As 2020 (finally!) comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.
Today’s guest post is by Maile Arvin, Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. In her bookPossessing Polynesiansshe analyzes the history of racialization of Polynesians within the context of settler colonialism across Polynesia, especially in Hawai‘i. She argues that a logic of possession through whiteness animates European and Hawaiian settler colonialism.
Where did Polynesians come from? How did they end up living on some of the most isolated island in the world? How should Polynesians be classified racially? These questions may sound innocent, but are, in fact, over two centuries old. They were repeatedly asked and answered by white social scientists in nineteenth-century philology and early twentieth-century anthropology, forming a special field of study dubbed “The Polynesian Problem.” These studies largely claimed that Polynesians had white ancestry, a latent whiteness which could potentially be rehabilitated through white settlement of Polynesia. In this way, such studies have long upheld the logics of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and anti-blackness, as I explain in my book Possessing Polynesians. Unfortunately, in some key ways, these questions about Polynesian origins, and their animating colonial logics, continue to shape social scientific research about Polynesian people.
A new genomic study just published in Natureis the latest to weigh in on Polynesian origins, claiming to document the genetic presence of ancient Indigenous South American ancestry among eastern Polynesian peoples, including those from the Tuamotus, Marquesas, and Mangareva (all occupied by the settler colony of French Polynesia) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island, occupied by Chile). The study has sparked a round of headlines expressing wonder at the notion that Polynesians and Indigenous South Americans had contact from as early as 1150 A.D. (see, for example, coverage in theNew York Times, Guardian and Science).
To many Polynesians, this “new” evidence that our ancestors met Indigenous South Americans in the twelfth century is not terribly surprising. Since at least the 1970s, the revitalization of long-distance voyaging across the Pacific Islands, using traditional double-hulled canoes with traditional methods of reading the stars and currents, has proven that Indigenous peoples were and continue to be more than capable of navigating across the Pacific Ocean. So why the surprise from mainstream news outlets? And what’s the problem with genomic scientists using Indigenous DNA to investigate ancient migrations?
There are many ethical considerations to the actual practice of genetic research, but here I’m going to focus instead on the larger narratives that the recent Nature study help promote. This is not to dismiss the importance of questioning how and why Indigenous DNA is collected, stored and used (see some discussion of these issues with this study, including by archaeologist Guillaume Molle here, and biological anthropologists Lisa Matisoo-Smith and Anna Gosling here), but to note that even if the details of scientific research practices were completely ethically sound, the conclusions of such studies and the ways they get reported can still perpetuate colonial ideas.
Case in point, this headline from Nature: “Native South Americans were early inhabitants of Polynesia” (July 8, 2020). This framing of the study’s conclusions makes a big leap. Instead of only positing contact between Polynesians and Indigenous South Americans, this headline suggests that Indigenous South Americans were the first to inhabit Polynesian islands and thus may be the ancestors of Polynesians. As this Nature article highlights, this theory of an eastward settlement of the Pacific Islands was the obsession of Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl. In 1947, Heyerdahl, who could not swim, infamously drifted on a balsa wood raft from Peru into the Pacific in an attempt to prove that Polynesia was settled by a mythical, now-extinct white race who had preceded the Incas. Heyerdahl did not believe that Polynesians or Indigenous Peruvians could have purposefully navigated the Pacific Ocean; he and others at the time advocated the theory of “random drift.” This was a racist idea that discounted Indigenous oral traditions and practices documenting deep knowledge and experience with long-distance navigation. He continued publishing on these ideas into the 1960s.
Even during his life, Heyerdahl’s theory about an eastward settlement of Polynesia was largely discredited. “Random drift” was not widely dismissed until the revitalization of Indigenous voyaging beginning with the Hōkūleʻa’s first voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976. But, as I note in Possessing Polynesians, Heyerdahl’s underlying belief in an ancient white race settling Polynesia was not the spontaneous invention of an individual racist. Migration routes and grandstanding methods aside, Heyerdahl’s belief in an ancient, advanced white race who settled the Polynesian islands and subsequently “degenerated,” was actually very much in keeping with a century of prior white settler scholarship. From the work of Australian John Dunmore Lang, who claimed in 1834 that Polynesians were likely the descendants of ancient Grecians or Romans, to American anthropologist Louis Sullivan’s belief in a “pure” Polynesian type that was almost “Caucasian” in the 1920s, white settlers were fascinated with the possibility that ancient white people were the real Indigenous people of Polynesia. In this logic, which I term the logic of possession through whiteness, by making Polynesians proximate to whiteness, white settlers staked their own claims to indigeneity in Polynesia, since through this circuitous reasoning, white people preceded Polynesians and could, through settler colonialism, “help” contemporary Polynesians regain a measure of civilization they had long lost. Polynesian people today must necessarily continue to challenge the consequences of this logic in a variety of paths towards decolonization.
Most of the recent mainstream coverage of the Nature study references Heyerdahl, while only some reference Polynesian voyaging traditions. But none of those references frame Heyerdahl and the theory of eastward settlement of Polynesia within this much longer history of white supremacist and settler colonial social scientific study of Polynesian origins. This is a problem because claims about Indigenous origins can be and are used to undercut their claims to indigeneity and to bolster settler colonial claims to a place. To invoke Heyerdahl without any recognition of the history of the politics of his theories and their impact on Indigenous peoples allows colonial knowledge production about Polynesian origins to continue to circulate without naming it as such. (Others have made similarly critical points about Heyerdahl, including Kanaka Maoli scholar Sara Kahanamoku here, and Smithsonian geographer Doug Herman here.)
Polynesians have a multiplicity of origin stories. These stories also have deep histories and politics. There should be more widespread discussion and engagement with Polynesian peoples if and how their origins should be investigated through genomic science. But whether or not such research continues, there must be a deeper reckoning with and refusal of the ways Western science stakes possessive claims to Indigenous lands and bodies.
Summer is just around the corner. As this new season begins, we’re releasing some exciting titles in history, art, anthropology, and more. Check out these brand new books arriving in June!
A Primer for Teaching Pacific Histories is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching Pacific histories for the first time or for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses. It can also serve those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, as well as teachers who want to incorporate Pacific histories into their world history courses.
In Disordering the Establishment, Lily Woodruff examines the development of artistic strategies of political resistance in France in the decades following World War II, showing how artists countered establishment ideology, challenged traditional art institutions, appealed to direct political engagement, and grappled with French intellectuals’ modeling of society.
Pointing out that presumptions of solidarity, antagonism, or incommensurability between Black and Native communities are insufficient to understand the relationships between both groups, the scholars, artists, and activists contributing to Otherwise Worlds investigate the complex relationships between settler colonialism and anti-Blackness to explore the political possibilities that emerge from such inquiries. This volume is edited by Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith.
In Trafficking, Hector Amaya examines how the dramatic escalation of drug violence in Mexico in 2008 transformed how people discussed violence and the rules of participation in the public sphere.
Sa’ed Atshan and Katharina Galor draw on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews in The Moral Triangle to explore the asymmetric relationships between Germans and Israeli and Palestinian immigrants in the context of official German policies, public discourse, and the impact of coming to terms with the past. You can watch Assistant Editor Sandra Korn interview Atshan and Galor here.
Indigenous activism in the Americas has long focused on the symbolic reclamation of land. Drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives, contributors to this issue explore narratives of territory and origin that provide a foundation for this political practice. They study Indigenous-language stories from displaced communities, analyzing the meaning and power of these narratives in the context of diaspora and the struggle for land.
Essays address topics including territorial struggle and environmentalism, Indigenous resistance to neoliberal policies of land dispossession, and alliances between academic and Indigenous knowledges and activisms.
We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 25. Use coupon code SPRING50 to save 50% when ordering online. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount.
Check out some of the great titles we would have featured in our booth at the NAISA conference.
In The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies, Tiffany Lethabo King uses the shoal—an offshore geologic formation that is neither land nor sea—as metaphor, mode of critique, and methodology to theorize the encounter between Black studies and Native studies and its potential to create new epistemologies, forms of practice, and lines of critical inquiry.
Brenna Bhandar examines how the emergence of modern property law contributed to the formation of racial subjects in settler colonies in Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership, showing how the colonial appropriation of indigenous lands depends upon ideologies of European racial superiority as well as legal narratives that equated civilized life with English concepts of property.
Robert Nichols reconstructs the concept of dispossession as a means of explaining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present in Theft is Property!: Dispossession and Critical Theory.
In Sacred Men: Law, Torture, and Retribution in Guam, Keith L. Camacho examines the U.S. Navy’s war crimes tribunal in Guam between 1944 and 1949 which tried members of Guam’s indigenous Chamorro community and Japanese nationals and its role in shaping contemporary domestic and international laws regarding combatants, jurisdiction, and property.
In a brilliant reinvention of the travel guide, Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i, artists, activists, and scholars redirect readers from the fantasy of Hawai‘i as a tropical paradise and tourist destination toward a multilayered and holistic engagement with Hawai‘i’s culture, complex history, and the effects of colonialism.
In Fictions of Land and Flesh: Blackness, Indigeneity, Speculation, Mark Rifkin turns to black and indigenous speculative fiction to show how it offers a site to better understand black and indigenous political movements’ differing orientations in ways that can foster forms of mutual engagement and cooperation without subsuming them into a single political framework in the name of solidarity.
If you were hoping to connect with one of our editors about your book project at NAISA, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!
Our journal issues in indigenous studies are also included in our 50%-off sale.
Contributors to “Mesoamerican Experiences of Illness and Healing,” an issue of Ethnohistory, address how Mesoamericans experienced bodily health in the wake of the sixteenth-century encounter with Europeans, which resulted in a tremendous loss of life and significantly impacted indigenous communities’ health and healing strategies.
Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.
“The essays in this issue offer diagnosis, critique, and radical visions for the future from some of the leading thinkers and experts on the tactics of the settler capitalist state, and on the exercises of Indigenous jurisdiction that counter them,” write issue editors Shiri Pasternak and Dayna Nadine Scott in their introduction. “It provides readers with the developments on the ground that are continually moving the gauge towards Indigenous self-determination even in the face of ramped up nationalist rhetoric fueled by a divisive politics of extraction.”
Readers may also find these recent related titles interesting. In Fictions of Land and Flesh, Mark Rifkin turns to black and indigenous speculative fiction to show how it offers a site to better understand black and indigenous political movements’ differing orientations in ways that can foster forms of mutual engagement and cooperation without subsuming them into a single political framework in the name of solidarity. Robert Nichols’s Theft is Property! reconstructs the concept of dispossession as a means of explaining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present. And in Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty, J. Kehaulani Kauanui examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law, showing how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming land, gender, and sexual regulation in the early nineteenth century that paved the way for sovereign recognition of the kingdom complicate contemporary nationalist activism, which too often includes disavowing the indigeneity of indigenous Hawaiians.
These titles and all our in-stock books and journal issues are 50% through May 1 with coupon SPRING50. We are also offering free U.S. shipping on all orders over $100.
We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 1. Use coupon code SPRING50 to save 50% when ordering online. In addition, if you spend $100 or more, we are offering free shipping to U.S. addresses. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount, but they do count toward the $100 threshold.
Big congratulations to Renisa Mawani, whose book Across Oceans of Law is the winner of the AAAS Book Award for Outstanding Achievement in History. The prize committee wrote, “Grappling with the interconnectedness of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans—and the ways in which Asian Indians navigated the reach of the British empire—Mawani shifts our perspectives not only from U.S.-centric histories, but also from terrestrially-bound histories. . . . Mawani is able to ground her conceptual insights, transforming what could have remained an abstract, legal history of maritime law into a richly materialized narrative of mobility, empire, and race.”
Check out some of the other great titles we would have featured in our booth at AAAS.
In a brilliant reinvention of the travel guide, Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i, artists, activists, and scholars redirect readers from the fantasy of Hawai‘i as a tropical paradise and tourist destination toward a multilayered and holistic engagement with Hawai‘i’s culture, complex history, and the effects of colonialism. This volume is edited by Hokulani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez.
Weaving U.S. history into the larger fabric of world history, the contributors to Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain de-exceptionalize the American empire, placing it in a global transimperial context as a way to grasp the power relations that shape imperial formations. This collection is edited by Kristin L. Hoganson and Jay Sexton.
Examining the work of writers and artists including Carrie Mae Weems, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Allan deSouza, Kandice Chuh advocates for what she calls “illiberal humanism” as a way to counter the Eurocentric liberal humanism that perpetuates structures of social inequality in The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man.”
If you were hoping to connect with one of our editors about your book project at AAAS, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!
Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount with free U.S. shipping on orders over $100 will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.
Like all other conferences this spring, efforts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus have led to the cancellation of the Association of American Geographers conference(AAG) in Denver. We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 1. Use coupon code SPRING50 to save 50% when ordering online. In addition, if you spend $100 or more, we are offering free shipping to U.S. addresses. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount, but they do count toward the $100 threshold.
Instead of greeting Editor Elizabeth Ault in person this year, check out her recommendations for new titles in the discipline.
Greetings geographers and allies! Since my first AAG in New Orleans, the meeting has quickly claimed a place in my heart and my brain and become important for a broad range of Duke Press books. I’m very relieved that the conference was cancelled and that the organizers have done so much to move things online though there’s no substitute for the real thing, as far as I’m concerned! But you can peruse the virtual exhibit hall, attend online sessions, and shop our website for 50% off our books!
There were several “author meets critics” (or “author meets comrades”!) panels scheduled for new Duke books: the panel on Tiffany King’s The Black Shoalspromised to highlight the exciting and growing prominence of Black Geographies at the conference, signaled also by Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award this year (congratulations, Ruthie—keep your eyes out for her forthcoming volume, edited with Paul Gilroy, of Stuart Hall’s writings on race).
King’s work invites conversations with indigenous geographies as well. Rob Nichols’s new book Theft Is Property!picks up on this conversation as well, considering dispossession as a unique historical process in the context of colonialism.
Another author meets critics panel, for Jairus Grove’s Savage Ecologies(just imagine this cover at booth poster size!!), would have explored Grove’s ecological theory of geopolitics. Asher Ghertner, Hudson McFann, and Daniel Goldstein’s new collection Futureproofconsiders similar questions of security and risk management from a global and affective perspective.
We were also hoping to catch an author meets the critics panel with Louise Amoore, whose book Cloud Ethics is out in May. She examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society.
Other books we were looking forward to highlighting at the conference include Hannah Appel’s Licit Life of Capitalism, about how global oil markets create and spatialize inequalities (relevant to fans of Michael Watts, who received another one of this year’s lifetime achievement awards!); Blue Legalities, a new collection from Irus Braverman and Elizabeth Johnson considering the challenges and complications of reglating human and more-than-human life at sea; and Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State, which asks what lessons for reshaping society and the state in more just ways we might learn from…withdrawing.
Finally, though Denver is far from Hawai’i, I think y’all would have appreciated seeing Hokulani Aikau and Vernadette Gonzalez’s Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i–and might find its richly illustrated, detailed account of the islands a provocative and useful escape during this time of staying put. That book has also inaugurated a new book series seeking to decolonize the tourbook and increase our awareness of the histories and spaces travelers inhabit–keep an eye out for those at future meetings!
Sending all my best for health, safety, and sanity, and hoping to see everyone next year in Seattle!
If you were hoping to connect with Elizabeth Ault or Courtney Berger about your book project at AAG, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!
Check out our great journals as well. In a special issue of Cultural Politics edited by Morgan Adamson and Sarah Hamblin, Legacies of ’68: Histories, Geographies, Epistemologies, contributors discuss the historical significance and cultural legacies of 1968 from the vantage point of contemporary politics. Focusing on the year’s geographical scope and epistemological legacies, the authors map out the global connections between the various movements that comprise 1968 and trace the legacies of these ideas to examine how the year continues to shape political, cultural, and social discourse on both the left and the right.
“Radical Transnationalism,” an issue of Meridians edited by Ginetta Candelario, looks at the expansive domains of transnational feminism, considering its relationship to different regions, historical periods, fields, and methodologies. Understanding that transnational feminism emerges from multiple locales across the Global South and North, this group of contributors investigates settler colonialism, racialization, globalization, militarization, decoloniality, and anti-authoritarian movements as gendered political and economic projects.
Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount with free U.S. shipping on orders over $100 will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.
‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.
Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.
In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.
In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.
Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.
Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.
With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.
In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.