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On Accumulation and Empire

Saha, Jonathan

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In recent decades, accumulation has become a curiously neglected concept in imperial history. Despite this, it remains a powerful heuristic for understanding the drives, dynamics, and effects of modern imperialism. Juxtaposing early Marxist conceptualizations of accumulation with some formative historiographic debates about colonial knowledge in Africa and Asia, I argue that accumulation can provide a better account of the ‘lumpy’ spatiality of empire than the currently predominant model of the network. Its advantages stem from it being a concept inherently concerned with the relationship between appropriation and accrual. Using accumulation to frame the study of empire foregrounds the relationships between spaces of extraction and dispossession, and sites of aggregation and accretion. The lens of imperial networks struggles to attend to places of disconnection and asymmetries of power. In contrast, the concept of accumulation was developed precisely to better understand uneven distributions and the production of inequalities.


Saha, J. (2022). On Accumulation and Empire. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 50(3), 417-442.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 22, 2022
Online Publication Date Apr 8, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Apr 6, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 30, 2022
Journal The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Print ISSN 0308-6534
Electronic ISSN 1743-9329
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 50
Issue 3
Pages 417-442


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Copyright Statement
&copy; 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor &amp; Francis Group<br /> This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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