And for another “settler” thing…

4-23-11

I have been reading Denise Ferreira Da Silva’s Toward a Global Idea of Race (2007) and Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins (2010) in my research for my next book project. Da Silva, in particular, helps me think better about what I have been experiencing as some of the more problematic absences of “settler colonialism.” Anderson, definitely a Marxophile, is productive for thinking about how institutionalizations of the “human sciences” and their relationship to “human rights.”

Da Silva’s argument—though her jargon is distracting—mines several key Enlightenment philosophers’ understanding of “being” and “essence” as a transcendental notion of the power of human reason as a productive, organizing force. She follows this “being” and “essence” into its post-Enlightenment rearticulation as the “subject” of “scientificreason” (53). This subject—promised on the basis of the objective and rational—is constituted as an universal, sovereign, self-determined thing with power over its own historical and ontological experience.

For Da Silva, the transformation from a transcendental “being” or “essence” to a “subject” of scientific reason is enabled by the racialized theories and methods of “natural history.” These theories function as the occasion through which racial difference and social progress are indelibly linked and charted between human groups. The human body and mind are graphed onto all kinds of presumed objectively measurable progressions that assert that the more developed physiques (equated with skull shape and size) and more sophisticated mental functionings (equated with reason) produce the more advanced societies or civilizations. These mechanisms enable modernity’s repetition of the racialized subject as the fully evolved, superior human against all others whose bodies, minds, and societies are consigned to inferiority. The persistence of these narrative archetypes—and their ideological consequences for upholding relations of oppression—is within the repetitive work of racialization. A work that informs liberal humanist notions of cultural difference and relativism, where difference ends up reinforcing an especially racist normative.
Anderson’s work through Marx’s journalism and anthropology notes during the latter years of his life while in exile in London was productive.

Settler colonial studies asserts an approach on the permanent structure of “invasion” that has resulted from imperialism implied as historic(al). The colonist invaded, enslaved, dispossessed, and stuck around (settled), and this is what the society that resulted looked like …. In some ways, I read this as an anti-capitalist Marxism that emerges from an attempt to understand the kind of economics of exploitation and dispossession inherited from historic systems of chattel slavery, genocide, and dispossession.

Foucault’s critique of power is similar to the settler colonial critique of the permanent structure of invasion. It is an emphasis on the constitution and relations of global, national structures of power and the kinds of knowledge practices that uphold and regenerate them (Patrick Wolfe’s critique of anthropology is relevant here).


1) What does it mean to have experienced – then, and as historical trauma – the relentless enslavement and rape of your bodies, the genocidal elimination of your families and communities, and the dispossession of your people from your (home)lands within settler colonial formations?

Audra Simpson’s (Anthropology, Columbia University) forthcoming book, Mohawk Interruptus (Duke University Press) uses settler colonial theory and Mohawk histories and epistemologies to answer just this question. At least, that is, as I understood it from the presentations she gave at UCLA this past week (at the symposium and during a lecture).

Simpson addresses the way that the historical experiences of indigenous peoples within settler colonialism have been “eliminated” in the name of the state’s political interests in securing their conquest (subjugation) and disappearance.

2) What about the oppositional and coalitional movements against “settler colonial” practice?

The second question follows from the first. And it is the glaring absence of settler colonial studies, because of their analytic focus on the state and its constitution and exercise of power. Ironically so, since so much of the literature is critical of the way that various bodies of knowledge – particularly anthropological ones – were deployed by the state to rationalize its policies

3) Structure?

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