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Policing in Colonial Empires

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


Edited By 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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Ordering the Wetlands. Policing and Legitimate Violence in the Leverville Concession (Belgian Congo, 1911-1920) (Benoît Henriet)


← 40 | 41 →

Ordering the Wetlands

Policing and Legitimate Violence in the Leverville Concession (Belgian Congo, 1911-1920)


In 1919, Max Weber defined the State as an entity successfully claiming for itself the monopoly of legitimate violence within a given territory – an idea that was, however, already being thoroughly challenged in colonial settings at the time. Colonies and protectorates formed an uneven patchwork of ad hoc sovereignties that metropolitan States, local authorities, and private actors were actively sharing and negotiating. In this context, chartered companies and concessions were instrumental for the enforcement of imperial authority. Economic valuation and territorial occupation often went hand in hand overseas, where sovereign prerogatives – conceivably including policing or military rights – were frequently shared with or devolved to business ventures by metropolitan governments.1

So far, however, the expanding literature on colonial policing has had little to say on either private law enforcement2 or negotiations between public and private agents on coercion and how to use it.3 This paper explores the policing of a palm oil concession in the early years of the Belgian Congo, on the basis a particularly enlightening – if a bit limited – set of archives.4 It aims at investigating some of the blind spots still left in the colony’s historiography: limited attention has indeed been paid to its police forces to this day,5 while early transitions from Congo Free State’s to Belgian ← 41 | 42 → Congo’s practices of governmentality remain understudied. In 1908,...

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