Colonial elites have been an indispensable instrument of alien powers to maintain their grip over indigenous populations, while establishing political and economic control over foreign territories and possessions. More often than not, a class of middlemen acting as a “buffer” between the colonial elite and indigenous populations has emerged in empire formation. The Portuguese enterprise in the East, for instance, was notorious for accommodating middlemen within its power structure – and largely depending on them for commercial and administrative efficiency – while creating the conditions for the latter to become part of its elite. The most notable example of this arrangement is the Eurasian population rooted in Macau – known as the Macanese people – and historically associated with imperial and transitional mobility.
The papers gathered in this panel enquire the paths of different luso-descent Eurasians who found their ways of establishment and recognition – in the sense ascribed by Pierre Bourdieu – within elites in different locations in Asia, namely, Macau, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Owing to their capacity to mobilise a set of capitals – cultural, economic, social – prominent individuals and families are imbued with influence which confer them symbolic power, that is, the power of obtaining recognition in their field of action. The panel explores how Eurasians have deployed and mobilised different forms of capital in their rapport and service to the Crown, regional Kingdom or late colonial powers, as they operated as connectors between two worlds, the centre and the periphery, but also across imperial possessions.
While entertaining both a local and a global relationship to place, Eurasians’ symbolic power have produced different perceptions of and actual political ownership in various localities – often transfigured in variegated notions of citizenship, ethnicity and identification, which some of the papers explore here. While touching upon the role of Eurasian elite members in connecting national powers, and the centre and the periphery in daily and localised practice, this panel also proposes to study connections generated and entertained among multiple sites, exploring elite mobility across imperial possessions. It ultimately seeks to explore how different patterns of mobility have shaped colonial spaces and the reality of transnational elites.