Theses Doctoral

The Politics of Anticolonial Resistance: Violence, Nonviolence, and the Erosion of Empire

McAlexander, Richard

This dissertation studies conflict in a hierarchical international system, the British Empire. How did the British Empire respond to violent and nonviolent resistance within its colonies? I develop a theory explaining how and why an imperial metropole becomes involved in and grant concessions to its colonies. Unlike federal nation-states and looser relationship like in an international organization, modern European empires were characterized by selective engagement of the metropole with its peripheral colonies. This has important implications for understanding metropolitan response to peripheral resistance. In contrast to more recent work, I find that violence was more effective at coercing metropolitan concessions to the colonies in the British Empire than nonviolence. I argue that this occurred because violence overwhelmed the capabilities of local colonial governments, and violence commanded metropolitan attention and involvement. This theory is supported with a wide range of data, including yearly measures of anticolonial resistance, every colonial concession made by the British Empire after 1918, daily measures of metropolitan discussions of colonial issues from cabinet archives, and web-scraped casualty data from British death records. In addition, I present in-depth case studies of British responses to resistance in Cyprus and the Gold Coast, along with a conceptual schema of different types of resistance to understand strikes, riots, terrorism, and civil disobedience in a number of other British colonies. My findings show that the effectiveness of resistance is conditional on the political structure that it is embedded in and that hierarchy matters for understanding state responses to resistance.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Fortna, Virginia Page
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2020