Present lives of the colonial boomerang: the imperial entanglements of global policing, then and now

Thursday, February 15, 2024 12:30to14:00
Arts Building Room 160, 853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0G5, CA

Guest lecture by Dr Lou Pingeot.

Abstract:  A vast swath of the social sciences continues to understand colonialism as something “done” by metropolitan centres to colonies. However, thinkers as diverse as Hannah Arendt, Aimé Césaire, and Michel Foucault have argued that the violent strategies of population management and control deployed in the colonies could have a feedback effect on the metropoles, a process sometimes described as the “colonial boomerang”. This insight is confirmed by a growing interdisciplinary literature that demonstrates how colonialism had a deep and enduring impact on metropolitan states and societies. State formation in the metropoles and state formation in the colonies were intimately intertwined, not through unilateral diffusion of institutions from the metropoles to the colonies, but through recursive circulation of people, discourses, and practices between these two contexts. This was particularly true when it came to the creation of the state security apparatus, as police forces emerged in metropoles and colonies not on parallel tracks, but through a constant back and forth. Co-constitution, not diffusion, was the mechanism that underpinned the relation between metropoles and colonies. This talk takes stock of this developing scholarship to reflect on what the colonial boomerang can tell us about our contemporary postcolonial world. I argue that the colonial boomerang provides a fruitful lens to understand global policing. In particular, I show how the colonial boomerang helps shed light on UN-led peace operations, one of the largest global police-military deployments today. While much of the literature on peace operations is interested in their success or failure, I propose to focus on how they allow people and ideas to circulate transnationally, thus acting as a point of cross-fertilization for the creation and transmission of policing discourses and practices globally. In other words, peacekeeping is not just something that is “done” to societies where intervention takes place. Empirically, I focus on UN intervention in Haiti, particularly the UN stabilization mission MINUSTAH (2004-2017).

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