Beyond the pale: history, mobility, & the foreigner in the politics of xenophobia at the British Cape of Good Hope, C. 1800-1850

O’Halloran, Patrick
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This dissertation historicizes the politicization of “the foreigner” in one corner of the British empire in the early nineteenth century. Through an approach that uses the colonists’ archive to position British colonization of the Cape of Good Hope within broader histories of empire and exclusion, the dissertation examines the local political contexts in which categories of “foreigner” emerged, and the ways in which they were explained. The dissertation is simultaneously a reconsideration of Cape colonial history through the question of xenophobia and an elaboration of a historical method that recovers and theorizes local appropriations of political categories and concepts from a wider historical world. Importantly, this research analyzes historical modes, meanings, and mobilizations of xenophobia, rather than treating history as a determinant of politics in the present. Its contributions are local, with respect to the colony’s exclusionary political discourses and movements, and “global,” with regard to both the emerging historical connections and the method of inquiry into colonial archives. Historiography of the British Cape Colony in southern Africa has largely been concerned with the development of colonial society and the processes through which white minority conquest and rule were established in South Africa. This dissertation approaches Cape history and the colonial archive differently, through considering the politicization of the figure of “the foreigner” in the Cape Colony, from c. 1800 to 1850. Specifically, it addresses modes of xenophobia: the politicization of “the foreigner” as threatening. No studies have focused directly on constructions of foreignness or modes of xenophobia in the Cape Colony. Nonetheless, different categories of “foreigner” as threatening or subversive were important to political discourses and movements in the Cape Colony. In brief, three intersecting political developments during this period of Cape history generated forms of xenophobia. First is the relationship between perceptions of foreignness and the politics of the colonial “frontier.” Second is the issue of mobility captured in the twin problems of “vagabondism” and “vagrancy.” Third is the opposition organized by colonists at the Cape around “convictism,” or the transportation of British convicted felons to the colony. This study of the politics of difference-making in a colonial context integrates but also complicates histories of race, racism, and colonial social relations. We find that mobility and perceived political difference often marked “the foreigner,” in unstable relation to racial and ethnic categories. The threat of “the foreigner” was articulated through “improper connections” to “outside” or “foreign” sites or forms of political power, whether independent African or creole polities, mobile persons, or even missionary societies and the imperial government. Importantly, colonial discourses drew on broader patterns of knowledge—imperial, colonial, British, global— that shaped how foreignness was rationalized and politicized in the colony. These frames of reference looked to histories and concepts from Ireland, the West Indies, and England in the making of local politics. They appropriated and adapted concepts like “the Pale,” “the Maroon,” and “the Vagrant” to explain boundaries of difference, the manufacture of autonomy, and dangerous forms of mobility, respectively. Therefore, the dissertation contributes not only to our historical understanding of the Cape Colony, but also speaks to the broader subjective worlds in which settler politics were fomented and explained. The research posits methods for historicizing xenophobia in relation to these complex contexts, as well as for engaging with the political-subjective knowledge that animated historical worlds. It forms a starting point for more extensive study of politicizations of “the foreigner” in the Anglo-Atlantic world.
A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Faculty of Humanities, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2019