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Colonialism and  Neocolonialism

Colonialism and Neocolonialism

Author: Zach Lamb

Examine the concepts of colonialism and neocolonialism, and how they serve as an explanation for global poverty.

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Colonialism and Neocolonialism

Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. And welcome to Sociological Studies. How are you doing? I hope you're having a good day. In this lesson, we're going to discuss European colonialism, historically, and touch on neocolonialism, occurring with corporations across the globe today.

Well, colonialism really got going in the 16th century and lasted up until about the 19th century. What happened was European explorers, countries wealthy enough to send out explorers, started to go out on voyages all over the world. Well, what else is out there? There's got to be something out there. They got curious. You know, a well-known voyage is Columbus in 1492, discovering America.

So they would go out. They'd come into contact with all these different societies, all these societies we didn't really know much about or, in fact, even existed. So radically different ways of living. So these people, the Europeans thought, were much less civilized. They were savages. I mean, think of how they treated the Native Americans as well as how the Spanish treated people in South America around this same time. Well, they're just sitting on all this natural wealth. Look. They've got all of these resources they're not using. They don't know how to use them. They're backwards. They're not using them. We can use them. Or at least, they certainly couldn't make what we can make with them. So let's take them.

So this is what happened with colonialism. They realized, well, look. There's all this natural bounty out there, and they're not using it. So let's go there and set up a colony. So then we can establish a settlement, start extracting these resources. And then we can enrich ourselves back home. This was the idea. So in this fashion, territory around the world was acquired by European powers of the day. Britain, Spain, France, the Netherlands, even Portugal, they went out, and they established colonies for the purpose of then extracting resources, using them, and enriching themselves back home. And it's left a mark. This historical colonialism has left a mark that we see today still. It's why people in Brazil speak Portuguese and Latin American countries speak Spanish. Areas of North Africa also have a strong-- specifically Algeria-- have a strong French presence.

And it's also why Christianity is the dominant religion in the world. It's not because Christianity was inherently superior or people will defend Christianity and point to the fact that, well, look. It's all over the globe. Well, it is all over the globe because the colonizers took it with them and implanted it into these societies where it wasn't there before. So it gained a foothold. And now we see today, it is the widest religion in the world.

And by going out and setting up colonies and setting up patterns of economic trading-- so they would set up patterns of resources going back and forth between the motherland and the colonies. Well, they set up economic roots in these colonies and, in the process, connected the entire world into one economic system that enriched the colonizing countries at the expense of the colonized. And we still see the vestiges of colonial expansion today in inequality and dependency theory. A subject thoroughly covered in another tutorial argues that rich nations of the world, at the same time that they enriched themselves and developed themselves through colonial expansion, underdeveloped the nations that they colonized and integrated them into the global system in a subordinate and dependent position.

A really fascinating text written by an Algerian-- Frantz Fanon wrote a book called The Wretched of the Earth. It's a great book, and he essentially did a psychoanalytic analysis of the colonial situation. He looked at the colonizers and the colonized and theorized the colonial situation. It's a really fascinating book. I wish we had time to cover it in this course, but-- time constraints-- we don't.

Fast forward to today, continue the system, and we have what we call neocolonialism. Neocolonialism is global power derived from economic exploitation by multinational corporations now, not nation-states. Think about really powerful, huge, multinational corporations. They have their operations all over the world. Different areas of the corporation are in different parts of the world. And corporations today, they don't owe any national allegiance, meaning they're not die-hard American or they're not die-hard Chinese. They don't really owe countries anything because they operate all over the globe. And they're going to try to get and operate where it's going to be most cheap for them, where they can hire the cheapest labor, where the environmental regulations are the least, where they're going to have to pay the fewest taxes. So corporations are going to move about the globe now to do this. And in the process, they can derive power and enrich themselves. So neocolonialism, then, is just this idea that global power is derived from economic exploitation by multinational corporations rather than nation-states.

There's a lot of talk in social sciences whether or not the nation-state is losing power. Well, is it? What does the nation-state mean on the global stage relative to corporations? It's interesting to think about presidential politics and presidential rhetoric, where they will talk about bringing jobs back and they'll talk about creating jobs. Well, do they really have power to do that? Well, in this lesson, we discussed colonialism and neocolonialism Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

When a country expands and takes over another country for economic gain.


Global power based on economic exploitation by multinational corporations.