Company Sovereigns, Private Violence and Colonialism

Authored by: Andrew Phillips

Routledge Handbook of Private Security Studies

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415729352
eBook ISBN: 9781315850986
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter analyses the central role company sovereigns – the most important practitioners of non-state violence during the colonial era – played in driving Western colonial expansion. The chapter begins with a conceptual overview that problematizes the dichotomy between public and private violence, introduces company sovereigns, and distinguishes them from other forms of state and non-state colonial violence. I then define company sovereigns more comprehensively, and trace their evolution from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. This encompasses their initial role as pioneers of European imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Americas; their revival during the ‘new imperialism’ of the late nineteenth century; and their delegitimation and abolition in the twentieth century. The final section argues not only that international relations scholars should acknowledge company sovereigns as much as sovereign states as the true vanguards of the spread of a European-dominated global colonial order, but also that their role is crucial to contextualize and comprehend the contemporary re-emergence of private international violence.

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