Colonial Normativity -- Corruption and difference in colonial and postcolonial histories of empire and nations


Corruption is the misuse of power and resources for private gain. Contemporary corruption is often linked to the history of colonial state formation. How these two relate has never systematically been researched. This international programme compares the role of corruption in Dutch and Indonesian histories of state-formation and economic development. Corruption arguments require a contextual understanding, like in corruption scandals and anti-corruption campaigns with colonial entrepreneurs accused of unlawful acquisition of land and concessions for the exploitation of mineral and other resources; or when anti-colonial nationalists protested against the – in the colonial state-perception correct – granting of exclusive rights for colonizers, and instead aimed for Indonesianisasi and nationalisation. Colonial Normativity investigates the contexts of corruption as a normative framework to create, maintain and challenge exclusive power structures in colonial and post-independent processes of state formation. It does so at intersecting moments of entanglement: around 1900 (late colonial state, norm-setting debates among the colonizers); 1945 (independence, debates on good governance of the anti-colonial nationalists against colonialism); 1970 (authoritarian state, the conditional norms of development aid). The programme then zooms out to post 1990 transnational corruption indices with their imbalance in grading between the North and the South, or former colonizing and former colonized countries. What do these indices show in terms of governance; what is the weight of the past, and which past? A long-term historical perspective is essential in order to not just invoke ‘the colonial past’ for a better understanding of current corruption debates and their consequences.





Prof. dr. S. Legêne

Verbonden aan

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Letteren


01/09/2019 tot 31/03/2024