Call for Chapters: IMPERIAL DEBT (Revised / Expanded)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
CUNY Kingsborough Community College
contact email: 

Dear Colleagues, 

This is a Call for Papers for a new collection I'm working on: Imperial Debt: Colonial Theft, Postcolonial Repair. This would be the first collection of its kind, forwarding a case for reparations—restorative, reparative justice—in the context of modern era imperialism. This is my second book on reparations, the first a monograph on Morrison’s Beloved. I scoped out a vision for reparations for slavery in the U.S. in that book, a six-part schema involving financial remuneration, truth and reconciliation, education, memorialization, and community development, as well as instituting measures to stop the injuriousness by stopping mass incarceration and achieving a true and full and final abolition.

The question now, how develop such a plan in the context of modern era empire? This collection will offer a set of chapters that consider the matter from various disciplinary, national, theoretical, historical, or material points of view, some comparative, all likely interdisciplinary. That is, it will take up the matter of restorative justice “after empire” in consideration of the longue durée and in national and international contexts. What economic equilibrations should be being called for “after empire”? How do we consider, assess, and theorize modern imperialism, including settler and administrative forms of colonialism and including slavery—a structure of and in empire—through the triptych: theft, debt, and repair? Any one of those variables, any two, or all three.

The work collected here is to ask questions that call for more exploration surrounding “what is owed and to whom?,” as Declan Kiberd says in After Ireland.[1] Or, surrounding, as the editors of The Debt Age ask, whose debt is acknowledged and whose is ignored?[2] These enquiries regard both sides of the wealth coin: what was profited and how did it profit, and, what was taken and what did that takenness/tookenness do or wring or bring about? “Who gets and who don’t get… you know it’s all divided up… Between the takers and the ‘tooken.’ …Some of us always getting ‘tooken.’”[3] The critical other side of racism is white privilege; the critical other sides of empire call for similar scrutiny, not only of the damages inflicted on colonized peoples and places but the capitalist appropriation (of resources, trade, under- or uncompensated labor). Empire produced massive security in the form of wealth legacies and massive precarity and poverty, disenfranchisements perhaps best evidenced by today’s wildly unequal national and global distributions of wealth.

So, we think of materialist readings of imperialist chattel enslavement that develop a clear, convincing case for restorative justice, unpacking the institution as not merely a humanitarian emergency but as an economic one—massive labor theft, massive injuriousness of every other kind in connection with processes of remuneration, restitution, and repair remain outstanding, are owed as debts are owed. A like analysis is needed regarding colonizations of First Peoples. We think too of some of the less researched colonial histories—Armenia, Palestine and Israel, or the former Soviet bloc, places like Cyprus, Scotland and Ireland, or Hong Kong, as well as under-researched African nations perhaps including Tunisia, Sudan, Angola, or Liberia. However, given that such readings are generally unfamiliar to the scholarship, all locations are under consideration.

For example, what does Britain owe South Asia in the light of just the one incident in which they loaded the entire treasury of the state of Bengal onto a hundred ships and absconded with it? That treasury was never brought back to Bengal. Far beyond their erroneously charging Haiti “reverse-reparations” for the Haitian revolution, what besides that does France owe Haiti? What is owed numerous African nations for the “scramble” sanctioned at the Berlin Africa conference and carried out in the decades following that barbarous meeting? How begin to taxonomize “land reform” or restoration in the context of Native North America? What does the U.S. owe mass incarcerated America, endemically police-brutalized America? Quite apart from civil suits, what is owed Kalief Browder’s family, Eric Garner’s family, in the name of the nation-state? Beyond the U.S. and what we owe the descendants of slaves, what does Britain owe those same American descendants? For it was under the British empire—with its laissez faire posture regarding how the colonizers built the colonies—that chattel slavery became an unbridled, terrifically brutal force in the North American colonies, later the new republic. 

It is residues of this past that “[bind] present injustice to unaddressed wrongs,” as Katherine Franke notes,[4] thus we remember too that one reason for the passing of the fugitive slave laws was “economic” in a way beyond the economics of the institution itself: that is, that slave owners, much like today’s prison industrialists, had mortgaged their slaves, and investors had invested in these “slave-backed securities,” much like today's mortgage-backed securities. And this changed literally everything about the history of slavery, making it far more horrible for enslaved persons and far more profitable for Americans owning and abusing slaves or for those with money to invest and who were willing to invest it in enslavement. 

All that said, what are the other forms of injury, the many other damages wrought by imperial power structures and the racial capital they were (and are) designed to procure? There are the obvious (though understudied) thefts of goods and trade. But additional thievings or attenuations, what have been called "extractivisms," took place to which the matters of debt and repair also attach: history and memory; language; education; epistemology, human life, many having died in the throes of imperial subjugation, and, for the living, simply subjectivity. How were entire local eco-systems or sustainabilities damaged, and how did that coil and wend across time? How reckon with the systematic failure to keep historical records—of names, faces, places of origin or residence—reckon with the denials of education, local knowledges and knowledge systems, the erasures of language, purloined possibility and opportunity, or even simply pleasure, reverie and love?: “[Paul D] knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose—not to need permission for desire—well now, that was freedom.”[5] Of course the development of capital was achieved using land, roads, bridges that did not belong to colonizers, even if built by them, and through the uncompensated, enforced labor of the colonized. And, empire involved pilfering not just the wealth of nations but privately-owned land, assets, and even industry through plantation and other schemes.

What is the ‘work’ of such repair, especially now facing the global climate crisis? These are the questions we need to be asking and finding (scholarly) ways to answer. Still, few are taking on the matter of reckoning for empire; there is some research in Economics, surprisingly little in Postcolonial studies where one assumes they’d find more work taking the question of imperial reparations seriously. Work appropriate to this volume would likely fall within the rubrics of Postcolonial, North-South, Atlantic, Decolonial, and Black or First Peoples studies approaches. However any discipline or framework would be considered and could work—historical, literary, political science, economics, feminist theory, social scientific, public or urban policy approaches, peace and conflict studies approaches, memory or trauma studies as it relates to theft, debt and repair—as Atwood wrote: “Without memory, there is no debt”[6]—as well as the new histories of capital and the new materialism, or posthumanist and nonhumanist readings, etc.—and any geographic or national history, any methodology, data or material, as long as it is probing and theorizing the questions outlined.

To whatever extent such assertions of a necessary repairing are heeded or might succeed; whether the equilibrations occur, the return of goods, whether the trade routes and betrayed treaties are remunerated, the uncompensated labor compensated; still, documenting the debt and the non-started or unfinished processes of reparative justice, taking account of imperial injuriousness—to colonized people and their communities and their property and their quality of life, their economies and their economic sustainability, the ability to bounce back as Ireland’s Celtic Tiger proved ultimately unable to do—these must all be represented, must enter the historical record, the archive, the public policy work, and indeed the conversation quite broadly.

As argued in the 2021 collection edited with Dr. Michael O'Sullivan, The Economics of Empire, such forms of materialist analysis are vital and we hope defining for the future of postcolonial studies, empire studies, policy studies, legal studies, economic studies, and the many other research areas touching empire and the racial capital developed with it. That collection was published in Routledge’s Postcolonial Politics series, and this book will be submitted to that same series. I’d like to have all proposals by 9/30/21. Full chapters would be due sometime during the Spring 2022 term, and they should range between 6,000 and 8,000 words, give or take. If you could respond with a one or two page abstract and your Bio to: mfadem@kbcc.cuny.edu

With thanks—

~Maureen Ellen Ruprecht, The City University of New York / Kingsborough


[1] Declan Kiberd, After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2018).

[2] Jeffrey Di Leo, Peter Hitchcock, and Sophia McClennen, The Debt Age (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).

[3] Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

[4] Katherine Franke, Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Abolition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019).

[5] Toni Morrison, Beloved: A Novel (New York and Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987).

[6] Margaret Atwood, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, Inc., 2008).