Colonial Dispossession and Extraction

The Making of the Modern World - Lecture 2

Lecturer: Dr Su-ming Khoo, National University of Ireland, Galway

Nov. 9, 2020

The historical development of the modern, capitalist world economy systematically bound colonisers and colonised into unequal relationships of extraction, colonisation and dispossession over the past 500 years and more. Material realities are central to understanding what we mean by ‘colonisation’ - of materials, life and labour. Colonialism occupied land and turned people and nature into human and natural resources for a singular aim – the accumulation of capital. Historical processes of extraction, dispossession, replacement and extinction drove colonisation and ecological imperialism as structural imperatives of modern capitalism. Land-grabbing, wars and slavery connect with the extensive spread of commercial monocultures as economic structures displacing and threatening much of the world’s human biological and cultural life with extinction. Law and conservation have colluded in these colonising processes – ‘emptying’ lands and displacing or dispossessing indigenous nature and people, in order that material resources can continue to be extracted, monetised and mobilised for the accumulation of capital.



Questions for discussion

  • Examine the problem of colonialism (or neo-colonialism) from the perspective of the ‘development’ of a selected natural resource.
  • To what extent might it be said that the histories of empire and colonialism depend on the displacement and dispossession of indigenous communities and the erasure of their prior access to the environment?
  • Explore and discuss the ‘colonial’ origins of environmental resource use in the world today, using one specific example er: land, forest, mineral ore, fossil fuel, a particular a crop or type of livestock, or the ‘atmospheric commons’
  • What environmental factors are relevant in accounting for historical processes of imperial and colonial extraction and accumulation?