The Production of Imperial Space. Empire and Circulations (18th -20th centuries)
Centre For History of Sciences Po, Paris
23-24 November 2017
Deadline: June, the 1st 2017
Empires are often presented as State structures with specific relations to
space, as they tend to expand through progressive accretion of territory.
Imperial spaces are supposed to be strongly hierarchical, divided between
centres and peripheries, with highly militarized border areas and buffer
In this framework, empires are primarily defined by their ability to establish
their sovereignty over a specific space, which entails control over
and the populations that inhabit them, as well as over the flows of goods and
people that develop in this space.
While it is important to take into account the role of the State in
imperial space, the workshop proposes to study the multiplicity of processes
and actors involved in the production of such a space. Henri Lefebvre’s
conception of social space has been especially significant in drawing
to the different mechanisms involved in the production of space, which he
identified as spatial practices (of each member of a society), representation
of space (the “conceptual space” of scientists and planners) and
representational space (the space of the
“inhabitants”, lived through images and symbols). Lefebvre also contended
that the constitution of new spaces did not lead to the disappearance of
pre-existing ones. Such insights into the complexity and multilayeredness of
social space provide the basis for an inquiry into the specificity of imperial
space, and of the processes contributing to its constitution.
The workshop intends to focus on circulation as an entry point to study the
imbrication of spaces, of space-producing activities, and of actors, in an
imperial context. A “spatial practice” par excellence, circulation produces
spaces of its own, both at its most local and at its most global scale. The
imperial space is itself constituted through a multiplicity of circulations:
flows of legal and regulatory practices as well as of imperial personnel
constitute the administrative and political space of the empire; circulations
of goods and of labor shape its economic space.
In addition, circulation of explorers and surveyors, and the various survey
reports, travelogues and cartographic representations they produced underlie
its cognitive space. The workshop adopts a broad definition of circulation,
looking at the movement of peoples and goods, of information, knowledge,
techniques, cultural productions and practices which constitute the
regime of a given society, a regime that is constantly reconstituted in
response to wider economic, social and political processes.
The workshop especially proposes two lines of enquiry
1- Imperial spaces are neither singular, nor coherent, but are constituted of
many nested spaces, produced through the interaction of various actors. The
imperial State is only one among several actors who take part into the
production of this imperial space. Through processes of imperial expansion and
consolidation, the imperial State does usher in the spatial reorganisation of
the territories that come under its ambit to serve its own economic,
administrative and political interests. However, the Empire’s power over
space is shaped by constant negotiations with local intermediaries and further
contends with diverse practices of appropriation and subversion of space.
2- Imperial space is only one among many spaces that exist within and beyond.
These different spaces coexist and overlap, compete or become intertwined.
Circulatory practice – regional, cross-border, and transimperial – lead to
the constitution of parallel spaces. Be it the circulation of experts or
indentured workers, of technical or administrative knowledge, transimperial
circulations contrive to link distant territories, each under distinct
sovereignties. Similarly, any
given space is set within multiple temporalities, as past circulatory
continue to interact with new imperial circulatory regimes.
The workshop aims to develop a comparative approach to foster exchange between
PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and researchers working on imperial
structures that traditional taxonomies have tended to segregate; i.e.
continental, colonial and maritime empires. A rather broad chronological
spanning the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century will
allow us to capture different imperial formations at different stage of their
By this mean we may explore the relationship between empire and circulation,
and its reconfiguration, through different contexts and at different
The workshop will especially welcome contributions that explore the
intertwinement of spaces and actors. Papers could also go beyond a strictly
imperial temporal framework, looking at circulations antedating the
development of the empire, as well as studying the posterity of imperial
circulatory regimes. With a view to explore the plurality of imperial spaces,
different scales of analysis need to be deployed, relying on manifold sources
both in terms of their nature, and of the scale of activity, as well as the
actors involved. Administrative sources could thus be paired with literary
ones, travelogues and maps, pictorial representations as well as
folklore and, for the more recent periods, oral history.
The following themes could, among others, be explored by different
• imperial circulatory regimes (economic, political, administrative,
cognitive…) and the processes of structuration of the imperial space (shifts
and changes in spatial hierarchies, at different levels of the empire)
• development of communication infrastructures, as both tools to control
territories and objects of negotiations and contestations
• discrimination between circulatory practices: fostering some (indenture and
labor migration, opening the “interiors” and development of trade) and
preventing others (sedentarisation of populations, criminalisation of
peripatetic modes of life…)
• Imperial frontier, buffer zones and circulation across borders
• Trans-imperial circulations: development of regional linkages between
empires, involving a multiplicity of actors (labor migrants and imperial
experts, techniques and scientific knowledge, administrative practices…)
• Circulation and crisis: intensification of circulatory practices or
breaches in circulatory regimes (crisis in the imperial system, but also
sanitary, political, social, environmental crisis…)
Application process :
Paper abstract of 500 words max. and Curriculum Vitae should be sent
to colloquium.circulation@gmail. com by June, the 1st 2017.
Every applicant will be informed by early August of the results of the
Travel and housing expenses of the selected participants will be covered.
Camille Buat (CHSP/Sciences Po, CeMIS, Univ. Göttingen), Aude-Cécile Monnot
(CHSP/Sciences Po), Alexander van Wickeren (CHSP/Sciences Po, Univ. Köln)
Scientific and Funding Partners : The workshop is funded by the Center for
Sciences Po, the Doctoral School of Sciences Po, and the CIERA (programmes
formationrecherche “Europe. A global history”)