Ethnicity, Race and Empire

  • Simon Dentith
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


Cultural forms have a double existence — they live both in the intimacies of self-understanding, forming individuals’ very sense of themselves and who they are, and they arise out of material forms of life, the social relations that subsist between people. This duality is nowhere more apparent than in the history of those cultural forms in the nineteenth century which depended upon or were formed around notions of ethnicity and race. Such forms, and the wider discursive patterns on which they rely, spoke on the one hand to English people’s very identity — formed it, indeed. On the other hand, they sprang from patterns of relationship between themselves and both the other inhabitants of the ‘British Isles’ and the inhabitants of the rest of the globe. This was true even when the contrasts and oppositions at the heart of culture — between the ‘civilised’ and the ‘savage’, or between the Englishman and the ‘Oriental’ — were apparently remote to the majority of English people who had never met a savage or an Oriental. The force of such oppositions was certainly not diminished by their being imaginary.


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Notes and References

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© Simon Dentith 1998

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  • Simon Dentith

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