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The Urbanization of Empire: MEGACITIES AND THE LAWS OF CHAOS

The Urbanization of Empire: MEGACITIES AND THE LAWS OF CHAOS The great colonial empires of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were, of course, brutal engines for the extraction of rents, crops, and minerals from tropical countrysides. Colonial cities and entrepôts, although often vast, sprawling, and dynamic, were demographically rather insignificant. The urban populations of the British, French, Belgian, and Dutch empires at their Edwardian zenith probably didn’t exceed 3 to 5 percent of colonized humanity. The same ratios generally prevailed in the cases of the decayed Spanish and Portuguese empires, as well as in the conquests of nouveaux riches like Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. Although there were some important exceptions—for example, Ireland, Cuba, Algeria, Palestine, and South Africa (after 1910)—even in these cases, city dwellers were rarely more than one-sixth of the population. Nor were colonial cities the most important centers of native resistance. It might have been expected that the ports and administrative centers, with their extreme inequalities, their concentrations of indigenous intellectuals, and their embryonic labor movements, would have been the principal incubators of revolutionary nationalism. In many cases, in fact, the urban milieu was the decisive progenitor of nationalist and anticolonial theory. But the colonial city was only episodically, and usually http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Text Duke University Press

The Urbanization of Empire: MEGACITIES AND THE LAWS OF CHAOS

Social Text , Volume 22 (4 81) – Dec 1, 2004

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2004 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0164-2472
eISSN
1527-1951
DOI
10.1215/01642472-22-4_81-9
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The great colonial empires of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were, of course, brutal engines for the extraction of rents, crops, and minerals from tropical countrysides. Colonial cities and entrepôts, although often vast, sprawling, and dynamic, were demographically rather insignificant. The urban populations of the British, French, Belgian, and Dutch empires at their Edwardian zenith probably didn’t exceed 3 to 5 percent of colonized humanity. The same ratios generally prevailed in the cases of the decayed Spanish and Portuguese empires, as well as in the conquests of nouveaux riches like Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. Although there were some important exceptions—for example, Ireland, Cuba, Algeria, Palestine, and South Africa (after 1910)—even in these cases, city dwellers were rarely more than one-sixth of the population. Nor were colonial cities the most important centers of native resistance. It might have been expected that the ports and administrative centers, with their extreme inequalities, their concentrations of indigenous intellectuals, and their embryonic labor movements, would have been the principal incubators of revolutionary nationalism. In many cases, in fact, the urban milieu was the decisive progenitor of nationalist and anticolonial theory. But the colonial city was only episodically, and usually

Journal

Social TextDuke University Press

Published: Dec 1, 2004

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