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Taming the Imperial Imagination
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    Manchanda, Nivi 2017. Rendering Afghanistan legible: Borders, frontiers and the ‘state’ of Afghanistan. Politics, Vol. 37, Issue. 4, p. 386.

    Bayly, Martin J. 2015. Imperial ontological (in)security: ‘Buffer states’, International Relations and the case of Anglo-Afghan relations, 1808–1878. European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 21, Issue. 4, p. 816.

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Book description

Taming the Imperial Imagination marks a novel intervention into the debate on empire and international relations, and offers a new perspective on nineteenth-century Anglo-Afghan relations. Martin J. Bayly shows how, throughout the nineteenth century, the British Empire in India sought to understand and control its peripheries through the use of colonial knowledge. Addressing the fundamental question of what Afghanistan itself meant to the British at the time, he draws on extensive archival research to show how knowledge of Afghanistan was built, refined and warped by an evolving colonial state. This knowledge informed policy choices and cast Afghanistan in a separate legal and normative universe. Beginning with the disorganised exploits of nineteenth-century explorers and ending with the cold strategic logic of the militarised 'scientific frontier', this book tracks the nineteenth-century origins of contemporary policy 'expertise' and the forms of knowledge that inform interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere today.


'Focusing on the shifting parameters of 'knowledge communities', this impressive book situates Afghanistan and the Afghan frontier in a multi-layered and evolving set of British Imperial and colonial policies and practices during the nineteenth century. It is essential reading for all students of modern Afghanistan and for those concerned with colonial knowledge formations and the history of imperialism.’

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi - James Madison University, Virginia

‘According to Edward Said, 'From travelers’ tales … colonies were created'. In recent years scholars have explored the details of the dialectical relationship between colonial knowledge and imperial policy. In Taming the Imperial Imagination, Martin Bayly continues the work begun by Christopher Bayly on British information gathering in India, pushing the investigation north of the Durand Line into Afghanistan. Bayly reconstructs the images of Afghanistan upon which British officials drew in crafting their policy decisions. After discussing the work of the founding figures, he tracks the emergence after 1830 of a more unified concept of the Afghan polity. This book is an important contribution to the histories of British imperialism and Anglo-Afghan relations and to the re-historicization of the international relations discipline.’

George Steinmetz - Charles Tilly Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

'Bayly, in a single volume, demolishes powerful self-fulfilling myths. Speaking to multiple audiences with interests across the historical and thematic spectrum, this book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand why Afghanistan looks the way it does in 2017, and more importantly, why many view it the way they do.'

Avinash Paliwal Source: International Affairs

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