Modern European colonialism was not all of a piece: its essential feature was the foreign rule of Asian and African societies in which socio-cultural institutions were conserved while the administrative apex was monopolised by a white elite. But techniques of rule varied greatly, as did their impact on indigenous society and the economic change they initiated. Factors affecting the pace and trajectory of change included the relative strength of settler and expatriate minorities, the links forged between the colony and international economy, and the sheer duration of the colonial period. Colonial populations had rarely been ethnically and religiously homogeneous before the European conquests, and colonial rule in Africa and South-East Asia exaggerated their segmentary character by encouraging the influx of non-European traders, shopkeepers and moneylenders, contract labourers and plantation workers, small entrepreneurs in the rice-milling and sugar-refining trades, and so on. Modern colonies were, consequently, ‘plural’ societies, and though pluralism did not extend to the autocratic political sphere, it had economic, communal and juridical dimensions which insulated vertical groups (usually defined by ethnicity) from each other.
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