Traditional theories about the origins of imperialism focus on political elites, either in the metropole or the periphery, asking whose interests drive imperial rule. Through an exploration of American Empire in the Pacific, this paper argues that imperialism may be reflective of the agents who navigate between societies rather than those with influence within metropole or colony. Specifically, this paper analyzes the origins of American imperialism in Samoa from 1872 through 1899. It shows that local concerns, about pigs and about papists, led unusual figures with little influence to play outsized roles in shaping international politics. In doing, it proposes a theory about the conditions under which imperialism is likely to occur in regions where there is no significant interest by the metropole or the colony in establishing imperial relationships.
Eric Grynaviski is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the George Washington University. His book, Constructive Illusions (Cornell University Press), won the 2015 Jervis-Schroeder Award from the International History and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. His work has appeared in the European Journal of International Relations International Theory, International Organization, and Security Studies.