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Towards a History of Mass Violence in the Etat Indépendant du Congo, 1885-1908

Roes, Aldwin (2010) Towards a History of Mass Violence in the Etat Indépendant du Congo, 1885-1908. South African Historical Journal, 62 (4). pp. 634-670. ISSN 0258-2473


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The present article provides an up-to-date scholarly introduction to mass violence in the Etat Indépendant du Congo (Congo Free State, EIC). Its aims are twofold: to offer a point of access to the extensive literature and historical debates on the subject, and to make the case for exchanging the currently prevalent top-down narrative, with its excessive focus on King Leopold's character and motives, for one which considers the EIC's culture of violence as a multicausal, broadly based and deeply engrained social phenomenon.

The argument is divided into five sections. Following a general outline of the EIC's violent system of administration, I discuss its social and demographic impact (and the controversy which surrounds it) to bring out the need for more regionally focused and context sensitive studies. The dispute surrounding demographics demonstrates that what is fundamentally at stake is the place the EIC's extreme violence should occupy in the history of European ‘modernity’. Since approaches which hinge on Leopoldian exceptionalism are particularly unhelpful in clarifying this issue, I pause to reflect on how such approaches came to dominate the distinct historiographical traditions which emerged in Belgium and abroad before moving on to a more detailed exploration of a selection of causes underlying the EIC's violent nature. While state actors remain in the limelight, I shift the focus from the state as a singular, normative agent, towards the existence of an extremely violent society in which various individuals and social groups within and outside of the state apparatus committed violent acts for multiple reasons. As this argument is pitched at a high level of abstraction, I conclude with a discussion of available source material with which it can be further refined and updated.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2010, Taylor & Francis. This is an author produced version of a paper published in South African Historical Journal. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Department of History (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Mr. Aldwin Roes
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2012 10:31
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2014 12:50
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02582473.2010.519937
Status: Published
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1080/02582473.2010.519937
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/74340

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