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Violence and Colonial Order
Police, Workers and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918–1940

Part of Critical Perspectives on Empire

  • Date Published: May 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107519541


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About the Authors
  • This is a pioneering, multi-empire account of the relationship between the politics of imperial repression and the economic structures of European colonies between the two World Wars. Ranging across colonial Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, Martin Thomas explores the structure of local police forces, their involvement in colonial labour control and the containment of uprisings and dissent. His work sheds new light on broader trends in the direction and intent of colonial state repression. It shows that the management of colonial economies, particularly in crisis conditions, took precedence over individual imperial powers' particular methods of rule in determining the forms and functions of colonial police actions. The politics of colonial labour thus became central to police work, with the depression years marking a watershed not only in local economic conditions but also in the breakdown of the European colonial order more generally.

    • Offers a new framework for understanding colonial policing and colonial repression
    • The comparative approach - discussing British, French and Belgian experiences - makes this the only book available which considers colonial policing across empires and regions
    • Sheds new light on the impact of the 1930s global depression on European empires and their peoples
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In a colonial system threatened by economic crisis, labour protest and rising nationalism, efforts to safeguard the colonial political economy provided the key to the policing of the empire. Martin Thomas' impressively wide-ranging and thoroughly documented study for the first time analyses the links between colonial policing, political economy and imperial policy in Africa, southeast Asia and the Caribbean.' Robert Aldrich, University of Sydney

    'Violence and Colonial Order testifies to the ability of comparative historical inquiry to develop new integrative approaches to colonial governance, political economies, and coercive labour regimes. In taking its analysis of colonial policing beyond its use in political repression and into the realm of commodity production and worker discipline, Thomas' masterful case studies shed invaluable light on both local particularities and cross-colonial overlaps alike.' Elizabeth Buettner, University of York

    'Martin Thomas has produced a remarkable monograph on policing and colonial violence during the inter-war years. Comparative in approach, it spans several colonies, countries and continents, and combines careful micro-level case studies with an overarching and persuasive thesis concerning the centrality of political-economic conditions. It is a wonderful achievement.' Talbot Imlay, Université Laval, Québec

    'Violence and Colonial Order is immense in its scope and erudition. Thomas ably compares and contrasts cases as different as oil fields in Tobago and rubber plantations in Indochina. The work is driven by original empirical research but also demonstrates an impressive grasp of the relevant secondary literature. Coming just five years after his superb analysis of colonial intelligence gathering, Empires of Intelligence (2007), one cannot help but marvel at how he has managed to produce another ambitious and original work at such a clip.' Mary Dewhurst Lewis, H-Diplo (

    'Martin Thomas is one of the foremost specialists in the history of colonial empires in the interwar period. He returns to his period of expertise to put forth a stimulating reinterpretation of the impact of economic mutations on the political upheavals within the European empires of the time. In this comparative history project, Thomas invites us to take a different look at the role of economic factors in history, while also proposing a new focal point.' Raphaëlle Branche, University of Paris-1-Pantheon Sorbonne, IUF

    'This book constitutes a critical addition to the literature on the workings of modern colonial states … Thomas has become a force among historians of imperialism, especially of French overseas empire … His strengths are wide-ranging diplomatic and political inquiry, comparison, exhaustive archival research, and nuanced arguments, eschewing overly ambitious pronouncements in favor of slicing through the apparently commonplace to reorient our view. He has done it again with Violence and Colonial Order.' Matthew G. Stanard, Berry College

    'Martin Thomas's remarkable Violence and Colonial Order succeeds in breaking new ground thanks in part to a breathtakingly comparative approach … His fine book will be of interest to a wide range of students and scholars, from world historians to labor, police, and colonial historians.' Eric T. Jennings, American Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107519541
    • length: 540 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.72kg
    • contains: 11 maps 8 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: police, labour and colonial violence
    Part I. Ideas and Practices:
    1. Colonial policing: a discursive framework
    2. 'What did you do in the colonial police force, daddy?' Policing inter-war dissent
    3. 'Paying the butcher's bill': policing British colonial protest after 1918
    Part II. Colonial Case Studies: French, British and Belgian:
    4. Gendarmes: work and policing in French North Africa after 1918
    5. Policing Tunisia: mineworkers, fellahs and nationalist protest
    6. Rubber, coolies and communists: policing disorder in French Vietnam
    7. Stuck together? Rubber production, labour regulation and policing in Malaya
    8. Caning the workers? Policing and violence in Jamaica's sugar industry
    9. Oil and order: repressive violence in Trinidad's oilfields
    10. Profits, privatization and police: the birth of Sierra Leone's diamond industry
    11. Policing and politics in Nigeria: the political economy of indirect rule, 1929–39
    12. Depression and revolt: policing the Belgian Congo
    Notes to the text.

  • Author

    Martin Thomas, University of Exeter
    Martin Charles Thomas is Professor of Colonial History in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. He is a director of the University's Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, an interdisciplinary research centre that supports research into the impact of armed conflict and collective violence on societies and communities.

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