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“They have the right to throw us out”: Élisée Reclus’ New Universal Geography

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Published in Antipode. 2013, vol. 45, no. 5, p. 1337-1355
Abstract In his mammoth Nouvelle Géographie Universelle (1876-1894), Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) tries for the first time, as a Western geographer, to ‘provincialize’ Europe within a global dynamics. Applying his anarchist ideas to his Geography, he represents the principle of unity for human kind, stating that all men should live on the Earth as ‘brothers’ and refusing the ‘superiority’ of one culture over the others. Nevertheless, his stance on the settling of European workers in North Africa, which he regarded with some sympathy, has been considered rather ambiguous by some French geographers. Other scholars, however, have stated recently that such a view is consistent with the anarchist and socialist thought of the time, which considered workers’ emigration as a way of spreading ‘social ideas’ overseas, without encouraging political or military domination. New research on Reclus is largely based on the exploration of the 19 volumes of the Nouvelle Géographie Universelle (henceforth NGU), which was sometimes considered less interesting than his other works, such as L’Homme et la Terre, but now reveals its originality in resizing Europe within geographical thought To avoid the perils of anachronism it is important to analyse what Reclus said within the political and cultural context of his time. What are the representations of Europe, Otherness and Colonialism of a very influential geographer, who was at the same time one of the founders of the international anarchist movement? What insights might it offer to contemporary studies on colonialism and post-colonialism? I try to clarify these issues by engaging with two emblematic cases – British rule over India and the French occupation of Algeria – as they are presented in the NGU. I begin with an analysis of the existing literature, both on Reclus and on the relationship between European science and colonialism. Then, I consider Reclus’ representation of the British Empire and, subsequently, the French Empire. Finally, I summarise his construction of a new critique of colonial powers, including the minor ones. My primary source is the NGU, which I integrate with an analysis of Reclus’ articles for political journals and his correspondence.
Keywords ReclusUniversal geographyColonialismAnarchismPostcolonial studies
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FERRETTI, Federico. “They have the right to throw us out”: Élisée Reclus’ New Universal Geography. In: Antipode, 2013, vol. 45, n° 5, p. 1337-1355. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:36609

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Deposited on : 2014-05-13

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