The Social Sciences in the Service of Empire: Nation-Making, Colonial Subjectivity and the Fateful Triangle

Ricarda Hammer, UC Berkeley

This paper proposes that the position of the colonial subject offers analytical insights into the hegemonic operation of the nation state as an epistemic, cultural and political category. While Benedict Anderson’s paradigmatic framework of the nation as imagined community offers a theory of consensus, Stuart Hall’s theory of national formation is attentive to hierarchies of powers and the afterlives of empire. Anderson writes from the perspective of the citizen, while Hall writes from the standpoint of a colonial subject, giving him unique insights into how we create seemingly universal categories. In this paper, I investigate the making of two distinct knowledge cultures in mid-20th century England. On the one hand, I analyze the rise of migration studies during and after decolonization, tracing how social scientists gave meaning to the break between imperial Britain and its national present by positioning the racialized body outside its sphere of belonging. On the other hand, I investigate newspaper productions by (former) colonial subjects, creating a subversive sphere that allowed colonial subjects to express their claims for belonging. Building on this case study, the paper explains how Stuart Hall’s positionality sheds light on how nations operate: He theorizes how the colonial subject is doubly displaced, displaced in relationship to the hegemonic narrative and displaced from making and constituting the narrative altogether. In perpetrating imperial aphasia, migration scholarship contributed the expertise to displace the former colonial populations and the colonized find themselves subjected to dominant regimes of representation that normalize their position of inferiority. A road not taken in the social sciences, Hall’s critique hones in on these knowledge struggles and recenters displacement as the paradigmatic modern experience.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 195. Thinking with Stuart Hall: World-Making and the Afterlives of Empire