The British Empire has a history of strong center-periphery relations. The British Empire is arguably the biggest empire in recent history of the world whereby Britain is positioned as the center and the colonies, including African nations, the American colony, Australia among others, forming the periphery. Each society has a center and there is a likelihood of being able to draw a distinction between the center and the periphery. Ordinarily, the center exerts economic, political and cultural power over the periphery - which is the entire time dependent, has a tendency of being deficient of resources, and more often suffers from investment insufficiency. The center-periphery distinction may be between the predominant ethnic group or nation within the others’ ethnic groups or nations. A perfect illustration for this is the centrality of England in relation to its colonies such as Australia where Englishmen tended to be dominant compared to the aborigines who originally settled on the land. Notably, the concept of centers and periphery may be conveniently useful to the historical understanding of the colonial centers and their respective peripheries. This paper is aimed at analyzing the center-periphery relationship of the British Empire. The center at first relates to the periphery as the vital power though later (when the periphery grows stronger) a state of mutual relationship emerges.
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In analyzing the center-periphery relationship with respect to the British Empire, it is worth noting that the British colonies comprised of huge numbers of individuals over whom the center had total control in terms of the apparatus of politics. The British Empire at its peak spanned continents so that it could be hard to imagine how the imperial power managed to exercise the control. The European settler populaces together with their creole progenies formed the periphery in every area that the core dominated. The settlers, however, dominated over the indigenous people and creoles in all the lands they occupied, in terms of influence and power. Resultantly, settlers operating from the cultural spaces in the occupied territories brought about transformations by means of making the center’s ideologies known as well as molding local circumstances in terms of European systems of law, land occupation patterns and social political, cultural and social practices, institutions and forms (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002). Such core regions formed the practicalities for the embellishment and expansion of creole cultures which intently pursued the Metropolitan European cultures.
Markedly, the society’s centers are less physical but more socio-intellectual construct. Centrality in this respect entails order of symbols, values as well as beliefs governing society. In addition, it includes the structure of activities, persons and roles within institutional networks, which via their authority’s radiation avail some form of life to a measurable section of the populace of the society. The center adopts those ideological standpoints that would let it to utmost exploit the periphery, that is, to benefit from the association by incurring the least level of costs. The authoritative elites of the British Empire presiding over the institutions enjoyed a certain dynamic relationship not only to the center, but also to the powerful order conferring legitimacy. Unvaryingly, on the other hand, the central value system legitimating the central institutional system was commonly shared (Greene, 1986). In the British Empire, the colonies of the Great Britain were once the West Indies and North America. In this relationship, authority was flowing outwardly from the center to the periphery. Peripheral areas within state as well as social structures unescapably reveled in sizable freedom from the center, their condition of approximate unconventionality to the center unmistakably making them a mere image of the nominal authority of the center (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002).
In the British Empire, the considerable autonomy that the peripheries enjoyed was not only born of the metropolitan coercive resources’ weakness and the distance of the peripheries from the center, but also from settler domination of the structures of local authority. This settler domination was not anywhere close to being center-implanted but emanating internally out of the efforts of the settler to construct political entity of a European-style in the New World (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002). The establishment of such structures was routinely via an adaptive trial and error progression early in the history of every colony. This happened in a context of outstanding resilience, survival and unrelenting metropolitan efforts towards subordinating the peripheries to the central authority. For instance, the hands-on operational constitutional structure, in which the numerous polities of the America peripheries put forth measurable power advanced in parallel with time. Besides, the settlers presiding over these political entities ensured the Federal Constitution was not the outcome of obligation to the periphery from the imperial constitution, which is considerably weak. The peripheries rather opted for ostentatious negotiations with the center to honor their devotion to the center. Thus, the British Empire was a negotiated empire (Greene, 1986).
Scholastically, there is a number of perspectives which have transformed the center-peripheral relationship model of the British Empire. To begin with, rather than being pre-eminent at the empire’s center, Britain itself was felt through flow of wealth from the colonies. The British were known as bent on exploiting of the natural resources of their colonies, for instance, they depended on cotton grown in the peripheries to make clothes in factories located in Britain. Secondly, the British Empire could be better viewed as an intersecting, coinciding web or network of persons and information flowing in circuits both between and across the metropolis and the peripheries (Greene, 1986). The British Empire sent governors from Europe to take control over the operations in the periphery states. People were an imperative element of this as witnessed by the waves of emigrants circulating between various locations as well as the officials and public servants whose careers took them form one placement to another. In making their standpoints certain, governors and lobby groups positioned themselves is such a manner that allowed them to personalize the communications channels (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002).
The center-periphery relationship is not necessarily smoothened by the apparent closeness of the governors to the imperial power. However, despite the fact that the governors at the periphery enjoyed a privileged position with respect to official communication from the center, the same governors suffered breakdown of communication from the center. Therefore, they were more vulnerable than they actually seemed to be. The governors were subjected to uncertainty such that they adopted desperate means like the career-enhancing tendency of naming cities or even rivers after themselves. Besides, these governors were subjected to financial pressure and were persistently relying on gossip and/or slow (and more often) outdated information. As a result, the governors became reliant on friends sharing similar political persuasion, but unfortunately these friends were likely to personally represent their interests to the Colonial Office. However, the governors could fall victim to the friends and the lobby groups and as such, there could be little trust in them (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002).
It is worth noting that being located at the center triggers a number of consequences. For example, the center is well universally known for being in possession of the most powerful institutions of governance. As a result, it gets to enjoy considerably greater financial and economic activity and this avails greater wealth. Through this, it is the center which rules. The power and resource of the struggle existing between the center and the periphery exemplifies the situation (Greene, 1986). Illustratively, Northern Ireland devolution has led to the enhancement of Belfast as the capital city, which is located within the periphery of the United Kingdom. Further struggle for resources and wealth is experienced at the periphery level where there are competing sides. For instance, the presence of considerably sharp internal divisions between the Republicans and Unionists augments greater sophistications to the development of Belfast as well as Northern Ireland. In this case, great difficulty and fragility are revealed in the implementation of any development project in the event that confrontation between the radical sectors of the Republicans and the Unionist communities is present (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002). As thus, it can be argued that the presence of an internal conflict within the periphery is likely to lead to it getting in the way of investment and upsetting development plans which need the support of the entire community to succeed.
The concept of the British Empire is also viewed through the differences existent between the humanitarian groups and the settlers in the periphery. Examination of the rivalry between the humanitarian groups operating from the center and the settlers shows that the center periphery relations were strained. Notably, such humanitarian networks reached a top-most height of impact with the anti-slavery and later the aboriginal lobby groups that held strong influence over the Colonial Office. Both these humanitarian networks and their local branches faced differing degrees of formal organization challenges from the settler groups, which strongly bore a grudge with the imposition of a morality from far afield (Daniels & Kennedy, 2002). The settlers in the peripheries sought to ignore the calls for humanitarianism emanating from the center in a bid to protect their own interests. For instance, the slave masters in the United States were opposed to the anti slavery crusaders operating from Britain in order to continue enjoying the cheap slave labor.
What ought to be noted is that peripheral status hardly implies regression or provincialism. On the contrary, the peripheral status is characterized by receiving guidelines of establishment from the center. For instance, during the colonial commencements of both society and government in the United States of America, the British center pinpointed how it would develop (Greene, 1986). There should be comprehension of the essential conditions, changing dynamics as well as movements in the internal organization of the empire so as to highlight on the emergence of colonial centers and their subsequent association with colonial peripheries. In this, emphasis is laid on metropolitan inheritances, the settler agencies, the adaptability of the inheritances, and the peripheries powers shaping the negotiated empires.
The center of the British Empire exercised economic, cultural and political power over the periphery. The center was represented by settlers and governors in the peripheries and they ensured that the ideologies of the center were followed. The relationship between the center and the periphery is facilitated by good communication between the two. However, the governors faced hard times due to breakdown of communication. The center is necessarily burdened with the costs of running the periphery till the latter is strong enough to operate at a certain level of independence. However, in spite of attempts by the center to dictate the terms in the periphery, the settlers sought for a more autonomous existence. There were also tensions between the settlers and lobby groups of the center especially on issues of morality.
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