alien territory and meetings with different peoples created trepidation. Greenblatt (1991), for example, shows that Europe\'s \'discovery\' of the New World created both \'wonder and estrangement\', and Guha (1996) argues that in colonial regions such as India, where British rule was imposed upon a huge and diverse land and subject population, the British were \'not at home in empire\'. Fear and anxiety were heightened by resistance to colonial incursion. And third, European politicians struggled to administer large, sprawling settler empires and sustain firm metropolitan-colonial bonds. European colonists forged identities that diverged from metropolitan visions of empire and led colonial societies out of empire (see Cooper and Stoler, 1997). Such insights fracture and pluralize stark oppositional models of \'Europe and its (always somehow inferior) others\' and prompt us to think about imperialism as a geographically variegated system of power and knowledge.
Much recent work on these tensions of empire is imbued with the perspectives of post-colonialism and postmodernism. Critics continue to pay considerable critical attention to the Eurocentric dimensions of imperialism â€” particularly the nature of colonial discourse â€” because they point out that while colonial empires have been largely dissolved, global relations are still structured by imperial attitudes and the affairs of post-colonial societies are still shaped by western frameworks of knowledge. Such recognitions have generated new debates within and beyond geography about the nature of \'otherness\', the legacies of colonialism, and how the West continues to engage the world in imperial terms (see Agnew and Corbridge, 1995; cf. development; globalization). Post-colonial critics make two important, if potentially self-defeating, critical moves. First, they have deepened appreciation of how formerly colonized peoples were placed under domination and shown how difficult it still is for Western and non-Western cultures to extricate themselves from imperialism and colonialism. But they do so at the risk of homogenizing the imperial and colonial divides that they seek to question, representing non-Western peoples as the hapless victims of (ongoing) Western domination, and underplaying the ways in which imperial and colonial projects were subverted. And second, other critics question the triumphalist spirit of imperialism by pressing the claim that European projects of expansion and rule were frequently anxiety-ridden. Yet if such ideas are pressed too far, and European imperialism is made to collapse under the weight of its own ambivalencies or contradictions, we will lose sight of the violence and misery that Europe visited upon the world (see Loomba, 1998).Â (DC)
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Suggested Reading Gregory (1998).Â Pagden (1995).Â Said (1993).