IMPERIAL DEBRIS: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination

TitleIMPERIAL DEBRIS: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsSTOLER, ANN L. A. U. R. A.
JournalCultural Anthropology

In this article, I look at “imperial formations” rather than at empire per se to register the ongoing quality of processes of decimation, displacement, and reclamation. Imperial formations are relations of force, harboring political forms that endure beyond the formal exclusions that legislate against equal opportunity, commensurate dignities, and equal rights. Working with the concept of imperial formation, rather than empire per se, the emphasis shifts from fixed forms of sovereignty and its denials to gradated forms of sovereignty and what has long marked the technologies of imperial rule—sliding and contested scales of differential rights. Imperial formations are defined by racialized relations of allocations and appropriations. Unlike empires, they are processes of becoming, not fixed things. Not least they are states of deferral that mete out promissory notes that are not exceptions to their operation but constitutive of them: imperial guardianship, trusteeships, delayed autonomy, temporary intervention, conditional tutelage, military takeover in the name of humanitarian works, violent intervention in the name of human rights, and security measures in the name of peace.