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Disengaging from territory: Identity, the politics of contestation and domestic political structures. India & Britain (1929–1935), and Indonesia & East Timor (1975–1999)

Lena Tan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation project examines the role of identity, the politics of identity contestation and domestic political structures as part of the mechanisms and processes that may be involved in the decisions that states make regarding disengagement from their colonial and territorial possessions. Specifically, it focuses on the following questions: Why do intransigent states back down on previously entrenched territorial policies? And why, even when states decide to disengage from their territories, are some of these processes peaceful while others are scenes of prolonged, bloody and violent struggles? Focusing on Britain and its reaction to Indian calls for independence from 1929-1935, and Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor in 1999, this project argues that the processes and mechanisms involved in identity construction, maintenance and change can play an important role in how states approach the issue of territorial disengagement. At the same time, it also argues that the structure of a state's domestic political system may also affect the way in which disengagement takes places. Based on its empirical findings, this dissertation also argues that identities are constructed at both the domestic as well as the international levels, and against an Other, and through narratives. Further, identities do not acquire 'substance' once they have been constructed. Rather they are continually constituted by processes, relations and practices as identities are defined, recognized and validated in an actor's interaction with and in relationship to others. Finally, identity does not only influence human actions through enabling or constraining actions but also through the need to perform who we are or who we say we want to be.

Subject Area

Asian History|European history|International law|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Tan, Lena, "Disengaging from territory: Identity, the politics of contestation and domestic political structures. India & Britain (1929–1935), and Indonesia & East Timor (1975–1999)" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289262.