Telling the truth about empire? A note on methodology

 Telling the truth about empire? A note on methodology

In the fourth talk for the 'Rethinking Interpretive Methods" series, hosted by the Interpretation, Method and Critique Network at ANU, April Biccum will present on: "Telling the truth about empire? The contribution of a critical interpretivist approach". 

In the last few decades empire has resurfaced in political science as an analytical category.  In addition, world historical comparative studies of empire have emerged from a new trend in ‘global history’.  Moreover, in the last 24 months, there have been two academic controversies and a global social movement that are connected by their intention to ‘tell the truth’ about colonialism, and each in their respective ways raise the question of methodology in the endeavour without directing themselves explicitly to the question of empire. Through comparison of approaches in political science, history and archaeology, this paper engages directly the question of empire through the question of methodology.  My argument is that the interpretivist approach, resting an understanding of social ontology as rooted in the human capability to construct multiple political arrangements as a result of human capability for language meaning and communication is the more methodologically robust, principally because it uncovers that the endeavour is beset by unresolvable methodological problems. The interpretivist approach shows that in making empire an object of inquiry or site of investigation all the myths of the Euro-Atlantic social sciences are debunked.  I argue that the study of empire requires multiple skill sets and cross disciplinary partnerships. I argue that study of empire, as a particular form of politics, is not just a social scientific question, it is an ethical normative question.   I will argue that it is politically necessary for critical interpretivist scholarship to broach the question of empire and its methodological problems if it is to contribute to its transcendence.

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For more information on the talks or the IMC, write to the convenors: April Biccum and Nick Cheesman 

Date & time

Fri 19 Nov 2021, 12–1pm



April Biccum (ANU)

Event series


Nick Cheesman


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