HomeLabour and Empire in the Age of Decolonisation: the British Experience, 1919-1984

HomeLabour and Empire in the Age of Decolonisation: the British Experience, 1919-1984

Labour and Empire in the Age of Decolonisation: the British Experience, 1919-1984

Mouvements ouvriers et décolonisation : l’expérience britannique, 1919-1984

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Published on Tuesday, July 02, 2013


Alors qu’historiens de l’Empire et spécialistes d’histoire ouvrière se sont longtemps ignorés, le moment semble venu d’une « histoire sociale de l’Empire » et donc, pourquoi pas, d’une « histoire sociale de la décolonisation ». Dans l’historiographie de la décolonisation britannique, le monde du travail n’apparaît en effet souvent qu’à l’arrière-plan, les premiers rôles étant réservés aux « grands hommes » – hommes d’État métropolitains et élites indigènes en particulier. C’est ce relatif oubli des masses laborieuses (de leur vécu, de leurs initiatives, de leurs organisations) et du rôle des « sans voix » dans la dissolution de l’Empire britannique que notre journée d’études voudrait contribuer à réparer. La conférence se déroulera le vendredi 8 novembre 2013.



Specialists of the British Empireand researchers in British labour history can no longer afford to ignore each other. According to Bernard Porter and Catherine Hall, the time has come for ‘a social history of the Empire’, and one might add – following the stimulating examples recently provided by Stuart Ward and Andrew Thompson – for ‘a social history of decolonisation’. In most studies attempting to explain the demise of theBritish Empire, the world of labour does not stand in the limelight, the key roles being allocated to metropolitan statesmen on the one hand and native elites on the other. Our one-day conference will seek to counter-balance that neglect (as Frederick Cooper and the ‘subalternists’ have already done), by focusing on the role played by ‘the voiceless’ and their experience, initiatives and organisations, in the dissolution of the British Empire. 

We invite researchers to submit papers on the following topics:

In the metropole

  • how public opinion, and the labouring classes in particular, related to the process of decolonisation;
  • how the Labour Party envisioned its imperial and post-imperial policy, be it in office or in the opposition;
  • how the TUC expressed itself on colonial questions and how it conceived its collaboration with the Foreign Office, especially in the era of ‘recolonisation’;
  • how the CPGB, the ILP, the Movement for Colonial Freedom (and others) led – or did not lead – the fight against colonialism.

In the dominions

  • how Canadian, South-African, Australian and New Zealand trade-unionists and Labour Party activists considered their relation to the Mother Country;
  • how they considered their relation to the indigenous population and whether they supported ‘decolonisation at home’.

In the colonies

  • what impact the labour revolts (inAsiaandAfrica, but also in theWest Indiesor in theMiddle East) exerted on the policy led by governors and byLondon;
  • how the nationalist leaders, generally from privileged backgrounds, reacted to the rebellions of the underprivileged.

At the crossroads

  • how nationalist and working-class activists from the colonies came into contact with metropolitan militants;
  • how international organisations such as the Socialist International, the Communist International or the League Against Imperialism tried – or did not try – to build a transnational anti-imperialist network.

Marcel van der Linden once declared that ‘the history of the British working-class can only be written as a transcontinental one’ and John MacKenzie has never ceased to strive for a ‘socialisation’ of imperial studies. Hopefully the conference will confirm that the history of the British Empire, including that of its liquidation, can only move forward by putting common people back on the map.

Submission guidelines

Abstracts and short bio-bibliographies should be sent to the convenors :

before 10 September 2013.

The papers will be given in English. 

A selection will be published by Liverpool University Press in its ‘Studies in Labour History’ series.

The conference will take place on Friday, 8th November,2013.


  • Salle Claude Simon, Maison de la Recherche de l'Université Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle, - 4 rue des Irlandais
    Paris, France (75005)


  • Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Attached files


  • décolonisation, empire britannique, mouvement ouvrier, anticolonialisme


  • Yann Béliard
    courriel : yann [dot] beliard [at] univ-paris3 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Yann Béliard
    courriel : yann [dot] beliard [at] univ-paris3 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Labour and Empire in the Age of Decolonisation: the British Experience, 1919-1984 », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, July 02, 2013, https://calenda.org/254402

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