Gurminder K Bhambra and Julia McClure ■ Imperial Inequalities: Workshop on Colonial Taxation and National Welfare across European Empires


We’re pleased to share this blog post written by Gurminder K Bhambra and Julia McClure on the upcoming workshop on Colonial Taxation and National Welfare across European Empires, Friday 27th January, 2023, 2-4pm, University of Sussex (also livestreamed on zoom, please sign up here – a recording will also be made available after the event). UPDATE: recording now available here (it’s not great quality but it’s possible to follow most of the speakers)

Taxation tends to be seen as central to the development of the ‘imagined community’ of the nation, clarifying its limits and its boundaries. The assumed national boundaries of the modern state are called into question, however, once we recognize the forms of colonial taxation in place across European empires and the asymmetry of relations between those from whom taxes were collected and those who were the beneficiaries of its distributed returns through welfare.

How did European empires establish taxation regimes that laid the historical foundations for today´s inequalities? How were discourses of welfare used to justify colonial taxation regimes? How have tax structures cemented global inequalities into the post-colonial era? These are some of the questions addressed in the new volume, Imperial Inequalities: The Politics of Economic Governance across European Empires (Manchester University Press, 2022), co-edited by Gurminder K. Bhambra (Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies, University of Sussex) and Julia McClure (Senior Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History, University of Glasgow).

Imperial Inequalities is a landmark volume that is an open call to arms to focus upon the active role that taxation regimes have played, and continued to play, in creating inequalities both within and between nations. This volume comes out of critical conversations between academics and practitioners in tax justice that were facilitated by an event hosted by the Tax Justice Network in December 2020. The resulting contributions speak to the ongoing significance of deeper understanding of the connections between taxation regimes and inequality. During this event we will hear from members of the Tax Justice Network about the relevance of this volume for current tax justice campaigns and also from some of the contributors to the volume.

The volume draws together scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (including history, sociology, international relations) and with different regional specialisms (including Africa, Asia, Latin America) to offer insightful case studies of the political discourses and economic objectives that gave rise to certain taxation policies and the long-term impacts of these at both the local and global levels. It offers a critical long-durée perspective of the mechanics of imperialism, stretching from Spanish colonialism in the Americas in the sixteenth century and English colonialism in Ireland in the seventeenth century, to French, British, and Dutch colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, India, and Indonesia, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It also covers the period of decolonization, and the emergence of tax havens.

The impressive temporal and geographic range of these case studies work together to offer new understandings of the political economy of European empires. They explain the fiscal innovations in colonial and post-colonial economic policies that engineered economic policies and their racial dimensions. They shed light on the moral-political discourses that have been used both to create and to justify these inequalities. These moral-political discourses have variously incorporated themes of charity, philanthropy, justice, and citizenship, and point to the complicated relationships between nations and empires.

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions to any of the panelists about their specialist research and contributions to the volume and to participate in the broader conversations around how colonial and postcolonial taxation regimes have created, and continue to create, different forms of inequality, and what policies we need to address these.

Contributors at the workshop:

  • Gurminder K Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex.
  • Laura Channing is Assistant Professor of Economic History in the Department of History, Durham University.
  • Alex Cobham is chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, and a commissioner for the Scottish Government’s Poverty and Inequality Commission.
  • Paul Gilbert is a Senior Lecturer in International Development at the University of Sussex.
  • Lyla Latif lectures at the University of Nairobi School of Law and is working on her doctorate at Cardiff Law and Politics.
  • Andrew Mackillop is a Senior Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow.
  • Julia McClure is Senior Lecturer in late medieval and early modern global history at the University of Glasgow.
  • Madeline Woker is University Assistant Professor in the History of France and the Francophone World, at the University of Cambridge.

[Image credit: British Empire map – The India and Colonial Exhibition, London (1886) – BL.jpg” is marked with CC0 1.0.]

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