Organized Panel Session
As the root meaning of imperium implies, the core puzzle of empire is how a minority exercises power, or command, across long distances and over large, diverse subject populations. In this article, we theorize “direct rule” as a mode of imperial control and colonial rule. Enacted in the form of Crown Colony government across British colonies in the West and East Indies over the nineteenth century, “direct rule” entailed the Crown’s absolute and unfettered control over the administration of colonial affairs from afar. By maintaining the sovereign’s prerogative to make law and appoint officials at pleasure, the system of Crown Colony government constituted a direct chain of command between the Crown, their “men on the spot” and their subjects. Understood as the practice of long-distance governance, “direct rule” was an enterprise that produced the appearance and reality of the Crown’s absolute sovereignty over a colony by the continuous labor of law-making. Founded on the struggles of officials “on the spot” to translate the particularities of “native” affairs for their metropolitan superiors, colonial legislation was the amalgamation of the diverse values and interests of actors in the center and periphery. For this formalistic solution to the puzzle of empire to work, Crown Colony government required the selective incorporation of “native” actors as subaltern officials or “unofficial” members of the colony’s Legislative Council. By comparing two Crown Colonies, Jamaica (1860-70s) and Hong Kong (1960-70s), that were separated in time and geography, we demonstrate our theory of “direct rule” and examine its implications.