‘Le centre de toutes choses’: Constructing and managing centralization on the Isle de France

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In their recent book The colonial machine, James McClellan III and François Regourd detail how ancien regime France’s government marshalled science in the service of colonial expansion. By focusing on the local and long distance struggles to make the Isle de France (present day Mauritius) a globally significant centre during the long eighteenth century, this essay suggests an alternative to McClellan and Regourd’s geography of metropolitan centre and colonial periphery, as well as their claim that the investigation of nature was tied to colonial expansion by state centralization. Rather than view centralization as a double process whereby a metropolitan state is able to dominate increasingly peripheral territory by concentrating power and the means of its production and management under state authority, this essay argues that centralization occurred in numerous places and involved the organization, pursuit and management of various sorts of accumulation, with geographically extensive consequences. The goal is to present centralization as historically open and multi-centred, inviting examination of both its local dynamics and long-distance entanglements from various perspectives, which in turn reveals the multi-centred dynamics of empire building and governance, including the organization and pursuit of natural inquiry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-342
JournalHistory of science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • METIS-306846
  • IR-92921


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