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Subaltern geopolitics and the post-colonial Commonwealth, 1965-1990

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Early online date26 May 2018
Accepted/In press23 Apr 2018
E-pub ahead of print26 May 2018
PublishedJul 2018


King's Authors


Between 1965 and 1990, the Commonwealth - an association of independent states emerging out of the decolonisation of the British Empire - took on an increasingly activist role focusing on racial and social justice and developing new subaltern (geo)political cultures. Drawing on a rich collection of new oral histories with politicians and diplomats from within the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth governments, this article focuses on the period after the formation of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965. The paper argues that the political institutions of the Commonwealth acted as a site for ‘subaltern geopolitics’ (Sharp, 2011; 2013), substantially developing this idea through a focus on the specific practices, networks, and places through which an alternative geopolitics was produced. It makes four important contributions to the conceptualisation of subaltern geopolitics and to political geography more broadly. First, in focusing on the specific practices of political actors, the paper fleshes out the mundane, fortuitous, messy, and sometimes-contradictory ways in which alternative geopolitical projects were put into practice, Second, the paper highlights the role of social and affective relations – such as those of friendship and familiarity - in geopolitics. Third, it illuminates the need to pay attention to the specific histories and geographies that underpin political action, arguing that the networks and spaces within which key Commonwealth leaders were embedded reinforced and enabled the construction of a post-colonial Commonwealth geopolitics. Fourth, and finally, the paper demonstrates the methodological value of oral history evidence for interdisciplinary research in political geography, diplomacy and international relations.

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