Civilizing Colonialism

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This paper recycles Erving Goffmans concept of "impression management" on early American colonial sociology in the Philippines (1900-1930) as a preliminary attempt to complement and nuance currently popular Foucauldian rationalist knowledge-power-technology approaches to colonial history.

Transcript of Civilizing Colonialism

CIVILIZING COLONIALISM AND TAMING THE CRIMINAL SAVAGEImpression Management, and the Making and Unmaking of Deviance and Discipline in Late Colonial Philippines, 1900-1935

By Virgilio Rojas Paper presented at the Graduate Seminar, 20002-02-28 Dept. of Economic History, Stockholm University, 106 91, Stockholm, Sweden AN UNDISCIPLINED INTRODUCTION Critical Empirico-Historical Departures Our journey into the subject of criminality and colonial management begins with two impressive, statistically-grounded, and widely quoted accounts of what appeared to be declining ratios of criminality and low racial propensity to criminal behaviour among natives during the early years of American colonial occupation in the Philippines. This first set will then be juxtaposed to yet a third deposition from a contemporary informant, clearly unimpressed with and critical to theory and practice of colonial management itself. As we shall later see, critical questions to unfold in the course of dialogue with the above trinity of informants will anticipate the central theme, thrust and problem that will be the subject of deeper elaboration further on in this report: How and why impressions (and the need to maintain and manage precisely those impressions) about both colonial managers and the subject populations they are supposed to manage, matter as conditions and constraints to the practical operation of colonial management itself, and its deployment and application of s-c technologies of disciplinary power. Or alternatively put, how and why the way in which a colonial latecomer like the United States defines and projects itself as a unique civilizing power (relative to a set of distinct audiences: other civilizing powers, political constituencies and economic interests at home, colonial subjects) bear on the actual course in which the practical bases (judicial and disciplinary institutions) of such power evolves. But before we begin with the dialogue, a thumbnail description of the prominent socio-political contingencies and the discursive landscape or official


meta-narrative in which terms the fledgling colonial civilizing project were to be negotiated at the early stage of American occupation, is in order. In 1900, American policy-makers and colonial overseers were still debating the terms of Philippine colonial incorporation for the then newly acquired territory in the Far East. They first turned to British s-c crown colonies in Africa and Asia for possible models, but finally settled for a home-spun, if slightly revised model of territorial government1 -- or a colony with representative institutions, but no responsible government. Indeed, the Americans consciously and tactfully avoided the use of the term colony so as not to offend the sensibilities of the subject population, a significant segment of which had just recently redefined its terms of identity in nascent nationalist directions after taking on and almost decisively ending more than 350 years of Spanish rule through a popular armed insurrection.2 Yet, Americans soon found themselves drawn into a vicious two-year war with large fractions of the still functional native rebel army against Spain, which was soon effectively if brutally quelled. When the fighting officially ended in 1902, the stage was set for a bold American experiment in building the basic institutions of what some contemporary analysts referred to as tropical democracy.3 It was to be a civilizing project like no other: one with an unprecedented fast-track, condensed mentality-andsensibility-altering agenda based on scientifically managed popular pedagogy in modern democratic, responsible, auto-disciplinary citizenship and eventual selfrule. A civilizing project compelled by the noblesse oblige of an enlightened modern global power to proselytise and benevolently persuade yet unenlightened subject populations in the ways of modern, rational selfmanagement. Couched in the idiom of tutelage, American political, legal, judicial, educational institutions were to be gradually transplanted through learning-by-doing exercises in self-government, first by a limited electorate drawn from the most intelligent segment of the native population, later to be enlarged in tandem with the spread of mass education, and the intensification and thickening of inter-tribal and cross-cultural communication. Cultural homogenisation will, as envisioned, eventually turn the natives into an English-speaking race, exceeding in intelligence and capacity all other people of the Tropics. 4 Within1

An adjusted version of the Jeffersonian-Madisonian model of government for the territory of Louisiana. Report of the Philippine Commission (RPC), 1900: 104-107. 2 Ibid. As the American commissioners warned: No other word in their vocabulary is so ill-omened (sic.), so terrible, so surcharged with wrongs, disasters, and sufferings. In their experience, a colony is a dependent political community which the sovereign power exploits, oppresses and misgoverns. 3 Elliot, Charles (1917) The Philippines, To the End of the Commission Government: A Study in Tropical Democracy. 4 Census, 1903: 39-40. The language of tutelage was by then of course well grounded in traditional American, that is, Jeffersonian, educational and political theory, which posited the inextricable functional link between universal education and popular government. Following this tradition early colonial bureaucrats like Director of Educational Bureau, David Barrows (1903-1909) moreover tailored policies on colonial primary instruction in favour of literary education over one which prepared the citizenry for industrial, productive labour; like Jefferson, Barrows looked at the school system to break down class barriers, to create an educated, independent yeomanry. Succeeding policies would however displace and reorient directions toward industrial education. Conflicts and changes in official discourse in the field of educational policy within the


the colonial meta-narrative thus, the bulk of the native population was depicted as intellectually backward, ignorant, superstitious and incapable of understanding any government but that of absolutism.5 Hence to make tutelage worth its while systematic identification and targeting of the potential first phase tutorial population is a pre-requisite, and will be achieved through a restrictive definition and criteria of eligibility into the electorate. The second phase envisions a co-extensive enlargement of the tutorial constituency, who through practical learning-by-doing-self-government will later eventually be able to expurgate unrestrained absolutist in favour of more self-disciplined government, limitations upon power which is now so difficult for them to understand.6 As the Americans argued: by establishing a form of municipal government practically autonomous, with a limited electorate, and by subjecting its operations to the scrutiny and criticism of a provincial government in which the controlling element was American, we could gradually teach them the method of carrying on government according to American ideas.7 Moreover, this grand experiment in modern tropical democracy would now also employ the knowledge-generating power of statistics in a scale hitherto rarely seen. Tutelage would not only be systematic, it will be managed scientifically with the latest innovations in turn-of-the-century informational technology. In fact, census-taking itself would become both tool and laboratory of teaching in the art of self-government. An Act ratified by the American Congress and instituted in situ by the Philippine Commission virtually made the gradual extension of modern self-government to the natives contingent upon the success of the census, by providing for the holding of general elections to a popular assembly within two years after its implementation. Indeed as our first informant, Director of Census retired Major General J P Sanger would proudly announce, the Philippine census was the first attempt ever by any tropical people in modern times, to make an enumeration of themselves.8American colonial hierarchy underlying noted shifts are eloquently sketched in the seminal work of Glenn Anthony May (1980) Social Engineering in the Philippines. The Aims, Execution and Impact of American Colonial Policy, 1900-1913. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. 5 An important indication of native low IQ was the degree of fluency in Spanish: The intelligence and education of the people may be largely measured by knowledge of the Spanish language. Less than 10 percent speak Spanish. With Spaniards in control of these islands for four hundred years and with Spanish spoken in all official avenues, nothing can be more significant of the lack of real intelligence among the people than this statement. Report of the Philippine Commission to the Secretary of War, 1901: 19-20. 6 Just as native IQ was measured by linguistic proficiency, so too was the intelligent population to be recruited according to that standard plus of course income level and past experience in colonial management. So only those who spoke English or Spanish, paid yearly taxes of no less than 15 dollars/yr or owned property equivalent to 250 dollars or had formerly served as municipal officer, were able to enter the ranks of the intelligent tutorial constituency. Ibid: 7 Ibid: 20-21. 8 Census of the Philippines, 1903: 31. Systematic enumeration and classification of populations were of course by no means an American invention. Proto- and more modern censuses had been carried out earlier on in the Islands during Hispanic colonial rule, through the agency of the Church and the secular bureaucracy (with the latter accelerating in the mid-and late 19th century) in an ascending order of sophistication. Most of these censuses, even the latest ones at the close of Hispanic rule were estimates (not absolute house-to-hou