Reconfiguring the Empire at Home

A Post/Decolonial Transformations Working Group Webinar

22 October 2020 (3.00–4.15pm)

About the Webinar

Chaired by Prof Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Sussex

Recent months in Britain have seen renewed attention be given to both state racism and the state’s reliance on the essential labour undertaken by racialised and/or migrant populations (bus drivers, doctors, nurses, cleaners). Situating our current moment within the afterlives of British Empire, this event offers us a chance to explore the linkages between state racism, the welfare state, labour and empire. 

Internalised Empire 
Dr Kathryn Medien, Open University

This talk will examine how internal borders within welfare institutions were conceptualised and resisted in 1980s Britain and asks what this might teach us about our current moment. In the 1980s, groups across Britain were organizing against the imposition of passport checks in schools, unemployment and housing offices and hospitals. Drawing out the linkages between internal passport controls here and colonial and apartheid regimes elsewhere, activists linked these controls to racialised empire. This talk explores these linkages and asks what the earlier demand for the abolition of passport checks might offer us today. 

The Imperial Health Service: After the Clapping has Stopped 
Dr John Narayan, Kings College London

The recent Covid-19 Pandemic has seemingly revealed the high levels of BAME and/or migrant labour that underpins the labour force in the National Health Service. Indeed, part of the collective clapping on Thursdays was aimed at the sacrifice of migrant workers in the NHS. Of course, it is not lost on many that took place in the midst of the implementation of the UK government’s new points-based immigration system and the eventuality that is Brexit. In this talk I want to examine parts of what we can define as the Imperial Health Service – where the NHS partly functions upon and through extracting workers from the Global South and in particular former colonies. In turn I want to juxtapose these forms of extraction with debates about what we mean by ‘national health service’ and immigration debates that centre on who is entitled to access to such a service. In turn –I want to examine how these questions figure in debates about the colonial history and colonial debts of Britain? These questions appear ever prescient as the clapping has seemingly stopped. 

Kathryn Medien is a Lecturer in Sociology at The Open University. John Narayan is a Lecturer in European and International Studies at King’s College London. Gurminder K Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex.