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Settler colonialism is a policy of conquering a land to send settlers in order to shape its demographic similarly as in the metropole. This practice contrasts with exploitation colonialism, a policy of conquering distant lands not with the intention to supplant its population, but rather to exploit its natural and human resources. A motherland might pursue the first goal in order to lighten the pressure its growing population apply to its home territory, and shape other parts of the world according to its image, thus extending its territorial continuity and preserving it indefinitely. The reasons that push a country to choose the second option are to attain more immediate benefits, extracting cheap raw materials and enslaving directly or indirectly its inhabitant.

Imperialist powers may opt for one type or the other, or both at the same time. Perhaps the most clear example of this difference is the British Empire, whose white population settled mainly North America and Oceania, displacing in many cases the native population and building modern infrastructures, and disregarded the Indian subcontinent and Africa, already densely populated. Those areas, instead, were ruled by a small colonial population, and their economies were oriented exclusively around agriculture and extraction aimed at export to the United Kingdommarker.

Who are the settlers?

Map of the first (light blue) and second (dark blue — plain and hachured) French colonial empires
Mostly Europeans in origin, the settlers are those who traveled from European nation-states to comparatively underdeveloped territories with the aim of living there permanently, displacing the indigenous population and imposing social structures of their own making. Many of the home countries gained greatly from their colonized territories, including in particular the British and Spanish Empires. While some territories gained independence and the indigenous people gained some freedoms, rarely did those liberties reach the point in which a full participation in important affairs was possible. Examples of countries of origin and settler colonies are as follows:

While some of these countries still have control over their colonial settlements, many of the territories that were once subject to the power of some other nation have now gained de jure independence. In spite of this, it might be argued that de facto independence is yet to be achieved, as ties of dependence are yet to be severed. In other cases, while those independent territories are not subject to external influence to the extent that they were before, the population of those territories still experiences considerable turmoil derived from economical disparity (see Gini coefficient) and poor living conditions derived from the past rule of a colonial power, population explosion and rampant corruption.

In the ancient world

The practice of settler colonialism has been practiced extensively throughout human history, including in the ancient world.


It was a common practice during the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire to establish settler colonies in newly conquered regions. The colonists who inhabited these colonies were often veterans of the Roman army, who were given agricultural land to develop. These agricultural communities provided bastions of loyal citizens in often hostile areas of the Empire, and often accelerated the process of Romanisation among the nearby conquered peoples. An example of such a colony was near the city of Damascusmarker in present-day Syriamarker, where the contemporary settlements of Mezze and Deraya can trace their origins back to villages opened for settlement by the Romans during the third century CE. Philip the Arab, the Roman Emperor from 244 to 249 designated this area around Damascus a colonia, and encouraged settlement by veterans of the VI Ferrata legion, as was commemorated by coins minted in the city around this time.

In early modern and modern times

During the early modern period, some European nation-states adopted policies of colonialism, competing with each other to establish colonies outside of Europe, at first in the Americas, and later in Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

Settler colonialism in Africa

Due to the cohesive and integrated character of white settlers in countries such as French Algeriamarker, South Africa and Rhodesia, a new and complicated set of conditions that lead to exploitation of the indigenous people by the white minority was created. The elite of the country controls almost all (if not all) the relevant aspects of the political and economical life of the country. The most evident result of this domination was apartheid.

Settler colonialism in Oceania

Australia is a settler society. Europeans came and settled in Australia, in many cases displacing Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous Australian population, estimated at about 350,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly because of infectious disease combined with forced re-settlement and cultural disintegration. The removal of children, that historians and Indigenous Australians have argued could be considered to constitute genocide , may have made a contribution to the decline in the indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by some as being exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons. This debate is known within Australia as the History Wars. Following the 1967 referendum, the Federal government gained the power to implement policies and make laws with respect to Aborigines. Traditional ownership of land — native title — was not recognised until 1992, when the High Courtmarker case Mabo v Queensland overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius at the time of European occupation.

Settler colonialism in Asia


Since its establishment, the People's Republic of Chinamarker has encouraged settlers to live in its sparsely populated border territory, specifically in Tibet, East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia. This has been accomplished with much state assistance, for example through organisation such as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. The indigenous populations of these areas, who are ethnically (and sometimes religiously) distinct from the majority Han Chinese often resent the influx of immigrants which is causing great changes in the demographics of the regions. For example, the original Mongol inhabitants are now very much in the minority in Inner Mongolia, and ethnic Tibetans and Uyghurs are already minorities in most of their cities. This resentment has often led to violence, most recently during the 2008 Tibetan unrest. The fear of being made minorities in their own countries within their lifetimes is a strong spur to the Tibetan and Uyghur separatist movements.


Israel was described as "a colonial settler-state" by Maxime Rodinson, a French Marxist historian, in a 1967 article. Other leftist academics, such as Lorenzo Veracini, an Australian scholar , have made similar claims.

Settler colonialism in the Americas


In the case of Mexicomarker, the Mexican independence movement was initiated by criollos who wanted to seize the power from the Spanish settlers. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla used banners with the slogans which included "'Long live Fernando VII!, Long live the Americas and death to the corrupt government!".

Thus, the independence movement was not so much aimed at breaking off Mexico's ties to Spainmarker as it was to seize power from a corrupt elite to claim it for a new elite in Mexico. After independence, in 1910, a popular uprising would be triggered by the past existence of the castas system, a very concentrated land ownership, an economical system in which majority of the population lived in extreme poverty, and deep social unrest.

European diasporas

See also

Further reading


  1. Smith, L. (1980), The Aboriginal Population of Australia, Australian National University Press, Canberra
  2. Tatz, C. (1999). Genocide in Australia, AIATSIS Research Discussion Papers No 8, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra
  3. Windschuttle, K. (2001). The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, The New Criterion Vol. 20, No. 1, September 20.
  4. Rodinson, Maxime. "Israel, fait colonial?" Les Temps Moderne, 1967. Republished in English as Israel: A Colonial Settler-State?, New York, Monad Press, 1973.
  5. The Interpreters of Maladies: Maxime Rodinson and Jacques Derrida, The Nation, November 24, 2004.
  6. b o r d e r l a n d s e-journal

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