This thesis explores how Britain continues to be shaped by the legacies of empire, both in terms of collective memory and the historical transmission of inequalities rooted in the imperial era.
The first chapter (co-authored with Theresa Gessler) focuses on the historical ways in which empire has shaped Britain, looking at the persistence of ties to slavery among Britain’s political elite. Using a novel computational technique that utilises embedded Wikipedia data on inter-personal networks, we construct a measure of social proximity to slavery over time. Aggregating this measure across hundreds of years of parliamentary periods, we show how ties to slavery in parliament persisted long after the abolition of slavery itself - including into the present day – as well as analysing the institutional and political foundations of this persistence.
The next two chapters focus on the effects of memory of empire in Britain, exploring how this memory is lined with amnesia, nostalgia, shame and guilt, and investigating the consequences of these dynamics on contemporary politics. The second chapter is a survey experiment examining how white British individuals react to information about their ancestors’ involvement in imperial slave-ownership. It demonstrates that whilst stronger identity threats are likely to lead to greater defensiveness in debates around 'uncomfortable' histories, an affirmation of one's identity in the family domain facilitates greater openness and actively reduces the racial prejudice that may accompany backlash around histories of slavery.
The third and final chapter is another survey experiment, focusing specifically on such backlash effects, including their invocation and consequences. In this chapter I outline one defensive cognition that has seen increasing use in debates over the British Empire – the tendency to compare the Empire favourably with other 'worse' regimes – and show that such defensive responses not only inhibit shame-related responses but may increase prejudice towards victimised colonial outgroups.
Joe Kendall is a political scientist utilising quantitative methods to study legacies of violence, with a focus on the memory and long-term impact of slavery and imperialism. His work includes survey experiments on the politics of guilt, shame and defensiveness, as well as the use of causal inference techniques to map the long-run effect of imperial violence onto contemporary politics. Prior to coming to the EUI, he gained an MPhil in Comparative Politics from the University of Oxford.