“Keep the Balance”: The Politics of Remembering Empire in Postcolonial Britain

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Astrid Rasch


This article uses a memory studies lens to explore the inherent tension in discourses that defend empire in postcolonial Britain. It argues that many Britons try to reconcile their awareness of colonial violence, racism, and exploitation with their wish to view themselves in a positive light. This at a time when the memory of empire continues to be associated with British national identity in the present. It studies three phenomena that characterize much engagement with the imperial past: firstly, the acknowledgement of imperial wrongs within otherwise celebratory accounts; secondly, the idea that there is an empire-critical master narrative against which one must present a counter-memory in order to keep the balance; and thirdly, the defence of individual Britons that allows for a depoliticized endorsement of empire and liberates contemporary Britain of guilt. It uses the rhetoric of a number of authors, filmmakers, and politicians as the point of departure to study the politics of remembering empire in postcolonial Britain. It finds that the celebration of empire does not happen in spite of but through an engagement with the criticism of empire.


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