difference between colonialism and imperialism

difference between colonialism and imperialism

difference between colonialism and imperialism

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difference between colonialism and imperialism

Both colonialism and Imperialism mean economic and political domination of the other. As a result, both are hard to differentiate at times.

Yet they are two words with totally different meanings. Colonialism is where one country physically exerts complete control over another country and Imperialism is formal or informal economic and political domination of one country over the other.


Colonialism Imperialism
Colonialism is when one country physically exerts its domination, either through a combination of war and diplomacy, over another country with a view to exploiting its resources Imperialism is when one country is involved in creating an empire and expanding the borders in order to project its power.
In colonialism, there will be a movement of people to the new territory, becoming permanent settlers in the process Imperialism is just about exerting control over the conquered regions either through direct governance or through indirect control mechanisms
Colonialism in the modern sense dates back to the 15th century when Europeans began to colonize large swathes of  Asia and Africa Imperialism is far older than colonialism dating back to ancient empires in history but is more commonly associated with the Roman Empire
Colony comes from the Latin word colonus which means ‘to farm’ Imperialism comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’ which means to ‘command’
Examples of colonialism are to be found in the takeover of India, Australia,

Southern, and Central Africa by the British and Western and North Africa by the French

The Scramble for Africa in the 19th Century and the Chinese domination of Vietnam from 111 BC to 983 AD are examples of Imperialism
difference between colonialism and imperialism
difference between colonialism and imperialism

Colonialism vs Imperialism

Colonialism and imperialism are often used interchangeably, but they are two different words having different meaning. As both colonialism and Imperialism means political and economic domination of the other, scholars often find it hard to differentiate the two.

Though both the words underline suppression of the other, Colonialism is where one nation assumes control over the other and Imperialism refers to political or economic control, either formally or informally. In simple words, colonialism can be thought to be a practice and imperialism as the idea driving the practice.

Colonialism is a term where a country conquers and rules over other regions. It means exploiting the resources of the conquered country for the benefit of the conqueror. Imperialism means creating an empire, expanding into the neighbouring regions and expanding its dominance far.

Colonialism is termed as building and maintaining colonies in one territory by people from another territory.So, Colonialism can altogether alter the social structure, physical structure and economics of a region.

Colonialism is a term used to describe the settlement of places like India, Australia, North America, Algeria, New Zealand and Brazil, which were all controlled by the Europeans. Imperialism, on the other hand is described where a foreign government governs a territory without significant settlement.

What Is Imperialism?

Imperialism is the policy that a nation makes to take over the lands of another nation either by force or diplomacy. To take over those lands, they start setting up their own colonies within the country. But colonies are only one type of imperialist policy you might find. The other three types include:

  • protectorate – A protectorate is still able to govern itself and have its own internal government, but is protected or ruled by another.
  • sphere of influence – Sphere of influence occurs when an outside force wields power over a region and claims certain rights or privileges, including exclusive trade control or investment.
  • economic imperialism – One country has economic power and influence over another and controls its private business interests.
difference between colonialism and imperialism
difference between colonialism and imperialism

Types of Imperialism

Formal imperialism refers to the complete colonial rule or the physical control. Although less direct, informal imperialism is also a powerful form of dominance,

which is less costly than directly taking over territories.

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is imperialism put into action. It is expanding control over regions by forming areas of colonies and forcing a large number of people to move into these regions.

This method is exercised to reign control and to exploit the people economically. They have partial or complete political power over these colonies. So, this method is exercised for economic


Economic exploitation being the main reason, colonialism also conserved and propagated their cultural practices, languages and religion. They also expanded their cultural and economical practices by propagating various agendas.

It was first practised by Europeans and we have proofs of many European colonies and colonials.

It was during the World Wide II that most of the colonies under the British Empire acquired their independence.

Types of Colonialism

Settler colonies involve foreign people moving to a new region. Moreover, This is a large scale immigration, motivated by economic, political or economic reasons. Europeans moving to the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand is an example of settler colonialism.

Dependencies are colonies where a small number of colonizers act as the administrators over the native population. This does not involve large-scale immigration.Moreover, Egypt, British Raj (where British controlled India), and Dutch East Indies (where Netherlands controlled a part of the East Indies) are examples of dependencies.

Examples of Imperialism

With a solid understanding of imperialism and the different types, check out a few different examples of imperialism from around the globe.

  • protectorate – After the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a U.S. protectorate. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898 and the people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. To this day Puerto Rico is a U.S.
  • sphere of influence – In the late 19th century, eight powerful nations had trade rights within Chinese territories, as well as the right to establish a legation in Peking (now Beijing) and even extraterritorial rights. But many everyday Chinese people did not have a say in or approve of these arrangements. This led to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 where the Chinese attempted to drive out all foreigners.
  • economic imperialism – Honduras and other nations in Central America were economically exploited by U.S. companies such as the United Fruit Company.
difference between colonialism and imperialism
difference between colonialism and imperialism

Comparison between Imperialism and Colonialism:



Definition Imperialism defines the policy or tendency of a nation to extend its control over another state. Colonialism can be referred to as a specific product of imperialism where it is generally

associated with a formal control over a weak state (colony) and exploiting the resources of this weak state (colony).

Interrelation Imperialism can work without colonialism Colonialism cannot work without imperialism
Type of entity A tendency or policy A specific product of imperialism
Origin Latin colons, meaning farmer, pointing out that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory Latin emporium, meaning to command
Example Imperialism was practiced by European nations and Japan

throughout the 1800s and early 1900s

Settlement colonies for Europeans (e.g. Canada, Australia) and pre-capitalist societies ruled by European powers (e.g. India).

Main Differences Between Colonialism and Imperialism

  1. The main difference between colonialism and imperialism lies in the definition of the two terms. Imperialism is the idea of expansion of the empire by gaining control over neighbouring and weak regions. While colonialism is gaining control over regions by dividing them into colonies for economic exploitation.
  2. In colonialism, people from other regions are forcefully moved into smaller regions called colonies.
  3. The origin of the words can also show the difference between the terms. Imperialism comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’ and this means ‘power’ or ‘supreme’ thus imperialism stands for gaining power. Colonialism comes from the Latin word ‘colonus’ which means ‘farmer’. This term thus means exploitation of the farmers or peasants economically.
  4. In colonialism, a large number of people are moved from their native empires or places and shifted into smaller areas called colonies.
  5. These regions are easier to control and exercise power. Colonialism is the method of gaining economic access for the exploitation of the people. Whereas imperialism focuses on economic and political control but also works towards development.
difference between colonialism and imperialism
difference between colonialism and imperialism

What is the difference between Colonialism and Imperialism?

 Definition of Colonialism and Imperialism:

Imperialism is when a country or an empire starts influencing other countries by using its power.

Colonialism is when an empire or a country goes and conquers another country or region. Settling in this new region is a part of colonialism.


In imperialism, the empire does not try to put down roots in the acquired territory.

In colonialism, the empire puts down roots in the acquired territory by settling down there.

 Economic and Political Aspect:

Imperialism is not much concerned with having economic benefits. It is more concerned with political power.

Colonialism is concerned with both economic and political power of the conquered country.


Imperialism has been in vogue from the time of the Romans.

Colonialism has been in vogue only from the 15th century onwards.


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