The Government of Difference Political Imagination in the Portuguese Empire (1496-1961)

O Governo da Diferença. Imaginários Políticos no Império Português (1496-1961).

Principal Investigator: Ângela Barreto Xavier (ICS-UL).

Sponsor: FCT. Reference: PTDC/HIS-HIS/104640/2008.


This project examined how, between 1496 (royal decree that expelled the Jewish from the Portuguese kingdom) and 1961 (the abolishment of the Estatuto político, civil e criminal dos indígenas de Angola e Moçambique), the problems related with the government of the different populations of the Portuguese empire were discussed. The answers to these problems resulted in a set of proposals that have oscillated between inclusive and exclusive solutions. Despite the fact that they have changed throughout time and that some political projects aimed at dissolving the difference, these solutions always entailed forms of distinction between ‘colonizers’ and ‘colonized’. Illustrations of these were the legal and political universalism associated with the conversion to Christianity or the political culture of Enlightenment, when the natural equality of mankind was defended and, consequently, the equality of political rights. A similar tension stays behind the idea of mission civilisatrice, which tried to recover the virtues of natural equality, entailing, at the same time, forms of delaying the attribution of the status of equal. From 19th century onwards, the emergent idea of race and the natural differences that derived from it challenged these trends, justifying the option for the Estatuto politico (…) dos indigenas, of 1926. After the 2nd World War, the racist faith and policies would be questioned by luso-tropicalism and the belief on the special ability of the Portuguese to mix with other populations.