Formal, Informal, and Residual Empires: How Place Shapes Power

Victoria Reyes, University of California, Riverside

Empire takes many forms. Formal empire may be direct or indirect and refers to control over territory. In contrast, informal empire, according to Steinmetz (2014), is nonterritorial and “more coercive than hegemony” (85). It encompasses everything from overseas military bases to multilateral agreements. But a military base and a multilateral agreement are very different entities. As such, I argue that we need to revise our understanding of empire. First, I argue that place matters. Extending my previous work on how territorial and administrative sovereignty can become decoupled (Reyes forthcoming), I suggest military bases do exert territorial control, albeit one that extends over physical buildings, rather than an entire country and that informal empire should refer to this type of territoriality. Second, I suggest the need for what I call residual empire. If informal empire confers territorial control over particular spaces, residual empire addresses power dynamics among former colonial relations that have no current territorial claims. I suggest that residual empire is less coercive than informal empire, though the power and inequalities between countries continue to be actively shaped by previous imperial relations. The category of residual empire recognizes how the former colonized may hold the former colonizer accountable by drawing on domestic and international laws to assert their will, while simultaneously recognizing how pathways of power etched in colonialism remain influential even when contemporary relations change. Residual empire also goes beyond colonial legacies because implicit in those discussions is a passive relationship to the past or how the past laid a foundation for the present. Residual empire recognizes how these former colonial relationships remain active. Residual empire differs from hegemony because it recognizes that a former colonial relationship has lasting effects beyond a hegemon’s influence in countries with which it does not have a former colonial history nor territorial claims.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 139. Power and Normativity, Part 2: Sovereignty, Materiality, Empire