Virtual Event: Headhunters, Pirates, and Englishmen, Oh My!: Outsider Rule and Compellence in Sarawak

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 12:00pm to 1:30am

Virtual Event

SSP Wednesday Seminar Series

An adventurous Englishman established a durable political order amid the contestation of sea and land Dayaks, ethnic Chinese, Muslims, and other peoples in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, in the middle of the 19th century. Three generations of the Brooke family maintained personal rule over Sarawak until after World War II. After the British Crown bought the territory from the last of the so-called White Rajahs, an insurgency formed to call for the return of personalistic Brooke rule. Given the difficulties that liberal Western powers have had in creating or restoring political order in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere since World War II, how did the Brooke family succeed without creating an institutionalized state, without delivering public goods beyond security, and without creating an appealing ideology? Paradoxically, it was the Brookes’ lack of institutions and ideology that enabled their rule. The Brookes flourished without the trappings and tools of empire, using personal influence; organized violence by a small number of armed Englishmen sufficient to balance power among armed groups; and partnerships with indigenous groups to take and retain power. Their success as outsider rulers rested on their use of compellence. This fine-grained archival case has relevance for theorizing compellence, balancing, and bandwagoning. It is also useful for understanding military intervention in multiple forms, including peacekeeping, state building, and counterinsurgency.

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Public, MIT Community

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School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS)


Center for International Studies


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