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Intellectual of Empire: Eric Dutton and Hegemony in British Africa

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This essay examines the career of Eric Dutton in five British African colonies from 1919 to 1952, with case studies of his work in Lusaka and Zanzibar. In analyzing Dutton's career, I use a Gramscian conception of the role of intellectuals in creating colonial hegemony, against the backdrop of recent research on the relationship of geography to colonial discourse. Dutton worked and corresponded with key players in Britain's African empire. He was a major force behind early urban-planning programs in East and Central Africa and author of four geographical books. Permanently disabled by war wounds, he was also permanently infatuated with the moral rightness of British imperial culture. A concern for geography's professional relationship with, and the geographical legacy of, colonialism has emerged in recent scholarship on Africa, largely through studies of travel writing, fiction, and nineteenth- or early twentieth-century exploration geography. Later scholar-officials like Dutton sought to apply their knowledge to the shaping of spaces to serve the Empire's direct and immediate needs in Africa, even while trying to win the hearts and minds of its subject peoples. Around Timothy Mitchell's (1988) concept of “enframing,” I build an analysis of the spatial projects with which Dutton is most associated and show how Lusaka and Zanzibar were enframed by his plans. Through his publications and correspondences, as well as his seemingly omnipresent service, Dutton has an important legacy that has neither been articulated nor analyzed, one which points to the importance of contextualized biography for analyses of colonial discourse. I argue here for seeing Dutton as an intellectual in the service of colonial hegemony and its enframing spatial discourse, although the character of his agency exemplifies why that attempted hegemony failed.

Keywords: Africa; colonialism; cultural hegemony

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of African and African-American Studies, and Department of Geography, University of Kansas

Publication date: March 1, 1998


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