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Imperialism, defined by the dictionary of human geography, is “the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.” Imperialism, in many ways, is described as a primarily western concept that employs “expansionist – capitalist – and latterly communist – systems."

Imperialism is considered the control by one state of other territories. Through political or more often military means (direct imperialism), the imperial power may take over the government of a particular territory, or through economic processes (indirect imperialism), in which the concerned region is officially self-governing but linked to the imperial power by, often unequal, trade relations. Furthermore, the notion of cultural imperialism is indicated by “existing or traditional ways of life and ways of thinking [that] are subordinated to the culture of the imperialists.”

The term imperialism commonly refers to a political or geographical domain such as the United States of Americamarker, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empire the Russian Empiremarker, the Chinese Empire, or the British Empire, etc., but the term can equally be applied to domains of knowledge, beliefs, values and expertise, such as the empires of Christianity (see Christendom) or Islam (see Caliphate). Imperialism is usually autocratic, and also sometimes monolithic in character.


A controversial aspect of imperialism is the imperial power’s defence and justification of such actions. Most controversial of all is the justification of imperialism done on scientific grounds. J. A. Hobson identifies this justification: “It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work best, i.e. by the races of highest 'social efficiency'.” This is clearly the racial argument, which pays heed to other ideas such as the “White Man’s Burden” prevalent at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The principles of imperialism are often deeply connected to the policies and practices of British Imperialism "during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description." British Imperialist strategy centred on the fundamental concept of terra nullius (Latin expression which stems from Roman law meaning ‘empty land’). The country of Australia serves as a case study in relation to British imperialism. British settlement and colonial rule of the island of Australia in the eighteenth century was premised on terra nullius, for it was seen as a land that was ‘empty’ of inhabitants. Despite British claims, an estimated 350000 indigenous peoples were already living in Australia in the era of British conquest. The indigenous population suffered through years of political, social, and territorial oppression, however Aborigines were granted the right to vote comparatively early in Commonwealth elections, depending on whether their state allowed it. An example is in 1856, in NSW, where Aborigines were granted equal voting rights. It should be noted that the 1968 referendum only allowed the Commonwealth to count and administer Aborigines.

This form of imperialism can also be seen in British Columbia, Canada. In the 1840’s, the territory of British Columbia was divided into two regions, one space for the native population, and the other for non-natives. The indigenous peoples were often forcibly removed from their homes onto reserves. These actions were “justified by a dominant belief among British colonial officials that land occupied by Native people was not being used efficiently and productively.” The abovementioned examples of imperialism are consistently racially motivated, and it is, undoubtedly, a driving force behind the concept of imperialism in this era.


"Imperialism has been subject to moral censure by its critics, and thus the term is frequently used in international propaganda as a pejorative for expansionist and aggressive foreign policy."

See also


  1. Johnston, Ronald John. The dictionary of human geography: Edition 4. Wiley-Blackwell: 2000. page 375. [
  2. Painter, J. & Jeffrey, A., 2009. Political Geography 2nd ed., Sage. pg. 170
  3. Ottoman Empire, French Empire, Encyclopedia of the Orient
  4. The Empire that was Russia, Library of Congress
  5. The British Empire
  6. John B Cobb, Christianity and Empire,
  7. Islam Empire of Faith
  8. John Rees, Imperialism: globalisation, the state and war, International Socialism Journal 93, Winter 2001
  9. Hobson, J. A. "Imperialism: a study." Cosimo, Inc., 2005. pg. 154
  10. Hobson, J. A. "Imperialism: a study." Cosimo, Inc., 2005. pg. V
  11. Gilmartin, Mary. Gallaher, C. et al., 2008. Key Concepts in Political Geography, Sage Publications Ltd. : Imperialism/Colonialism. pg.116
  12. "Imperialism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd edition.

Further reading

  • Guy Ankerl, Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharatai, Chinese, and Western, Geneva, INU PRESS, 2000, ISBN 2-88155-004-5.
  • Robert Bickers/Christian Henriot, New Frontiers: Imperialism's New Communities in East Asia, 1842-1953, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7190-5604-7
  • Barbara Bush, Imperialism and Postcolonialism (History: Concepts,Theories and Practice), Longmans, 2006, ISBN 0582505836
  • John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000, Penguin Books, 2008, ISBN 0141010223
  • Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, Penguin Books, 2004, ISBN 0141007540
  • Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-674-00671-2
  • E.J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, Abacus Books, 1989, ISBN 0349105987
  • E. J. Hobsbawm, On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy, Pantheon Books, 2008, ISBN 0375425373
  • J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, Cosimo Classics, 2005, ISBN 1596052503
  • Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance, Pluto Press, 2003, ISBN 0745319890
  • V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, New York, 1997, ISBN 0717800989
  • Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, 1998, ISBN 0099967502
  • Simon C. Smith, British Imperialism 1750-1970, Cambridge University Press, 1998, ISBN 052159930X

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