Navigating uneven and combined development: Britain’s Africa policy in historical perspective’

Brown, William (2016). Navigating uneven and combined development: Britain’s Africa policy in historical perspective’. In: Anievas, Alex and Matin, Kamran eds. Historical Sociology and World Politics: Uneven and Combined Development over the Longue Durée. Global Dialogues: Developing Non-Eurocentric IR and IPE. London: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 149–169.



There is now a considerable literature and developing body of research analysing Britain’s Africa policy particularly focussing on the post-1997 period when the Blair government brought Africa to a more central position within British foreign policy. A key theme within this literature has been a focus on the historical continuities and parallels between this latter day ‘liberal imperialism’ and Britain’s earlier forays into Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century. This chapter argues that drawing historical parallels underemphasises developmental dynamism of the relationship between Africa and the wider world. That is, the interactive developmental processes of change set in train by the European domination of Africa alter the context and at least some of the content of the inter-societal relationships involved. It also addresses theoretical problems relating o the over-emphasis on Europe – the geopolitical machinations of European powers or in the inner-logic of (capitalist) European societies – as the key causal factor in both the earlier period of imperialism and more recent British policy. It draws on the work of Roland Robinson to point out that what is left out of this picture is the role of African societies in shaping the relationship with Europe. The chapter uses key components of the theory of uneven and combined development – in particular an emphasis on the socially-interactive character of relations between Africa and Europe and the socially and politically heterogeneous products of combined development – to show how contemporary policy conundrums (how to achieve liberal change in Africa) have their roots in this longer historical process of interaction.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions