From a layman's perspective, it seems that the fate of most colonies is to evolve into an independent nation. At least those colonies that are, at a particular point in human technological evolution, too far away.

Looking at recent history in the XIX and XX centuries and back one can find several examples of that. Some colonies that remained so after the advent of commercial aviation and long-distance communications don't seem to be so keen in seeking independence.

For example, the French Guiana, British overseas territories all over the globe (ignoring those who have some or full political independence - that's for anothe question).

In fiction, especially Science Fiction and the mind-boggling distance between Earth and extrasolar colonies, colonial revolt is a ubiquitous trope.

Are there any studies regarding the colonies' tendency to become independent and the factors who lead them to try to break free?

  • "don't seem to be so keen in seeking independence" seems to be a function how much native population they still have, in no small part. And of course, ideological/religious differences etc. Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 20:31
  • BTW, your scifi example seems to be talking about secession more broadly, unless you assume the extrasolar colonies have native intelligent species at the start. Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 20:39
  • Is a place like French Guiana really still a colony in the same way that say, Puerto Rico is? To my understanding, residents have all the legal rights and privileges of French people living in continental departments of France and there is no major movement for independence.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 20:41
  • The problem with formal theories is that a) there are many many variables, such as: ethnicities of home/colony, religions, economic models, government forms, wealth, military power, wealth transfers to/from entities, colony rights. Then b) you don't have that many nations to look at. So, while you can claim they always secede, how about Guadeloupe or Corsica? Both find it fiscally advantageous to remain in France and that's unlikely to change. But what happen if it were another country than France? Say USA? OK, now say Russia? There is no way to experiment, is there? Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 20:43
  • @fizz why would extrasolar colonies imply extraterrestrial species? Why can't Earth just send people there? You're projecting things that are not in the question. Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


Eschewing the discussion what is or isn't a colony nowadays (or what would qualify in a sci-fi setting), you seem to be asking about secession more broadly.

There's no shortage of academic theories what drives these, e.g. one with a diagram

enter image description here

And getting e.g. to the economics decision/trade-off.

enter image description here

Or spelling out some common (non-economic) factors.

The empirical results show that perceptions of discrimination, ideological factors (i.e. a left-right division and partisanship), region and religious sect do affect support for secession. Our findings provide strong support for the grievance theory and, further, show that ideology is an important factor.

If you're asking about theories how such differences may [have] come about, that's probably more a Q for history. Weather the same or similar processes could apply to future extras-solar settlements is probably best left to "worldbuilding" brainstorming sites. But, as I mentioned in a comment, to draw [scifi] similarities with entities called colonies in the 19th-20th century, you'd need to have either native intelligent species on the target planet, or at least multiple waves of human migrants/colonizers, such that later waves arrive after a significant identity divergence has occurred (along the lines mentioned above: political, religious etc.) so that the earlier waves feel quasi-indigenous by then and perceive the later arrivals as the "colonizers".

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