Rethinking Britain and Europe after the End of Empire: Decolonisation in the Metropoles

Decolonisation was not a static process, with Europe’s (former) metropoles and their peoples ‘at home’ reacting to the end of empire ‘out there’. Instead, the loss of colonies translated into Europe’s cultures and sociopolitical realities as flows, ebbs, fluxes, and cultural refluxes, making decolonisation a process whose fluidity was pivotal – an aspect hitherto neglected in our understanding of the two decades that followed the Second World War. Popular imperialism surged and ‘empire’ gained greater currency across Europe’s cultures just as colonies began to seek and gain political independence. The colonial experience reverberated in former (or soon-to-be-former) metropoles in the form of afterlives in film, novels, artwork, colonial migrants, and under other guises. These surged, quiesced, appeared in new, and changed or resurfaced forms (new waves of migration, rediscovered memories of empire), suffusing already-changed metropoles in a successive, fluid, uneven process.

Dr Berny Sèbe argues decolonisation did not ‘happen’ at one point in time; rather, it marched on throughout, in the form of ebbs and flows of cultural exchanges between ex-colonies and metropoles in flux, influencing undulating cultures marked by shifting memories of the colonial past and its changing place in public debates.

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