Settler Analytics

05-10-11

Still thinking through the politics of the “settler colonial” rubric. I very much appreciate Patrick Wolfe and Mark Rifkin – for engaging my blogomusings with such thoughtfulness and labor. I continue to read and be challenged by the scholarship. Currently working through the anthology edited by Elkins and Pedersen (2005).

I have unease with the etymological origins of the “settler” and its presumed qualification (or differentiation) of “colonialism” from a more “classical” formation. I understand this unease as related not only to the etymological roots of “settle” in “coming to rest,” finding a “seat,” and “reconciliation” but to what the qualification implies. Let me see if I can explain this with examples from the discussions in this blogosphere.

“Classical colonialism” (to borrow from Mark Rifkin, May 2), or colonialism proper, is the explicit juridical and territorial extension of an empire – a process that is always pointing “home,” to a juridical and economic metropolitan center. Its participants are “citizens” of the empire, bent on land and labor seizure in service of the empire.

“Settler colonialism” (to borrow loosely again from Mark Rifkin, May 2) is a state formation with an incoherent assertion of juridical and economic authority over indigenous lands and bodies. It is the permanent “structure of invasion” that demands the “elimination” of indigenous peoples (to quote Patrick Wolfe, 1999). It does not point to a “home” that is “not here,” its “citizens” are sovereigns of their own making, seeking lands and labor to bolster their juridical and economic power.

So, “settler colonialism” is disassociated from the empire? Then it is not about the United States, which is most decidedly an empire in all of the ways that matter – juridically, economically, militarily (as Patrick Wolfe so rightly observes, May 4). But the question that follows, then, because of how “settler colonialism” is applied in scholarship to cover such diverse states as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand/Aetorora is whether it applies to such diverse states as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand/Aetorora?

These are all states whose original “settlements” were certainly directed and managed by the English empire (with profound historical differences between them, of course), though they now operate in various juridical, economic, and military ways as empires on their own terms (and I’m thinking here of the work of scholars like Audra Simpson and Winona LaDuke, who both insist that Canada’s relationship to Native/Indigenous peoples is most definitely one of an empire to its subjects as well as describing the structure of this relationship as imperially militarized and capitalized).

In another direction, I wonder – given the seeming disassociation of “settler colonialism” with the empire, what its relationship is to imperialism? And my thinking gets muddled here by the use of “settler colonialism” to name other situations, like Israel’s relationship to Palestine. But perhaps I am over-reading or psychoanalyzing ideological intent where structure is the point? Because, from my understanding, the initial migration of Russian Jewish workers into territories they renamed and reclaimed through Zionism as the “Land of Israel” might not have been fueled by a cogent empire or “home,” pointing back to a state with a metropolis-juridic center, but it was certainly aimed at establishing a Zionist empire through land purchasing and Jewish labor.

So, we need better language for describing histories of imperialism and colonialism than we have. I disagree that “settler” more easily stresses Native/Indigenous peoples’ governance and territorial rights than “imperialism” (its etymological differences a case in point) but I agree that both terms are used far too loosely to describe very historically particular processes and structures as if the same.
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