Actualité scientifique


"Access to Higher Education in European Colonial Empires: Citizenship, Social Structures, and Globalization

Special Issue Editors

Gaële Goastellec, email:, website:
Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lausanne, Bâtiment Geopolis 5608, 1015 Lausanne
Interests: historical comparative sociology; higher education; globalization

Nicolas Bancel, email:, website:

Wikipedia :
Institute of Sport Sciences/Institute of Political Sciences, Bâtiment Synathlon 3314, 1015
Interests: history of colonization and postcolonialization; cultural history; globalization

Special Issue Information:

In contemporary societies, access to higher education is largely dependent upon social
characteristics: gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, etc., which combine to produce variable
opportunities to study. All in all, the same social characteristics tend to be associated with the
same hierarchization of access opportunities, albeit with local specificities. How did this
By digging into the uses of higher education in European colonial empires, this Special Issue
proposes to test the hypothesis that higher education has contributed to the globalization
process by connecting some fractions of the social structures of the colonized, and colonizers,
through the intersection of higher education access policies and citizenship policies.

Over the last decades, research has shown the colonial society to be at the encounter of the
metropolitan social structure and the colonized society’s social structure. The new social
organization produced results from transactions between various levels of government and
various social groups. In this process, access to higher education plays a key role, as its
interactions with citizenship help us understand the mechanisms that foster changes in social
structure, in particular, in terms of the constitution of indigenous social fractions close to the
culture of the dominant, and also with men from specific metropolis’ social groups moving to
the colonized territories for study purposes. Indeed, although at different times of the European
empire’s respective history, e.g., very early on in the Spanish empire, much later on in the
French and British ones, higher education, through the institutions developed in the colonized
territories as much as those in the metropolis, has served the production of an elite group that
includes the rulers’ administration. Higher education thus forms a salient constituent of each
empire’s global policy. This Special Issue aims at bringing together research exploring these
dimensions. We are thus interested in the identification of the various groups, including but
not exclusively indigenous, that have gone through higher education both with regard to the
type of citizenship held before and after accessing higher education

The concept of citizenship needs to be clarified here. In colonial empires, citizenship refers to
the legal, administrative, and political formalization of a status, that of citizen, to which a certain
number of recognized rights, particularly political rights, are attached. In Algeria, for example,
the status of citizen is reserved for the population of French origin, Algerians being Muslim
subjects. Access to full citizenship varies between and within Empires. Furthermore, the
colonial powers all established specific statuses for their populations (nationals, indigenous,
mestizo, etc.), but citizenship status including political rights equal to those of nationals was
only extended to "indigenous" people, in some cases, at the end of decolonization. The question
of the different statuses applied in the colonies is well studied in the field of historiography.
Adopting a sociological perspective, we propose not to restrict the use of the term citizenship
to the colonial application of the term—to be or not to be considered a citizen of the empire—
but to adopt a comprehensive definition of the concept to question the different types of rights
available to different groups of individuals. Citizenship is thus seen as “a collection of rights
and obligations which give individuals a formal legal identity.” (Turner, 1997, p.4).
Following Marshall (1950, 2009), we suggest to approach citizenship as three-dimensional. It
combines individual rights in different areas of social life, and this combination varies
according to time and place. The civil element reflects the rights before the law, i.e., the legal
bonds linking an individual to a political territory, hence the legal rights by which individuals
are recognized by governing authorities. With regard to the opportunities to access, this civil
element can be analyzed twofold: On the one hand, access to higher education is variably
comprehended in these legal rights depending on social groups and the periods explored. This
can be documented by analyzing the set of rules organizing admission to higher education,
whether at each university level or at the level of empire higher education policy. Who formally
has the right to access which institution accounts for the civil element. On the other hand, it can
also be explored more broadly by questioning the right to own property, to conclude contracts,
and to be parties in front of the court. At this level, it interrogates the positioning of each
individual in the general legal framework and the type of resources it allows for, which can
illuminate opportunities to access university. We hypothesize the possibility of antagonisms
within the civil element with, in some cases, the resources made available through the legal
rights allowing some individuals to bypass a formal interdiction to access universities expressed
in the higher education regulation. The political element characterizes the “right to participate
in the exercise of political power”, what goes from the possibility to hold offices to the right to
vote. Historically, individuals with a university education have been at an advantage in terms
of accessing the right to exercise political power. This was the case during the Middle Ages,
when obtaining a town citizenship was often long and demanding for a foreigner involving, for
example, residing in the city for ten years, acquiring real estate, staying a significant part of the
year, obtaining approval from the city council, etc., and it was easier for "knowledgeable
people" of some professions (Gilli, 1999). The same has been observed for graduate women in
the beginning of the 20th century, some European countries offering them a right to vote that
was then denied to all other women. As for the social element, it comprehends the right to
benefit from collective economic resources and institutions (such as education). It can be
documented by analyzing the different types of institutions available to the various social
groups, including different sorts of educational funding.

As we can see, these three citizenship dimensions are not completely separated in reality, with
civil, political, and social rights intersecting. However, they offer an interesting framework with
which to analyze the instrumentation of access to higher education in the European colonial
empires, as they allow one to simultaneously grasp the effect of different life domains’
organization on access and the multidimensional interactions between public authorities and
university beneficiaries. The rules and instruments of access result from continuous social
processes of negotiation in specific configurations of rulers and social groups. In the case of
European colonial empires, it implies the construction of an original grammar of citizenship
lying at the intersection of the local and metropolitan social structures. Such grammars have
been documented by empirical evidence (Saada, 2003, 2017; Karatani, 2003, Burbank, Cooper,
2008; Jézéquel, 2007, Cooper, 2014, Mkhize, 2015, etc.). Because rights and obligations are
differently allocated to the various social groups, citizenship can be comprehended as a
mechanism of social closure. The grammar of citizenship produced through laws and practices
runs through race/ethnicity, gender, and class divisions (Fargues, Winter, 2019). Especially,
“Native” employees of the colonial state, i.e., administrators/public servants, can be analyzed
as a “frontier group” disrupting “the definition of the colonial dualities of the subject and the
citizen, the indigenous and the European, the colonized and the colonizer” (Jézéquel, 2007,
p.4). This declination relies on how the relationship between “race” and citizenship is addressed
(Saada, 2007), including with regard to race mixing. Education plays an important role in this
process, as a medium of access and legitimation of such status.

If a lot of studies exists on higher education in colonial empires, these tend to be relatively
fragmented, and disconnected from the other major issue of the empires’ policies, namely
citizenship policies. To overcome this limitation, for this Special Issue, we are especially
interested in articles which take citizenship as a central variable and consider it as endogenous
to access dynamics. How do citizenship policies, defined as the system of rights differentiation
and the categorization of the individuals it comprehends, express the connection between the
colonizers and the different social fractions of the colonized? How do higher education access
policies and citizenship policies intersect?

Opportunities and aspirations to study depend on the civil, political, and social rights variably
associated with the different social groups, while university degrees sometimes support the
enlargement of the individual’s rights. Research documenting the interactions between social
stratification, citizenship policies, access rules, and student’s social characteristics, as well

as their evolution over time, are especially welcome. This includes research on students’
circulations, as an individuals’ circulations represent an important process in the articulation
of access and citizenship: some marginalized groups in their country could study abroad and
improve their citizenship in return, both between the metropolis and colonized territories and
vice versa. The links between transformations in citizenship and the political evolution of the
colonial literate elites towards anticolonialism can also be analyzed.

To sum up, this Special Issue calls for articles researching the relationship between higher
education access policies and citizenship policies in European colonial empires, whatever the
empire or the period analyzed. All social science discipline perspectives are welcome (history,
sociology, political sciences, etc.), as well as all level of analysis, from the reconstitution of
individual trajectories to macro-quantitative analysis, including policy analysis, institutional
analysis, network analysis, etc. Research can focus on metropolitan universities (often the first
training institution for “indigenous elites”) as well as universities in the colonized territories
(including training institutions for metropolitan men of some specific social groups, as was the
case in the Spanish empire), on individual higher education institutions, or on general empire
policies. We expect the overall picture of the Special Issue to offer a state of the art allowing
for a better understanding of the historical role played by the intersection of higher education
access policies and citizenship policies in the globalization process by bringing together diverse
levels and methods of analysis.

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Keywords: citizenship policies; access policies; European colonial empires; social structures;
higher education; circulations; globalization

April 2020: call diffusion
30th June 2020: reception of the proposals (abstracts)
30th November 2020 : reception of the first versions of the articles + peer-reviewing
December–January 2021: communication with authors for second version
End of February 2021 : reception of final versions
April 2021: publication of the full Special Issue