- Unanticipated consequences of "humanitarian intervention": The British campaign to abolish the slave trade, 1807-1900
- Theory and Society
- Volume | Issue number
- 39 | 3-4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Building on Robert Merton’s theory of unanticipated consequences of purposive action and Charles Tilly’s theory of error correction, the present article presents a stylized narrative about the British campaign to abolish the trading in African slaves, from its beginning in 1807 until the end of the nineteenth century. In the end, this campaign was largely successful, though it required error corrections that had extremely far-reaching consequences. The colonization of Africa was, to a certain extent, a second-degree unanticipated consequence. This case study suggests that three sorts of error correction can be distinguished, namely (a) measures that are taken to facilitate the effective implementation of the purposive action; (b) measures that are taken to minimize unintended consequences, after the purposive action has been carried out; and (c) new purposive actions that widen the objective and are more far-reaching than the original purposive action.
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