Skip to main content


By 25/09/2022Janeiro 6th, 2023No Comments

By João Figueiredo

‘Colonialism is a practice of domination’ (Kohn and Kavita, 2017) that involves the transfer of a populational group from a metropole or a centre to a colony or periphery. For analytical purposes, it is possible to classify concrete historical instances of colonialism according to their era (e.g., classical, medieval, early modern, modern periods) and the major types of colonization that they rested on (e.g., settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, trade colonialism, and internal or surrogate colonialism). The resulting typology immediately foregrounds two defining characteristics of this complex socio-political phenomena: 1) colonialism is not bound to any specific time and/or culture; 2) colonialism always relies on a populational group controlling the land and/or resources that originally belong to another. Although there is no stable academic consensus about the best way to distinguish between colonialism and imperialism, by focusing on these two characteristics it is possible to propose a heuristic demarcation between the two concepts that is adequate to tackle the Portuguese context. Thus, pragmatically we can claim that colonialism shares its transhistorical nature with imperialism, while distinguishing itself from imperialism because its focus always rests on economic exploitation and settlement instead of military conquest, religious conversion, and political sovereignty. Working with this hypothesis, we can make the following observations about the recent history of Portuguese colonialism: a) the birth of modern Portuguese colonialism coincided with the rise of ethnonationalism, when the economic interests of the liberal elites of the metropole became the main drive of Portuguese imperialism, subduing old feudal, military, and religious interests; b) the Third Portuguese Empire (1820-1975) was composed of settler colonies (Angola, Mozambique), exploitation colonies (Saint Thomas and Prince), trade colonies (East-Timor, Guinea-Bissau), and surrogate colonies (Cape Verde, Goa, Macau). Finally, it is relevant to mention that, during the modern period, Portuguese liberal elites persuaded the masses to partake in market driven colonial endeavours by repurposing and disseminating older, emotionally charged, imperialist myths. Valentim Alexandre identifies two of these mythic narratives, the ‘myth of the sacred inheritance’ and the ‘Eldorado myth’. According to him, they were instrumental in providing the ideological scaffolding of the Third Portuguese Empire (c. 1820-1975). Other scholars have focused on the ‘Lusotropical’ myth (1852-1975) and the ‘civilizing mission’ myth.

Related References

Abernathy, David B. 2001. The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Alexandre, Valentim. 1979. Origens Do Colonialism Português Moderno (1822-1891). Lisbon: Sá da Costa.
1995. “A África No Imaginário Político Português (Séculos XIX-XX).” Penélope: Revista de História e Ciências Sociais 15: 39–52.
1998. “A Questão Colonial No Portugal Oitocentista.” In Nova História Da Expansão Portuguesa. O Império Africano 1825-1890, edited by Valentim Alexandre and Jill Dias. Lisbon: Editorial Estampa.
1999. Questão Nacional e Questão Colonial Em Oliveira Martins. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.
2000. Velho Brasil. Novas Áfricas. Portugal e o Império (1808-1975). Oporto: Afrontamento.
2004. “O Império Português (1825-1890): Ideologia e Economia.” Análise Social 38: 959–79.
2006. “Traumas Do Império. História, Memória e Identidade Nacional’, , 9-10 (2006), 23-41.” Cadernos de Estudos Africanos 9–10 (1): 23–40.
2017. Contra o Vento: Portugal, o Império e a Maré Anticolonial (1945-1960). Lisbon: Temas e Debates.
Anderson, Warwick, Ricardo Roque, and Ricardo Ventura Santos, eds. 2019. Luso-Tropicalism and Its Discontents: The Making and Unmaking of Racial Excepcionalism. New York: Berghanh Books.
Bandeira Jerónimo, Miguel. 2010. Livros Brancos, Corpos e Almas Negras: A “Missão Civilizadora” Do Colonialismo Português. Lisbon: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.
2015. The “Civilising Mission” of Portuguese Colonialism, 1870-1930. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Bates, Zach, and Ken Macmillan. 2021. “Ideologies of Colonization.” In Oxford Bibliographies.
Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, ed. 2018. Entangled Empires: The Anglo-Iberian Atlantic, 1500–1830. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Castelo, Cláudia. 1999. O Modo Português de Estar No Mundo»: Luso-Tropicalismo e Ideologia Colonial Portuguesa (1933-1961). Oporto: Edições Afrontamento.
2008. “O Outro No Labirinto Imperial: Orientalismo e Luso-Tropicalismo.” In Globalização No Divã, edited by Ruy Blanes, Renato Carmo, and Daniel Melo, 295–315. Lisbon: Tinta-da-China.
Curto, Diogo Ramada. 2009. Cultura Imperial e Projetos Coloniais (Séculos XV a XVIII). Campinas: Unicamp.
Elliott, John H. 2006. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Hart, Jonathan. 2008. Empires and Colonies. Cambridge: Polity.
Kohn, Margaret, and Reddy Kavita. 2017. “Colonialism.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Krause, Thiago, and Pedro Cardim. n.d. “Colonial Governance in the Atlantic World.” In Oxford Bibliographies.
Lachenicht, Susanne. 2019. “Religion and Colonization.” In Oxford Bibliographies.
Martins, Oliveira. 1953a. O Brasil e as Colónias Portuguesas. Lisbon: Guimarães & C.a Editores.
1953b. Portugal Em África. Lisbon: Guimarães & C.a Editores.
Nowell, Charles E. 2020. “Western Colonialism.” In Britannica.
Ordinas, Eva Botella. 2021. “Colonialism and Postcolonialism.” In Oxford Bibliographies.
Paquette, Gabriel. 2019. The European Seaborne Empires: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Age of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Cite this entry as:

Figueiredo, João. 2022. ‘Colonialism’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário