Beyond Citizen and Subject: New Perspectives on Political Thought, 'Tribe' and 'Indirect Rule' in Africa

Vikram Visana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the extensive literature on ‘tribe’ and ‘indirect rule’ in colonial Africa, historians have tended to confine their analyses to the economic and administrative pragmatism of empire-builders, the domination of colonial knowledge, and the mediation of these factors by African culture-brokers who brandished local ‘tradition’ in order to satisfy a range of local material interests. This essay shows that these arguments replicate colonial views which bifurcated Africa into incommensurable spheres of ‘modern’ European agency and ‘traditional’ African response. Placing the existing scholarship of African colonial history in dialogue with Indian intellectual history and African film studies, I propose that dyadic understandings of ‘tribe’ and ‘indirect rule’ can be overcome in order to re-position Africa and its institutions at the heart of a global narrative of ‘modernisation’. In considering this new perspective, the essay invites students and scholars of African history and political science to recognise that - for some – ‘tribe’ was a constituent part of a uniquely African vision of future progress rather than a pre-modern anachronism or a tool of Western epistemological dominance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12525
Number of pages13
JournalHistory Compass
Issue number3
Early online date20 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


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