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Policing in Colonial Empires

Cases, Connections, Boundaries (ca. 1850–1970)


Emmanuel Blanchard, Marieke Bloembergen and Amandine Lauro

Colonial security strategies and the postcolonial vestiges they left both in the global South and in former metropoles have recently attracted renewed academic attention. Policing in Colonial Empires is a collection of essays reflecting current, ongoing research and exploring the multifaceted dynamics of policing in colonial societies over the past two centuries. Spanning several continents and colonial contexts (some of them liminal or little-explored), the book examines the limits and legitimacies of the functioning of colonial policing. Addressing issues such as collaboration, coercion, violence, race, and intelligence, the collected works ask what exactly was colonial about colonial policing. Together, the contributors point out the complex nature of colonial law and order maintenance, and provide insights on histories that might reflect the legacies of its many variants.

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Tensions of Policing in Colonial Situations (Emmanuel Blanchard, Marieke Bloembergen, Amandine Lauro)


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Tensions of Policing in Colonial Situations


‘I am a Javanese too’, thus was the answer of a policeman of the modern field police in colonial Java to the curious Dutch journalist who interviewed him in September 1934.1 The journalist had travelled from Surabaya, a major harbor city on the northeastern coast of the island, to Madiun, a rural region in the East-Javanese province of the Dutch East Indies, to report on the armed burglary raids (rampok) that had been fueling constant terror in the area since July of that year. Both men, the journalist and the policeman, were watching the results of the modern colonial State’s failure to provide into the social need of security. Included in this failure was the local village police, which shared responsibility for preventing and solving the problem. This police consisted of local village heads and male villagers, some of whom were actually involved in the rampok. While a sizable field police force, trained according to the modern methods of policing, had ultimately been dispatched to tackle the challenge, it had come too late – and initially to no avail. The journalist had asked the policeman how he thought about the locally wide spread belief in the supernatural powers of the two suspected masterminds of the burglaries, the Javanese gurus Samin and Koeslan. Indeed, the field police had actually employed Samin’s very own spiritual divination methods against him to decide about the...

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