“Viceregalism: Constitutional Crises, Heads of State, and their History in Britain and the Postcolonial World,” Colloquium with University of Edinburgh’s Harshan Kumarasingham


The last of our trans-Atlantic visitors in the Spring 2021 semester, University of Edinburgh Senior Lecturer in British Politics Harshan Kumarasingham will revisit Walter Bagehot’s 1867 writings on the function of the British monarch, specifically examining the role and rights of a Parliamentary Head of State in modern moments of crises in order to foster greater understanding of the importance of this neglected position. The talk will be held via Zoom at 1:00pm (note the irregular start time) on March 12, and interested parties can email Thomas Kane, KaneTC@missouri.edu, to be added to an email list of people who receive Zoom links for all Kinder Institute talks on the day of events.


Viceregalism is conceptualised to comprehend the under researched position of Heads of State in parliamentary systems that derive from the British or colonial experience. It is used to describe, using recent British and Commonwealth history, the circumstances in which Heads of State act during political crises. Viceregalism is also conceived to make us look more closely at the vital relationship between Head of State and Head of Government, and see through history and design the former’s part in politics, not just ceremony. Walter Bagehot in 1867 considered the British monarch to have three key rights: to be consulted, to warn, and to encourage. It is worth reformulating Bagehot and developing a way to understand the roles and rights of a Parliamentary Head of State during political crises in modern times. Using examples and ideas from Britain and the postcolonial world, this talk puts forward three related rights and options open to a Head of State during a political crisis: the right to rule, the right to uphold, and the right to oblige. These collectively show the critical role of Heads of State as political actors. By using this framework, we can better understand the importance of this neglected position in world politics and history.


Harshan Kumarasingham is Senior Lecturer in British Politics in University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science. He is author of a pair of monographs, A Political Legacy of the British Empire: Power and the Parliamentary System in Post-Colonial India and Sri Lanka (I.B. Tauris, 2013) and Onward with Executive Power: Lessons from New Zealand (University of Wellington/Institute for Policy Studies, 2010), and editor of a number of volumes, most recently Viceregalism: The Crown as Head of State in Political Crises in the Postwar Commonwealth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). He is currently co-editing The Cambridge Constitutional History of the United Kingdom for Cambridge University Press. Dr. Kumarasingham completed his doctorate at Victoria University of Wellington, and prior to taking his position at Edinburgh, he held a number of international appointments, including Smuts Fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the University of Cambridge and Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and a member of the Edinburgh Centre of Constitutional Law, the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History, the Centre of South Asian Studies, and the Global Transnational Research Group.