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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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Coolies, Communists, and Capital: Policing the Rubber Crash in Malaya and Indochina (Martin Thomas)


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Coolies, Communists, and Capital

Policing the Rubber Crash in Malaya and Indochina


What happened on the rubber plantations of colonial Southeast Asia when economic pressures, poor living conditions, and chronic overwork drove labourers to protest? Sometimes talks with the plantations’ owners and an eventual return to work ensued. More often, plantation stoppages met a coercive response.1 Often, this involved local police forces in addition to the plantations’ in-house security staff of guards, watchmen, and overseers. This chapter suggests that such events – intensely disruptive and often traumatic for all concerned – were also part of a shift in the nature of European colonial policing, one that became most apparent during the depression conditions of the 1930s. It will suggest that a detailed reconstruction of workplace disorder or a micro-historical approach to the study of colonial protest policing exposes broader trends and deeper meanings about the direction and intent of colonial state repression – who it served and why.

Adopting this micro-historical method, the chapter compares the ways in which colonial governments and businesses in British Malaya and French Indochina organised and policed the industrial production of rubber during the inter-war years. Three arguments will be proposed. One is simply to show that strikes and other forms of economic protest by plantation workforces increasingly preoccupied administrators, estate managers, and police commanders. Following on from this, a second suggestion is that regulating colonial workplaces, especially those considered crucial to export trade,...

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