tequila sovereign

Settler Analytics

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.

Reply to Wolfe (and Rifkin) and Some Questions

Dear Patrick,
I very much appreciated your note in response to my April 9 blog, “Settler” What? Our conversations at UCLA and since are helping me sort out my thinking about “settler colonialism.” In the hopes of continuing these conversations (and provoking others in this blogosphere to participate), I have some questions for you. I hope this will not be perceived as a surely indulgence of the argumentative or pedantic, nor too much of an assumption on your time. I will do my best not to be rhetorical. These are genuine questions.
Question 1: And for another “settler” thing….
I do not need “settler colonialism” to have a concrete, global definition of what it means as much as I am concerned about what I have perceived to be the far too general application of the term to seriously diverse histories of imperialism and the continuing political struggles of Native peoples for de-occupation and self-determination.
In other words, the lack of a concrete, global definition is not an issue for me; but, the analytical equivalences of or between vastly different historical situations and ongoing political struggles is. It has seemed to me that these equivalences occur in the context of the explicitly comparative approaches characteristic of “settler colonial” studies that illuminate some characteristics of colonialism while obscuring others in the name of the comparative.
I do find your arguments about the “logic of elimination” useful. Your care in retaining an analytical focus on the violence and the subliminal of “elimination” in understanding the social inequalities and oppressions that Native peoples confront is important.
So my question is this: When you argue that the “elimination continues beyond the establishment of settler society,” are you locating the “logic of elimination” as a decidedly colonialstructure? Why “settler colonialism” and not “imperialism”? Why – or how – is the “settler colonial” society or state different from the empire?
When “imperial” means “having a commanding quality” and the “empire” means “rule, authority, kingdom, imperial rule” (at least according to a quick look at the on-line etymology dictionary) – why do I need “imperialism” and “the empire”?
To try to make obvious that which I take for granted.… At whatever historical point in time the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand were “colonies,” “settlements,” or newly formed “nations,” they are most certainly now empires. Different kinds, of course. But empires with all of their implications to militarized and economic violences that enact – sometimes through celebratory apologies – their plenary powers to enslave, to kill, to dispossess, and to subjugate, “at home” and abroad, within national boundaries and beyond.
“Settler colonialism” seems to qualify a colonialism, suggesting that other kinds of colonialisms took place and are taking place. Maybe as a project of imperialism? Maybe instead of the imperial? I do not understand the qualification since its own differentiation is left unclear (usually in claims of its specific comparability).
Question 2: On why “settler” is not a proxy for racialization…
On your points about racialization within “settler colonial” societies, I concur. In your presentation at UCLA – and as an issue that percolated throughout the symposium – and in your blog here on April 26, African slavery and Native land dispossession were addressed as interrelated to the “uninterrupted operation of the logic of elimination after the frontier,” and into the present. I agree that slavery and dispossession are linked by the “logic of elimination” and that the logic includes not merely physical violence but the violence of re-representation/interpolation into the nation’s juridical hold (most evidently via ideologies of blood’s equation to culture).
But I must equivocate again over your language again. What do you mean by “the frontier”? Is this marking a moment of “colonialism” proper, and then the advent of “settler colonialism” after or when something else happens? Was the colonialism “settler” all along, now that we can see its structural legacies?
Question 3: Concluding….
I have written about the racialized and gendered politics of right’s discourses in relation to Native women’s roles in sovereignty movements in Canada. These discourses are put to work to thwart anti-imperial solidarities but also to distort the terms and conditions of existing relations and politics within Native communities — pitting Natives against one another (around women’s equality rights, for instance) and pitting Natives against African Americans and other racialized and ethnicized groups (such as over the perception of ever limiting and threatened federal resources or lands – and I’m thinking here specifically of Malinda Lowery’s excellent discussions of the mythologies of “the pie” during our panel’s Q&A at UCLA).
But again I am stuck on the “settler colonial” teleology, geography, episteme. What is illuminated about the operations of the empire and the social terms and conditions of imperial social formations, and what is not.
I do not think you and I disagree on the analytical necessity of understanding our divergent histories and the current configuration of our social relations and conditions owing to the histories and conditions of imperialism. For you, “settler” illuminates, lays open, and allows for Native perspectives and concerns where other terms do not.
So, beginning there, I quote you back to you: “The surprise occasioned by tensions between Blacks and Indians is an artefact of a liberal universalism that takes for granted a pastiche of difference – colours, races, minorities, ethnicities – on a multicultural canvas that levels the varied histories that produced these differences in the first place.”
I think anti-imperial solidarity must include a fierce rejection of liberal universalism and all its modernist clichés – from the binaries of the savage and the civil to the celebrated public and national restorations of Native-nation relations via apology. This is because liberal universalism and modernism are the constitutive ideologies and discourses that undergird and regenerate imperial social formations. And one of the central ways that they do this is through the racialization of legal status and rights – to suggest a recognizable and investable (propertied) difference between citizen, native, immigrant, minority and then to regulate, discipline, and punish that difference in the name of national identity and security.
Against that, anti-imperial strategies – such as those enacted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, The Cultural Conservancy, the California Indian Basketweavers Association, the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada – insist on other ways of knowing and being in the world. Ways that are about relationship and responsibility, respect and ethics, justice and accountability. With each other and against state oppression
To those ends….


From Mark Rifkin

I think the value of “settler” as a way of characterizing a certain mode of colonialism/imperialism lies in the fact that it points to the idea that a “home” country is built around and on top of peoples already there. That formation differs from 1) classic colonialism where populations who are not in the “home” country, and are not considered its “citizens,” are ruled as “subjects” of the empire and from 2) more contemporary forms of extraterritorial imperialism where the independence of a given country is foregrounded (either in order to deny the exercise of neoliberal modes of extraction — such as through international debt — or to insist on the authority to alter the country’s regime so as to bring it in line with “international” norms of how the government should relate to its own people).

What makes “settler” colonialism distinct, then, is the incoherence within the discourse of the state of the insistence that the settlers go “home.” The exertion of governmental authority is predicated on it being over land and people “within” the nation, which is a different kind of authority with its own discourses, modes of implementation, and strategies of legitimation that do not function in the same ways as those of colonial authority over a space not recognized as “home”/”domestic.”

Thus, colonization of a “settler” kind is predicated on the claim that the land in question lies inside the boundaries of the state and is validated on that basis (rather than as a “colony” which has a juridical and geopolitical existence differentiated from the “home” space). From this perspective, “elimination” per se is less the issue than domestication — the subordination of Native polities to the jurisdictional authority and principles of the settler government and the assertion that the settler government always-already holds title to Native lands by virtue of the fact that they are “domestic.”

From May 2
I should add that I don’t think “settler colonialism” is very useful as a way of talking about formations other than the settler state. It seems to me to work best as a way of discussing the kinds of jurisdiction and sovereignty exercised by such states over Indigenous peoples and possibly as a retrospective way of characterizing those forms of colonization that eventuated in the creation of settler states (marking the genealogy of forms of law, land tenure, political structure, modes of narration, etc. that would be taken up by the settler state as part of its governance and self-representation). However, again, such forms of colonization (like Great Britain’s American colonies) can be characterized as “settler” only looking back from the perspective of the later emergence of a settler state rather than as a quality such forms of colonization immanently or categorically bear.

In other words, “settler” marks the fact that those colonies became settler states, an intellectual maneuver that seems to me to obviate the problem of attributing qualities to settler colonialism that more or less fit Anglo modes of colonization but not necessarily others (like those of Spain). The comparative involved in “settler colonialism,” then, would be among settler states rather than political formations in which colonies are held as such (even though settler states may themselves hold colonies, like the U.S. – but those political relations work differently given the ways they are narrated by the state with respect to “domestic” space and jurisdiction).

From Patrick Wolfe

Sorry to discover your blog only now when my comments will probably come far too late for anyone to see, but hey – at least writing to you might help me get my thoughts in order.

Your post-UCLA comments are spot on. What’s specific about settler colonialism? That seems to me to be THE question – if there’s nothing specific and distinctive about settler colonialism, then there’s no justification for adding to our already-extensive vocabulary of colonial oppression. But the motivation for the concept (if that’s what it is) is more than a matter of scholarly categories. For me at least, it’s deeply political. I make this personal because, as you also rightly point out, there’s no consensus as to what settler colonialism means. My version of it’s different from that offered by, say, Veracini and Cavanagh, whom you quote, and different again from what might be called the classic versions of people such as Donald Denoon, Nira Yuval-Davis, David Prochaska and others, most of whom just assume that settler colonialism refers to colonies that have European settlers in them. So what follows is strictly my own view of things.

As you know, I view settler colonialism as governed by a logic of elimination. It can be defined as the attempt to remove Native societies from their land and replace them with settler ones. This doesn’t mean that every last Native has to die (though, God knows, enough millions of them have done so). What’s to be eliminated is Native societies, as autonomous polities originating independently of the settler social contract, rather than necessarily individual human beings. If the human beings can be reclassified on an individual basis so that the fragment of Native society that they represent effectively ceases to present an independent alternative to the settler social monopoly, then all well and good. This is why Colonel Richard Pratt’s famous phrase ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man’ is so revealing. You could hardly express the eliminatory ambition of assimilationist policies more concisely. As I’ve also argued – though admittedly this opens the analysis up more complicatedly – settlers also seek to assimilate Native institutions to the settler civic environment, as in the case of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. That’s another way of seeking to eliminate Native polities’ independently-(which is to say, sovereignly-)constituted sources of legitimacy. For now, though, I want to stress that the logic of elimination doesn’t stop at the frontier. True, outright homicide may give way to less controversial, strategically depoliticized modes of elimination – notably removal, confinement, assimilation, blood quanta, etc – but the elimination continues beyond the establishment of settler society, ideally in ways that don’t too blatantly disrupt the settler rule of law (though the respective life-expectancy rates generally continue to give the game away).

So what’s specific about this? Or even, as Cheryl Harris asked me at UCLA, why not just call it imperialism? My answer is that, within the imperialist social formation, the settler-colonial relation of invasion is as specific as the relation of slavery, which often accompanies it, but that it hasn’t had the same level of recognition as the relation of slavery and this defect should be corrected. This is one of the reasons why it’s crucial to recognize the uninterrupted operation of the logic of elimination after the frontier, including into the present. Slavery was technically abolished a century and a half ago. Not so the attempt to eliminate the Native alternative. The impression you get from many histories is the precise reverse – they have slavery living on as a kind of half-life in the present (as in important senses it obviously does) while Indian dispossession figures as a one-off thing of the past (which it categorically is not).  Against this kind of background, it’s no wonder that confusion has arisen as to why Indian rights can look so different to African American rights. Add to this the confusion of color – as Nandita Sharma wanted us to do at UCLA – and the profound historical differences distinguishing the different historical relationships of oppression into which Euroamerican colonisers have respectively sought to co-opt Indians and Black people get occluded in a multiculturalist fog. In addition to avoiding scholarly category errors, therefore, recognizing the specificity of the ongoing settler-colonial logic of elimination governing the relation of invasion into which settler societies continue to seek to co-opt Native peoples helps us to clarify historical obstacles that can get in the way of organizing anticolonial solidarities. One of the fundamental works of race is to divide and rule. Recognizing the different historical relationships of inequality that together went into the making of the Euroamerican settler social formation is a work of political solidarity.

I’ve addressed some of this in a piece that’s due to appear in a couple of months in a collection of essays edited by Fiona Bateman and Lionel Pilkington called ‘Studies in Settler Colonialism: Politics, Identity and Culture’. A relevant bit  (which, ahem, yes, may sound somewhat familiar if you were at UCLA) runs as follows:

‘Why, then, when it is clear that settler colonialism in countries such as the United States and Australia is but one component of an all- encompassing global process, should we insist on categorically distinguishing the settler variant from other kinds of colonialism? What is the justification for a seemingly abstract comparative typology when the types only find empirical realization as so many nodes in a transnational network? The principal justification – only it is much more than a justification – is that the global perspective suppresses the Natives’ points of view.

Epistemologically at least, Archimedes was an imperialist. The global system is experienced differentially. From an Indigenous point of view, the issue of whether the arrival of particular intruders is voluntary or coerced does not affect these intruders’ standing as rivals for a Native people’s space and subsistence resources. In North America, enslaved Africans participated in Indian dispossession. Correspondingly, many Indians not only owned but bought and sold Black slaves. Indeed, Stand Watie, one of the leaders of the Cherokee treaty faction at the time of the Trail of Tears, was a slaveholder who went on to become the last Confederate general to surrender in the Civil War (Strickland and Strickland 1991, p. 136). In a Manichean moral universe, the empirical anomaly of good guys behaving like bad guys is hard to accommodate, confounding the liberal shibboleth of subaltern agency. For the liberal conscience, Black invaders and Indian slaveowners can represent altogether too much agency. The discomfort arises, of course, from the assumption that the enslaved and the banished – James Madison’s ‘the black race within our bosom’ and ‘the red on our borders’ – should naturally be companions in more than misfortune. The surprise occasioned by tensions between Blacks and Indians is an artefact of a liberal universalism that takes for granted a pastiche of difference – colours, races, minorities, ethnicities – on a multicultural canvas that levels the varied histories that produced these differences in the first place. How, for instance, can universalism deal with the predicament of so-called Red-Black people, who, by virtue of the one-drop rule (pace Jack Forbes), have no demographic existence? Red-Black people’s predicament is above all historical. Their social non- existence follows from the primacy of the one-drop rule, which, in classifying them Black, simultaneously eliminates them as anything else. To classify them as White may have furthered the elimination of Natives but it would have violated the one-drop rule. Classifying them as Black simultaneously furthered both Native elimination and the one-drop rule. As Ira Berlin noted of eighteenth-century Chesapeake slave- owners who found themselves barred from owning non-Black slaves, a ready solution lay in reclassifying the Indian ones Black (Berlin 1988, p. 145). Two centuries later, under the 1934 New Deal Indian Reorganization Act, which eased blood-quantum restrictions so long as Indians were safely on the reservation, the same logic caused people to change colour as they passed through the reservation gate (US Senate 1934, p. 264).

The bizarre formula that makes chameleons of Indians is the obverse of a rule that allows African Americans to be any colour they want so long as it’s Black. In combination, as we have seen, these chromatic antinomies reconstitute the twin bases of the colonial rule of private property on which Euroamerican society was founded, reinscribing the Atlantic Triangle in the era of multiculturalism. With race understood as a bearer of histories, the differences that it signifies require to be asserted rather than elided under homogenizing rubrics such as colour, otherness or, for that matter, subalternity. On this basis, it is not surprising that settler colonized Indigenous people should view ‘post’colonialism with suspicion. Moreover, the distinction on which they insist, the distinction between their histories and those of peoples historically co-opted into different colonial relationships, is simultaneously both comparative and transnational’ (end of excerpt).

This was the basis on which, at UCLA, in relation to Robin Kelley’s comments, I argued that anti-imperial solidarities should be organized around the recognition of historical differences.

Lastly – and crucially – I assume it’s understood throughout that what I’m attempting to analyze is NOT a fait accompli. Lest there be any mistake on this point, I’m careful to use words like ‘seek’ and ‘attempt’ when I spell out the settler logic of elimination. Natives have always devised and will continue to devise modes of resistance and ways around settler discourse that frustrate it and prevent it from usurping their right to determine their collective identities and ways of doing things.  All the same, there is a power imbalance (genocide has its consequences) and settler discourse continues to wreak havoc, so, as a contribution offered to Native resistance and anticolonial, antiracist solidarities, we can try to develop a clear-sighted understanding of the nature of settler colonialism – of its background, its effects and, most of all, of the limitations and contradictions of settler discourse that can be turned against themselves for liberatory ends.

I hope this helps – so far as my particular perspective goes, at any rate.

Very good wishes,


And for another “settler” thing…

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?

“Settler” What?

At the Race & Sovereignty Symposium at UCLA, and in the writings of many different scholars (at least the ones that I have been reading while on fellowship this past year :> ), I am struck by the insistence within “settler colonial” studies of its insistence on specificity.
Crudely, “settler colonialism” is offered as the specifictemporal-geographic kind of colonialism that has enacted western European, Canadian, and U.S. imperialism. The insistence on its specificity produces an obvious question: In relation to what?
If settler colonialism is the specific kind of colonialism that enacts imperial processes in western Europe, Canada, and the United States, then what other kinds of colonialisms have occurred, are occurring?If they were not settler, then what were/are they? I have not heard or read an attempt to actually specify settler colonialism except by presumptions that it is not “old/past” and that there is no “neo” or “post.” So, are these our analytical options in understanding imperialism? Past, settler, neo, postcolonialism?
For instance, at the symposium, several presenters on the settler colonial plenary panel claimed that settler colonialism has a temporal-geographic specificity within the United States that has been, for all purposes, vacated in the 21st century: Laura Gómez (UNM School of Law) asserted that “settler colonialism” did not occur in the U.S. southwest until 1848 and ended in the early 20thcentury; Aziz Rana (Cornell School of Law) said that “settler colonialism” occurred in the U.S. about the time of the Revolution and concluded by 1920. Both made these arguments in the context of treaty and constitutional law’s provision for African enslavement and Native dispossession, a link repeated throughout the symposium and in the literature.
J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (Wesleyan Anthropology/American Studies) pushed back during the Q&A on these claims of settler colonial temporality. Gómez and Rana qualified their remarks by explaining that, of course, settler colonialism is still around and always has been.
(So now we are all really confused.)
During his contributions at the symposium, Patrick Wolfe (Charles La Trobe Research Fellow, La Trobe University) attempted to clarify that settler colonialism was/is the permanent structure of “invasion” that has characterized Black-Native-Settler relations (broadly speaking) and Black enslavement, Native dispossession, and Settler privilege (specifically). These were useful contributions but are not necessarily “shared agreements” within that scholarship theorizing settler colonialism.

For instance, in her incredibly problematic book, Settler Sovereignty Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836(2010), Lisa Ford argues that it is not territorial dispossession that characterizes settler claims to state sovereignty but settler assertions of jurisdiction over Native crimes that occasions its articulation. Ford theorizes, then, that it is criminal jurisdiction and not territorial occupation and dispossession that characterizes the settler’s transition to state sovereignty.

In the context of these various exchanges and theories, there is a pronounced confusion within settler colonial studies about what it is that “settler colonialism” specifies. Is it the specific series of events that lead to the ascension of statehood (revolution, constitution, occupation, expansion overthrow)? Is it the structure that is defined and inherited from a decidedly colonial past in a decidedly colonial present (in the delineation of the property rights between settler, immigrant, and native)? How do various axes of differentiation and management – racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, class – inform these “–hoods” and their social formations?
On their blog (http://settlercolonialstudies.org/), Edward Cavanagh and Lorenzo Veracini offer the following definition:
Settler colonialism is a global and transnational phenomenon, and as much a thing of the past as a thing of the present. There is no such thing as neo-settler colonialism or post-settler colonialism because settler colonialism is a resilient formation that rarely ends. Not all migrants are settlers; as Patrick Wolfe has noted, settlers come to stay. They are founders of political orders who carry with them a distinct sovereign capacity. And settler colonialism is not colonialism: settlers want Indigenous people to vanish (but can make use of their labor before they are made to disappear). Sometimes settler colonial forms operate within colonial ones, sometimes they subvert them, sometimes they replace them. But even if colonialism and settler colonialism interpenetrate and overlap, they remain separate as they co-define each other. (accessed April 9, 2011)
Edward Cavanagh and Lorenzo Veracini attempt to provide for the specificity of the settler colonial “phenomenon” – not purely historic, not neo, not post – but in so doing confuse it for everything that characterizes the current formation states.
So, is “settler colonialism” specific, and what is that specificity, and in relation to what? Or is it a stand-in for defining the current nation-state, the “everything” of current forms of enslavement and the elimination of the native?


UCLA School of Law: Critical Race Studies Program; Race & Sovereignty Symposium (March/April 2011): keywords: “settler colonialism,” indigenous and (or v.) state sovereignty, race politics
The symposium began this past Thursday with a panel discussion of the racial politics informing Native and African relations. Stacy Leeds addressed the history of Cherokee Nation law regarding the membership status of Freedmen with attention to the law’s particularly racialized exclusion of Africans from membership status and rights and its negation of the reality of “mixed-race” African-Native people within the Nation. Kendra Taira Field spoke to the history of Freedmen intermarriage within the Creek Nation following the Civil War with attention to the way the Freedmen followed the historical paths of colonists/U.S. citizens in dispossessing the Creek and other tribes of their lands in “Indian Territory.” Addie Rolnick reviewed the Supreme Court decision in Morton v. Mancari (1974) and its implications for the divorce of civil rights from understandings of the political status of Native-African people within tribes.
Following the panel, Angela Webb and Radmilla Cody screened and discussed “Hearing Radmilla” – a documentary on the experiences of Radmilla Cody as the first bi-racial Miss Navajo Nation, her several years of being physically and verbally abused in an inter-racial relationship with a drug dealer, and her arrest and incarceration for perjuring herself about her involvement in his drug trafficking.
Thursday’s panel, film, and discussion foregrounded the difficult politics of race within the analytics and relations of “settler colonialism,” indigenous sovereignties, and state sovereignty that percolated throughout the symposium.
I was struck within these representations and conversations by the lasting possibilities and difficulties of “settler colonialism,” which I was listening to closely because of my own unease with the term and some of the scholarship being offered under its rubric.
If I “got the story right” – at least as it was being told at the symposium – the analytics of “settler colonialism” go something like this:
Imperialism is the descriptor of the global structure of capitalist expansion and exploitation. Therein, diverse and specific kinds of “colonialisms” are enacted. “Settler colonialism” is, in other words, but one type of the way imperialism is carried out. (I am indebted to Alyosha Goldstein for this clarification during his presentation.)
More specifically, presenters and audience participants addressed “settler colonialism” as the social formation – particular to the geopolitics of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – in which the properties of African slaves and Native lands are linked to the production of the class privilege, entitlement, and exclusionary rights of “settlers.” Some argued that citizenship is not a pre-conditionof “settler” status. “Settler” status is, instead, the condition of territorial control, occupation, and use. Territorial expansion is enabled by the enslavement of Africans to the service of economic production and profit, and the genocidal elimination of Native peoples from desired territories and their natural resources. So that, the right to determine the labor of one’s body, and the right to life, is intimately denied to Africans and Natives by “settler” demands for territorial control.
In these stories, “settler societies” assume the fundamentally economic status of freedom (of being free) to determine the use and labor of one’s (collective) body, and of one’s (collective) possession of territorial property over which one’s (collective) labor is performed to produce product, capital, and further purchasing power.
At this point in the story, I deeply appreciated the presentations of Audra Simpson, Malinda Lowery, Maylei Blackwell, and Adjoa Alyetoro, all who recovered the realities of human exploitation, grief, pain, and violence at the heart of these processes for understanding European, North American, and Pacific histories of colonization and their legacies within the current conditions of economic disparity and inequality experienced by Africans and Natives. I especially appreciated their empowered demands for reparations.
At the same time, I feel a lasting disquiet from the symposium around the silences, negations, and distortions of “settler colonialism” for understanding state sovereignty today as an imperial power, and for not thinking more directly through strategies for a transformative, coalitional politics against the realities of state imperial, militarized violence and the economic machines that uphold and regenerate those realities in its service.
One of the things that struck me — and that Kehaulani Kauanui pointed out so powerfully during the Q&A after the first plenary panel — was the repeated location of “settler colonialism” in the past (some marking its beginnings in the 1770s, others in the 1840s, and still others in the 1890s) while marking its “end” in the 1920s or post-World War II era.
Clearly, imperialism has not gone away. The specificity of “settler colonialism” might be useful for marking and understanding some things about our shared histories of exploitation and dispossession but I continue to wonder how much it helps us in this historical moment address the imperial militarized violence and capitalism of the state sovereignties claimed by the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (in different but related ways) and to so recognize other histories of exploitation, expansionism, and dispossession and other claims of reparation.
But I’m still thinking….