Purifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia
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Purifying Empire explores the material, cultural and moral fragmentation of the boundaries of imperial and colonial rule in the British Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It charts how a particular bio-political project, namely the drive to regulate the obscene in late nineteenth-century Britain, was transformed from a national into a global and imperial venture and then re-localized in two different colonial contexts, India and Australia, to serve decidedly different ends. While a considerable body of work has demonstrated both the role of empire in shaping moral regulatory projects in Britain and their adaptation, transformation and, at times, rejection in colonial contexts, this book illustrates that it is in fact only through a comparative and transnational framework that it is possible to elucidate both the temporalist nature of colonialism and the political, racial and moral contradictions that sustained imperial and colonial regimes.
February 1890, 547–83/October 1890, Public, A, Home Department, NAI. A. E. Boyd to Secretary, Central Board of Revenue, 28 October 1927, R. Dis. 1271/ Cust 27, Customs Duties, Central Board of Revenue, NAI. Note by P. C. Bamford, Director of Criminal Intelligence, n.d., 597/27, Judicial, Home Department, NAI. See also D. Dis. 1040/Cust 25, Customs Duties, Central Board of Revenue, NAI. The 1856 Act to Prevent the Sale or Exposure of Obscene Books and Pictures included an exception that ‘Nothing
obscenity serves to reveal, since ‘the medico-moral concern for . . . boundaries, literary, social, and personal, was imbricated within a middle-class ideology that feared contamination of the treasured cultural body’, obscenity, in contrast to blasphemy and sedition, came to be viewed as a social problem – one that needed regulating through both disciplinary means, such as moral reform organizations, and governmental methods, 13 14 15 To take an example from the late nineteenth century, the
addition to ignoring the considerable support the bill received outside parliament (which not only made Campbell persevere with the bill, but made it impossible for parliament to drop it), such attention has in fact overlooked what was really at issue in debates over the bill, namely a two-fold anxiety over the governmentalization of the moral realm and the governmentalization of the state. Modelled on legislation to regulate gaming houses and inspired by the passage of an Act to restrict the
turn expanded such exclusionary practices to include individuals ‘suffering from any serious physical incapacity, such as blindness, loss of limbs, epilepsy, phthisis, consumption, or tuberculosis in any form’. By the First World War efforts were being made to weed out such ‘defectives’ before they reached Australia by requiring ships’ masters and medical officers, as well as medical officers at the point of departure, to certify to the health, or lack thereof, of their passengers. Immigration
people should have read, but would not’), a tendency that encouraged the Customs Department in the 1920s to begin to shift some of the increasingly onerous burden for regulating imported publications to booksellers.193 Rather than resisting such a burden, Australian booksellers assumed it with relative equanimity – even when, in 1934, the Customs Department sent a letter to all known importers of foreign magazines reminding them about the department’s regulation concerning ‘the importation of a