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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Phil-Threats (The Representation of External Threats in the Configuration of Spanish Power in the Philippines (1600-1800))


Challenging the traditional understanding of colonial rule in the early modern period, this project proposed a new perspective on how colonial systems operated, offering an innovative view on mechanisms of governance. Applying interdisciplinary methods, it emphasized political...


Challenging the traditional understanding of colonial rule in the early modern period, this project proposed a new perspective on how colonial systems operated, offering an innovative view on mechanisms of governance. Applying interdisciplinary methods, it emphasized political communication as key element in the creation and consolidation of a system of power. Focussing on the colonial Philippines (1600-1800), this project investigated external threats as a fundamental element of political communication. Thereby, it advanced along two analytic lines, investigating, first, forms of threat representation and second, their effects. Based on the sociological theory that external threats can foster the cohesion of a group, the hypothesis of this project was that specific representations of ‘enemies’ contributed to the long lasting success of the Spanish colonial system because it strengthened the unity within the Spanish system and helped to overcome internal tensions. To prove this effect, the project combined aspects of Systems Theory (N. Luhmann) and the method of Dispositif Analysis (M. Foucault), which until now have only been applied separately. Based on Systems Theory, a concept of threat-communication was defined as a first analytic step for the investigation. It was completed with the concept of a dispositif of threat, which includes not only discourses in texts, but also visual forms of representation, objects, and performative acts – giving the project a pronounced interdisciplinary feature. Overall, the results will contribute to a better understanding of the power structures of the Spanish colonial systems in particular and mechanisms of political communication in general.

Work performed

The work for the project included two main components. First, the progressing part comprised data gathering, data analysis, and the writing and editing of the manuscript of a book (soon to be published). For this part, the experienced researcher (ER) complemented his existing source material from previous stays in the Philippines, Mexico, and Spain with additional sources from the Archivo General de Indias, the Spanish National Library and Archives, and the Biblioteca Tomás Navarro Tomás (partially accessible online via PARES). The second component refers to ongoing activities, such as publications, presentations and networking. In the course of the project, the ER has published a monograph, a collective volume (11 chapters), a journal article, three book chapters, and a review. In addition, a collective volume (19 chapters), a special journal issue (19 articles), three journal articles (peer reviewed), two reviews, and an encyclopaedia article are already handed in or are in preparation. The ER has given 13 talks at congresses, workshops, and invited lectures. In addition, he has organized a presentation of his monograph, hosted a workshop, a seminar, and conference panel, as well as taught and organized a students’ trip (for a week’s duration) and written an online course element (MA level). He has chaired two panels, received a grant for a workshop from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, reviewed three journal articles and a book chapter, and managed a book series. Moreover, he has appeared in a German TV documentary and a radio programme, was a discussant at a roundtable in Mexico, and participated in the European Researchers’ Night in Madrid.

Final results

The results of the project added strong evidence to the proposed hypothesis regarding the effect of threat-communication for the internal cohesion of a group. From the late 16th to the early 19th century, data was presented that threat-communication took place on a permanent basis among the inhabitants of the Spanish dominated Philippines, contributing to an increased feeling of belonging, not sufficiently acknowledged in earlier research. The most dominant threat for the Spanish colonial government derived from the Christian-Muslim conflict that permeated the long history of Spaniards in the Philippines. The polarized representations of the ‘Moro enemy,’ referring to the sultanates of Brunei, Sulu, and Maguindanao, who conducted periodic slave raids at the coast lines of the Philippines, had the potential to unite the Spaniards and the natives. This unifying effect did not take place always or permanently but the presented data suggests that some sort of solidarity emerged, which contributed to a stronger cohesion and to a smaller disposition of the natives to resistance against colonial rule. Hence in addition to more traditional arguments of military superiority and strategic alliances, the project successfully proves that also factors of internal communication have to be considered when it comes to analysing the dominance of few people over many in a colonial situation, like in the Spanish colonial Philippines.
Besides its impact in the field of Philippine history and the history of the Spanish Empire, the results of the project will also enable future scholars and policy makers to better understand the phenomenon of external threats in their historical context and the importance of its communication. Having combined a set of interdisciplinary methodologies and presented a set of approaches to the topic, the project has contributed to understanding the ways in which external and internal politics interact and influence each other. Combining approaches from history, conflict sociology, systems theory, and political studies (above all securitization theory), the project offers an eclectic, theory guided, methodological ‘tool-kid’ for the use of scholars working on external threats. This tool kid was repeatedly presented and discussed in the course of the project and will be published in 2018 as introductory chapter of the volume Representations of External Threats in History (Medieval World to 19th Century), ed. Eberhard Crailsheim and María Dolores Elizalde, History of Warfare (Leiden, Boston, Mass., Brill, forthcoming).

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