A critical look at German administrative and colonial law

April 20, 2023

The connection between German administrative law and historical colonial law has so far received little scholarly attention, despite the fact that both fields developed during the same period and many issues to be regulated differed only in geographical details. Indeed, in many cases, the conceptual solutions to the issues arising originated from the same pen. These parallels are now being explored by Gwinyai Machona, the current holder of the Helmut Coing Fellowship.

Despite the personal, conceptual and spatio-temporal similarities in the emergence of the administrative and colonial law, their goals differed, as do the scholarly narratives on them. While the emergence of administrative law is seen as a liberal project aimed at the formation of a modern constitutional state, leading to a strengthening of individual rights, colonial law is interpreted as having served to maintain a façade and legitimise relations of exploitation and subjugation. Gwinyai Machona’s work questions the assumption of the two fields’ opposing directions, but in order to differentiate, not to deny, it.

Machona's project has occasionally met with scepticism from researchers who suspect that his work is based on normative assumptions that undermine the scholarly nature of his research question. According to Machona, these doubts can in most cases be dispelled in discussions by pointing out historical facts. At the same time, the objections confirm his interest in reflecting on connections whose examination is often instinctively rejected by current exponents of the discipline, either due to the current lack of scholarship on the two fields’ shared history or out of a wish to protect the discipline from associations with Germany’s dark colonial past.


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