September Workshop

Understanding Insurgencies: Resonances from the Colonial Past

Leverhulme Trust Network

Summary of the opening workshop held at the University of Exeter, 15-16 September 2016

The Leverhulme Trust research network on Understanding Insurgencies brings together academic specialists from Universities and research institutes in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Canada. Beginning its work in September 2016, the network held its opening workshop at the University of Exeter’s Strategy & Security Institute on Thursday and Friday, 15-16 September.

Seven workshop are scheduled to be held overall, each thematically focused on particular facets of insurgency, counter-insurgency and political violence within broader processes of decolonisation and colonial collapse. Subsequent workshops will be examining specific issues, among them rights abuses and targeting, population displacement and refugees, the role of amnesties and negotiations in ending late colonial conflicts, and rules of engagement in theory and in practice. A key objective is to investigate the phenomenon of violently contested decolonisation from multiple perspectives: of differing empires, of local communities throughout the Global South, of imperia security forces, insurgent movements and other transnational organisations. Hosted by Exeter’s Centre for War, State and Security (CWSS), the network’s organisational home, the initial workshop was in part exploratory, in part more tightly focused on key themes that are sure to recur throughout the workshop series.

Professor Patricia Owens of Sussex University presented the keynote paper, highlighting the prevalence of concepts of household governance within colonial administrative thought, and, more particularly, within counter-insurgent responses to breakdowns on colonial social order. Bringing together ideas from International Relations, social theory and historicising them in the context of work on British colonial counter-insurgency in Malaya, Kenya and elsewhere, the paper exemplified the rich potential for better inter-disciplinary understanding of the techniques of violence and repression employed in the final decades of European imperial rule.

A full list of the other papers presented at the workshop by network members is given below. As the list suggests, a number of fresh avenues for research into late colonial disorder and the violence of decolonisation are opening up. From the centrality of ‘loyalist’ militias and gendarmeries within counter-insurgent forces to the underlying continuities in insurgent practice and rhetoric, the issues of who fought, how and why were understandably prominent in discussion. Other papers focused more specifically on techniques of violence. Vigilantism and community regulation of violent conduct figured large here. So, too, did new insights into classic ‘weapons of the weak’, from incendiarism and labour protest to the exploitation of informational networks and the enforcement of boycotts.

Much was said about codes of violence, its performative dimensions, and the choices made by violence actors and their opponents. There were wide-ranging discussions about the connections between major inter-state conflicts and the internationalisation – and transnationalisation – of late colonial insuergencies. Delegates also discussed late colonial development and, more particularly, its coercive dimensions, including forcible population removal, the securitisation of rural communities, and other attempts at crude social engineering. In sum, the opening debates at Exeter offered pointers to critical research questions to be addressed in the workshop series to follow.

Network members will revisit these themes and others at the second Network workshop, which will take place in Paris on 15-16 December 2016.

List of papers:

Patricia Owens, University of Sussex. ‘When War is Oikonomia by Other Means.’

David Anderson, University of Warwick. ‘The Loyalist Bargain.

Bart Luttikuis, KITLV., Leiden, ‘‘“Modern” or “colonial” violence in the occupation of Jambi and Rengat (1948/49)? The Indonesian decolonization war between two eras’.

Jonathan Krause, Oxford University, ‘Insurgency in South-East Asia: 1885 -1975′.

Miles Larmer, Oxford University. ‘Legacies of Colonial Insurgency: the Katangese Gendarmes in Angola, 1965-1997’.

Gajendra Singh, University of Exeter, ‘The Madness of Jodh Singh: Constructing the Deviancy of the Transnational Insurgent in California, 1917-1918.’

Gemma Clark, University of Exeter.  ‘A comparative study of incendiarism: Fire as revolution and repression’.

Martin Thomas, University of Exeter. ‘Insurgencies and War to Peace Transitions’.

Miguel Bandeira Jeronimo, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal. ‘The development of late colonial security in the Portuguese colonial empire’.

Gareth Curless, University of Exeter. ‘Militias, Vigilantes and Violent Decolonisation in Guyana, c. 1960-1966.’

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