The Impact of Colonialism


In recent years, colonialism has been included in a number of empirical studies, often from an economic perspective. While many of these studies discuss the effects of colonialism on long-term post-colonial developments, there has been less effort to measure the impact of colonialism during the colonial period. More often, the impact of colonialism is rather described then measured. A literature overview nevertheless offered a broad variety of suggestions for important variables. We hereafter present just the most central arguments, differentiating between political, economic and social impacts of colonialism.

Through the differentiations between the impact of colonialism in the political, economic and social sphere we organize the empirical analysis; we do not have any hypothesis about the preponderance of one of them. There are no convincing theoretical arguments why the impact of colonialism in one sphere should be more significant than in the others.

One caveat has to be kept in mind. Formal colonization was fiscally expensive and „often a defensive (or even preventive) result of core competition over access to peripheral resources and markets“ (Chase-Dunn 1989: 276). The „piecemeal annexation of territories took place under widely diverse circumstances, with varying degrees of disruption of preexisting social structures, and with considerably different outcomes“ – “nowhere were colonially inspired changes the same“ (Murray 1980: 2). Especially in Africa, „huge territories of which nothing was known were taken and occupied, or at least claimed, for no real reason other than to deny it to rivals“ (Davidson 1978: 82).