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The ‘re-turn’ to empire in IR: colonial knowledge communities and the construction of the idea of the Afghan polity, 1809-38

Bayly, Martin J. (2014) The ‘re-turn’ to empire in IR: colonial knowledge communities and the construction of the idea of the Afghan polity, 1809-38. Review of International Studies, 40 (3). pp. 443-464. ISSN 0260-2105

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0260210513000338


This article seeks to add to the exploration and development of Imperial History’s contribution to the discipline of International Relations (IR). Focusing on British perceptions of Afghanistan in the period preceding the first Anglo-Afghan war the article considers colonial knowledge as a source of identity construction, but in a manner that avoids deploying anachronistic concepts, in this case that of the Afghan ‘state’. This approach, which draws on the insights brought to IR by historical sociology, shows that engaging with Imperial History within IR can encourage a more reflexive attitude to core disciplinary categories. This not only reveals alternative approaches to the construction of specific political communities but it also allows for a more historicist mode in the use of history by IR as a discipline. Furthermore, by moving away from material based purely on diplomatic history, Afghanistan’s imperial encounter can be recovered from the dominance of ‘Great Game’ narratives, offering an account that is more appreciative of the Afghanistan context.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 British International Studies Association
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2015 16:03
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2020 01:48

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