York Workshop 2017



Regionalism, federation and supranational community in the era of decolonisation

Friday 16 June 2017

The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building, University of York, UK

Call for papers and participation

This one-day workshop explores a moment of possibility, creativity and contingency in the political, economic and cultural history of decolonisation. While the nation-state emerged as the principal community of local obligation and global organisation in the postcolonial world, revisionist scholars led by Fred Cooper investigate alternative imaginaries that, for a time, contested the direction of political community around the decolonising world. During the 1940s-70s – in what Michael Collins terms a ‘federal moment’ – diverse visions of regional and supranational futures after empire jostled for position in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Ideas of colonial federation emerged soon after WWI to address the concerns of select colonial officials and imperial citizens, as well as reduce the metropolitan burdens of empire during the depression of the 1930s. But these ideas soon captured the imagination of anti-colonial activists within colonial territories and in diasporas. Such figures conceived a spectrum of political options across ‘national’ boundaries. From formal political federation to looser confederation; from ideological regionalism to economic community, decolonising intellectuals envisaged ‘layered forms of sovereignty’ in which
some powers might rest in local political units, while others might be ‘pooled’ at some centre. In the 1950s, certain West African leaders seriously contemplated the idea that a confederation, in which France and former colonies would be equal partners, was a preferable alternative to the postcolonial balkanisation of the region. In the 1960s, East African nationalists seized upon the British notion of closer union between Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda with apparent enthusiasm such that observers agreed that federation was a likely prospect soon after independence. Regional thinking, in the context of imperial decline, conditioned integration projects in Europe.

This supranational possibility receded rapidly in most cases in the face of national disagreement over a range of issues concerning the likely distribution of economic benefits and a reluctance to dilute the newly won fruits of state sovereignty. Counter-revisionists such as Michael Goebel warn against extrapolating Cooper’s revisionist thrust, which risks losing coherence once we move beyond individual examples or deploy overly narrow definitions of nationalism. Nation-states won out across the world and, Goebel contends, emphasising a moment of historical supranational possibility is actually connected to post hoc disillusionment with post-colonial states. More introverted (ethno)nationalisms and geoeconomic shock eviscerated many regionalist dreams. And yet the resilience of the idea of regional cooperation – in a reborn East African Community since 2000 for instance – is striking in many parts of the world, much as the centripetal forces of ‘Brexit’ underline the limits to which nations are willing to surrender sovereignty. This workshop sits a crucial juncture in historicising and theorising the supranational in contemporary history.

Papers can be presented from persons working in any geographical area, including the role of decolonisation on projects of European regional integration. We welcome a range of methodological approaches from across the humanities and social sciences. Contributions from graduate students and early career scholars are particularly encouraged.

We invite proposals for papers of 20 minutes in length. Topics may
include, but are not limited to:

• The origins of regional and federal projects (e.g. in colonial policy or
diasporan networks)

• The ideological and philosophical underpinnings of regionalism (e.g.
through pan-Africanism or oceanic worlds)

• Intersections and dialogues between regionalisms across the world

• Technocratic debates and policies underpinning regionalist projects
(e.g. economic integration, scientific and technical cooperation)

• ‘Depth’ of supranational imaginary among local citizenries beyond
political elites

• The demise of supranational and regional communities

If you wish to present please send a 250-word abstract to gerard.mccann@york.ac.uk by 7 April 2017. Please include your name, contact details and institutional affiliation. 

If you wish to attend without presenting please send an email registering interest to the same address.

There will be modest funds, distributed at the discretion of the organisers, to support the domestic travel of graduate student and early career presenters.


Dr. Chris Vaughan, Liverpool John Moores University
Dr. Emma Hunter, University of Edinburgh
Dr. Gerard McCann, University of York

This workshop is sponsored by the British Academy in the form of a Small Grant for the project ‘Negotiating region and state after independence: imagining and deconstructing integration in East Africa, 1960s-70s