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An old stamp with an image of Charles Darwin

Evolution Against Empire

Congratulations to Dr. Inder Marwah on being awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant for his project "Evolution Against Empire."

Sep 21, 2018

The 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species marked a monumental shift in the history of science. Darwin’s influence was, however, far from contained to the natural sciences, as Origin – and the theories of evolution and natural selection that it advanced – re-shaped a wide range of 19th/20th century disciplines and fields of knowledge within the humanities and social sciences. Darwin’s currency also stretched well beyond the west, as evolutionary theory was taken up and integrated into in scientific, religious, humanistic and social-scientific discourses in China, Russia, the Middle East and India. And yet, despite Darwinian evolutionism’s decisive impacts in shaping the modern world, it has garnered little attention in the field of political theory, and still less in its application to non-western thinkers and contexts. 

Evolution Against Empire examines the ways in which non-European thinkers and activists drew on Darwinian evolutionism to resist imperialism, colonialism, and political domination at the turn of the 20th century. The project excavates the political thought of anti-imperialists that appealed to Darwinian theory and evolutionism to undermine the theoretical foundations and political practices of empire and colonialism. It asks: how did Darwinism and evolutionism provide a conceptual vocabulary for contesting imperialist claims concerning European civilization’s superiority? How did evolutionary theory shape colonized subjects’ understandings of progress – social, political and moral – beyond the condition of imperial domination? In what ways did Darwinian thinking shape, inform, inflect and become integrated with non-western bodies of knowledge in colonial peripheries across the globe? By examining the uptake of Darwinism and evolutionism in colonial contexts, the project contributes to a growing scholarship on empire and political theory, comparative political theory, and global intellectual history.


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

Insight Development Grants support research in its initial stages. The grants enable the development of new research questions, as well as experimentation with new methods, theoretical approaches and/or ideas. Funding is provided for short-term research development projects, of up to two years, proposed by individuals or teams.