Colonialism is the theory of the territorial extension of national power.
Colonialism is the policy of a country seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of economic dominance. In the process of colonisation, colonisers may impose their religion, economics, and other cultural practices on indigenous peoples. The foreign invaders/interlopers rule the territory in pursuit of their interests, seeking to benefit from the colonised region’s people and resources.
Starting in the 15th century, some European states established their own empires during the European colonial period. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, Ottoman :116 Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Japan, the United States and China also followed this path, as did the Germans and the Italians in the late 19th century.
At first, European colonising countries followed policies of mercantilism, aiming to strengthen the home-country economy, so agreements usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the European-controlled colonies because the metropoles were Christian. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84% of the globe.
In the aftermath of World War II colonial powers were forced to retreat between 1945–1975, when nearly all colonies gained independence, entering into changed colonial, so-called postcolonial and neocolonialist relations. Postcolonialism and neocolonialism has continued or shifted relations and ideologies of colonialism, attempting to justify its continuation with adjusted narratives like development and new frontiers, as in exploring outer space for colonization.
Collins English Dictionary defines colonialism as “the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas”. Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary defines colonialism as “the system or policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories”.The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers four definitions, including “something characteristic of a colony” and “control by one power over a dependent area or people”. Etymologically, the word “colony” comes from the Latin colōnia—”a place for agriculture”.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses the term “to describe the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world, including the Americas, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia”. It discusses the distinction between colonialism, imperialism and conquest and states that “[t]he difficulty of defining colonialism stems from the fact that the term is often used as a synonym for imperialism. Both colonialism and imperialism were forms of conquest that were expected to benefit Europe economically and strategically.”, and continues “given the difficulty of consistently distinguishing between the two terms, this entry will use colonialism broadly to refer to the project of European political domination from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries that ended with the national liberation movements of the 1960s”.
In his preface to Jürgen Osterhammel’s Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Roger Tignor says “For Osterhammel, the essence of colonialism is the existence of colonies, which are by definition governed differently from other territories such as protectorates or informal spheres of influence.” In the book, Osterhammel asks, “How can ‘colonialism’ be defined independently from ‘colony?'” He settles on a three-sentence definition:
Colonialism is a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonised people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis. Rejecting cultural compromises with the colonised population, the colonisers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule.
Types of colonialism
Historians often distinguish between various overlapping forms of colonialism, which are classified into four types: settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, surrogate colonialism, and internal colonialism.
- Settler colonialism involves large-scale immigration, often motivated by religious, political, or economic reasons. It pursues to replace the original population. Here, a large number of people emigrate to the colony for the purpose of staying and cultivating the land. Australia, Canada, and the United States are all examples of settler colonial societies.
- Exploitation colonialism involves fewer colonists and focuses on the exploitation of natural resources or population as labour, typically to the benefit of the metropole. This category includes trading posts as well as larger colonies where colonists would constitute much of the political and economic administration. Prior to the end of the slave trade and widespread abolition, when indigenous labour was unavailable, slaves were often imported to the Americas, first by the Portuguese Empire, and later by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British.
- Surrogate colonialism involves a settlement project supported by a colonial power, in which most of the settlers do not come from a same ethnic group as the ruling power.
- Internal colonialism is a notion of uneven structural power between areas of a state. The source of exploitation comes from within the state. This is demonstrated in the way control and exploitation passes from whites in the colonising country to white immigrant population within a newly independent country.
As colonialism often played out in pre-populated areas, sociocultural evolution included the formation of various ethnically hybrid populations. Colonialism gave rise to culturally and ethnically mixed populations such as the mestizos of the Americas, as well as racially divided populations such as those found in French Algeria or in Southern Rhodesia. In fact, everywhere where colonial powers established a consistent and continued presence, hybrid communities existed.
Notable examples in Asia include the Anglo-Burmese, Anglo-Indian, Burgher, Eurasian Singaporean, Filipino mestizo, Kristang and Macanese peoples. In the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia) the vast majority of “Dutch” settlers were in fact Eurasians known as Indo-Europeans, formally belonging to the European legal class in the colony (see also Indos in pre-colonial history and Indos in colonial history).
Nations and economies will seek to extend their influence by colonizing weaker or less economically developed areas.
Theories of colonialism differ as to whether the principal motive in this expansion is military or economic.
Also see: imperialism