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Cover Poverty and Development

14. The Power of Colonial States  

David Potter and Alan Thomas

This chapter examines Western European colonial rule. Colonialism and its legacies are enduringly controversial. Whether or not colonial rule had redeeming features, it is useful to recognize its major political features, which include its international dimension, bureaucratic elitism and authoritarianism, use of 'traditional' or 'customary' public authority in colonial society, use of force, technological advantage, statism, and hegemonic ideology. Being cognizant of these features equips us to get at least an initial bearing on the question of how colonial rule was maintained. The same list of aspects of colonial rule can also be used to ask questions about why European rule ended when it did, and to help understand the legacies of colonialism, including cultural dependency, distinctive features of contemporary post-colonial states, and problems of state-led development.