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Unexpected Subversions: Modern Colonialism, Globalization, and Commodity Culture

by Timothy Burke

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Scholars studying the history of modern colonialism have been more reluctant to make strongly contrarian claims about consumerism and commodification similar to those made by early modern Europeanists because they are more unsettled by some of the implications of their own studies. Modern consumer culture is strongly mapped to ‘Westernization’ and globalization. There is a very large class of scholarly studies that in some respect or another discuss the association between colonialism and consumption in nineteenth- and twentieth-century global culture. Even constrained to the Western European states that created or extended formal empires in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific after 1860, studies such as Anne McClintock’s intricate reading of British commodity culture indicate the extent to which colonial meanings and images were circulating within metropolitan societies. This article discusses modern colonialism, globalization, and commodity culture. It first examines the middle classes, nations, and modernity, and then considers consumer agency in the context of globalization.

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