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Colonial Genealogies of the Deserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit

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University of York

Alcuin College AEW/104

Heslington

YO10 5DD

United Kingdom

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This talk aims to provide a historical context to contemporary debates over the “white working class” by accounting for the development of this constituency through a postcolonial genealogy of British empire. The objective is to account for the racialization of the distinction between deserving and underserving poor, a distinction through which the “white working class” materialises as a constituency, and to chart the consistent shifting of these racialized coordinates across imperial time and space. The aim is to demonstrate that the “white working class” is neither an indigenous constituency, nor its own progenitor, but rather a product of struggles to consolidate and defend British imperial order, which shaped the postcolonial compact of British society. It follows, then, that contemporary retrievals of the white working class as “deserving” of social security follow a deeply entrenched inability to consider social justice outside of the framework of race and empire. As Britain prepares for the first time to carve out a national economy from an imperial, commonwealth and European hinterland, this talk wishes to clarify the stakes at play.

Robbie Shilliam is Professor of International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He is author of The Black Pacific: Anti-colonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2015) and co-editor of Meanings of Bandung: Postcolonial Orders and Decolonial Visions.

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University of York

Alcuin College AEW/104

Heslington

YO10 5DD

United Kingdom

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