Imperialism vs Colonialism

Imperialism vs Colonialism

Q. How do imperialism and colonialism differ in their approaches to controlling other territories?


The word “colonialism” comes from the Latin “colonus,” meaning “farmer,” and “colonia,” meaning “farm” or “settlement.” The Romans used “colonia” for areas where Roman citizens settled in conquered lands.

These places were not just farms but also military or trade bases to control areas and spread Roman power.

Later, “colonialism” became about countries taking over and controlling others, especially when European countries started colonies worldwide in the 15th century. The term means setting up new communities or colonies in other lands and ruling them.

Colonialism refers to the practice of one country or group of people establishing and maintaining political and economic control over another territory, often located far from the colonizing power.

It typically involves the exploitation of the colonized territory’s resources, the labor force, and often the imposition of the colonizer’s culture, language, and legal system.

Colonialism has been a significant and often controversial phenomenon throughout history, with various forms and motivations.

Origins of Colonialism

Colonialism has ancient roots, dating back to civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, who established colonies in different parts of the Mediterranean and beyond. 

However, the more modern era of colonialism is often associated with the Age of Exploration and the European powers, particularly Spain and Portugal, discovering new trade routes to the Asian spice markets.

When Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, it began a new era of European exploration and conquest.

Boehmer: He defines colonialism as a specific form of cultural exploitation that evolved with Europe’s expansion over the last 400 years. She defines colonialism in her book Colonial and Postcolonial Literature.

The settlement of territories, resource exploitation, and governance of indigenous inhabitants of the occupied land.

Colonialism has a connection with two other terms, ‘capitalism’ and ‘imperialism’.


Ania Loomba: According to her, capitalism is defined in the context of its relationship with colonialism. Loomba suggests that:

Colonialism was the midwife that assisted the birth of European capitalism, or that without colonial expansion, the transition to capitalism could not have taken place in Europe.

This definition underscores the integral role colonialism played in developing and expanding capitalism, particularly European capitalism.

It highlights how European nations’ economic structures and growth were significantly fueled by the resources, labor, and markets obtained through colonial ventures.

Colonialism Forms

In his book “The Intimate Enemy,” Ashish Nandy identifies two distinct forms of colonization:

1- Physical Conquest of Territories: This form is the more apparent and direct aspect of colonialism. It involves the overt, often violent takeover of lands and the subjugation of their inhabitants.

This mode of colonization is characterized by its explicit use of force and the clear intention of economic and territorial gain.

2- Colonization of Minds, Selves, and Cultures: Nandy describes this second form as more insidious and less visible. It involves the imposition of the colonizer’s values, beliefs, and ways of thinking onto the colonized. 

The first form, the physical conquest of territories, is indeed violent. It’s characterized by the direct and forceful takeover of lands and the subjugation of their peoples, often involving military action and overt displays of power.

The second form, the colonization of minds, selves, and cultures, can be described as more rational or subtle in nature. This form doesn’t rely on physical force; instead, it involves the cultural and psychological domination of the colonized. 

It’s about influencing and reshaping the beliefs, values, and identities of the colonized people to align with those of the colonizer, often through means such as education, media, and the imposition of new societal norms.

This form of colonization operates on a more intellectual and ideological level, making it less visibly aggressive but deeply impactful in the long run.

Motivations Behind Colonialism

The motivations behind colonialism were multifaceted, often summarized by the phrase “Gold, God, and Glory”:

Economic Gain (Gold): European countries wanted to make money. They went looking for gold and other valuable things. They also wanted to grow crops like sugar and cotton that they could not grow at home. Colonies were new places to sell their products, too.

Religious Conversion (God): The spread of Christianity was a driving force for many European colonizers, who saw it as their duty to spread their religion.

Political and Military Power (Glory): Having colonies was a sign of a country’s strength. Controlling more land meant more power and respect in the world. Colonies could also serve as bases for armies and navies to protect the country’s interests.

Colonial Practices

Colonial powers used different ways to control and benefit from their colonies:

  • Settlement: Europeans moved to new lands and started farms, towns, and governments like back home. Places like North America and Australia saw lots of Europeans settling down.
  • Resource Extraction: In Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, Europeans focused more on taking valuable resources like minerals and spices. They also made the local people work for them, often in harsh conditions.
  • Trade Control: Sometimes, Europeans controlled trade instead of fully taking over. They made agreements that let them dominate trade in certain areas. They influenced local leaders to get special treatment.
  • Forced Labor: Many colonies had systems where the local people were forced to work on European-owned farms and mines. It often replaced their traditional ways of life.
  • Cultural Change: Europeans pushed their language, religion, and ways of life onto the people in the colonies, which changed local cultures a lot.


Decolonization is when colonies became independent from the countries that controlled them. After World War II, many places in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere wanted to govern themselves and not be ruled by European powers anymore. They were tired of being taken advantage of and wanted their freedom.

People in these colonies started to stand up for themselves. They protested and sometimes even fought to kick out the European rulers.

This push for freedom happened when the world was changing a lot. Many leaders and countries thought that colonialism was wrong and that everyone had the right to be independent.

Also, after the war, the European countries were weaker and did not have the power or money to keep their colonies under control.

There were also new international groups like the United Nations that supported countries’ rights to independence.

So, one by one, colonies started to become independent countries. It happened in different ways—some peacefully, some after much struggle.

However, in the end, it meant that the people in these new countries could make their own decisions and build their futures.


An empire is a large political structure where one state or country controls multiple territories. The state with power is called the mother country, and the lands it controls are called colonies.

An empire is like a big group of lands ruled by one influential leader or government. This leader can be a king, queen, or government official.


Imperialism is derived from the Latin word “imperium,” meaning to command. It refers to how one country asserts power over another. This can be through settlement, direct political control (sovereignty), or indirect mechanisms.

Historically, it has been associated with the Western dominance of the 19th and 20th centuries, motivated by state policy, ideology, and financial reasons.

Edward Said: He defined imperialism as:

The practice and attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory. 

Edward Said’s Perspective: Said expands the definition of imperialism beyond the traditional scope. He views it as a system characterized by a dominant imperial center and a subordinate periphery.

Edward Said sees imperialism as a system with a dominant country (the imperial center) and a subordinate one (the periphery).

He believes imperialism is about controlling and influencing these places, not just through government actions but also through cultural and ideological ways. It means the powerful country shapes how people think and act in the other country.

Imperialism is the process of establishing and maintaining an empire. It is when a country extends its power by acquiring territories or influencing other countries through diplomacy or military force.

In imperialism, the powerful country takes control over other areas, usually to take their resources or to have more political power.

It can happen through military force, or sometimes, the powerful country can have so much influence over the weaker one that it can control it without force.

Historically, European countries like Britain and France had empires with colonies worldwide. They would take valuable things like spices, gold, or labor from these places.

Imperialism vs Colonialism

It refers to one country taking political and economic control over another, often distant, territory. A broad concept of extending a country’s influence and control over other nations or regions
It involves creating colonies where settlers from the colonizing nation live permanently. It does not always involve settling new territories but can include economic, military, or political control.
Colonizers directly governed colonies by officials who imposed their own laws, culture, and administrative systems. Influence can be through economic means like trade agreements, financial control, or military might, often without direct governance.
It leads to significant changes in the culture, social structures, and demographics of the colonized area due to the imposition of the colonizer’s culture and systems. It can result in establishing client states, puppet governments, or spheres of influence, exerting control without formal colonization.
The main aim is to extract resources, labor, and economic benefits from the colony for the colonizer’s advantage. Methods of control vary and can include establishing dominance through military threat or force, economic dependency, or political manipulation, not just for resource extraction but for broader strategic and geopolitical interests.
Often resulted in the exploitation and sometimes near-extermination of indigenous populations, as well as the transatlantic slave trade and other forms of forced migration. Imperialism often led to the spread of a dominant power’s language, culture, and values, sometimes referred to as cultural imperialism.
Colonial powers often justified their expansion with notions of racial superiority and civilizing missions, claiming they were bringing enlightenment and progress to “Brutal” peoples. While imperialism did not always involve colonization. It still often carried an attitude of superiority, with the imperial power imposing its will.

Leave a comment