Postcolonial Studies

Jamaican Independence Day: Norman Washington Manley’s “The Assets We Have”

Jamaica gained its independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962. This year Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith, the editors of The Jamaica Reader, invite us to look back on how the nation has conceived of its self-governance with this speech from former Jamaican premier Norman Washington Manley.

If independence meant a triumph for the struggle for self-government that began in the 1930s, for its architects it was also an occasion for reflection on that journey and the path ahead. Norman Manley offers such a rumination in his September 1962 address to the People’s National Party (PNP)’s national conference. Manley led Jamaica through the federation years and shepherded the discussions with the British government on the terms and timing of constitutional decolonization. As premier of Jamaica—a post that ceased to exist after 1959—Manley introduced several far-reaching policies intended to improve Jamaica’s institutions. His strong support for federation suffered a blow with the referendum he called in September 1961. In the wake of that loss, and with the discussions for independence well underway, Manley called a general election for April 1962. He was defeated by Alexander Bustamante, his cousin and opposition leader. Manley continued to lead the PNP, which was again defeated in 1967. The 1962 loss was most upsetting for him and his followers. As he implies in the speech, it denied Manley the “privilege” of being the first prime minister of an independent Jamaica.

Nevertheless, amid the excitement over independence, Manley accepted that the legacies of three centuries of colonial rule would take time to dismantle. The way ahead would depend less on him and the party’s founders. The generatino of independence had to accept the charge of making Jamaica a truly free nation defined by greater levels of social equality and economic sustainability. Manley’s inspiring words in the face of two major defeats reflect his insistence that nationalism be placed above party political victory.

Comrades, I thank God that I have lived to see twenty-four years of the work of the party crowned with the achievement of independence for our blessed and beloved country (applause).

I look back on the long years of our struggle. I look back to the days of our early beginning when we first began to rouse Jamaica to her destiny as a nation in the world. I remember the hard and bitter struggles of the past. I remember the small handful of comrades that joined us. I remember the sacrifices they made. I remember the mockery they endured. I remember the suffering they withstood. I remember how some of them, nameless today and unsung, gave their lives that Jamaica might throw off 300 years of colonial bondage, might lift up their hearts to aspire to all that independence means and freedom for a people.

It is true that we have been denied the privilege of achieving power at this moment, but no one can deny us the accomplishment of our work in this country (applause). And many marveled how it was that we who were not in the seats of power acknowledged as the authors of the greatest of our land at this time (applause).

And now I am going to speak to you about the challenge of this time as we close one book of our history, a book which from the beginning could foresee its own end, and open another book in our history, the end of which no man can foresee, but it will roll on from generation to generation as we seek to build a nation worthy of our sons and daughters in this land.

Comrades, it is one thing to become free; it is another thing to build a real nation of your country (applause).

But, comrades, we start our nationhood with some great assets. One of the good things is the long time that it has taken us to evolve our life into freedom as a people. We have learned much over the past half a century. We have learned most of all over the last twenty-four years in this country; and we have only got to remember the lessons we have learned to make sure that we can find the right way for the future.

We gave this country for seven and a half years a Government that knew how to use power with restraint and respect for human decencies in the land. We gave this country for seven and a half years a Government which believed in the realities of democracy, which allowed all men to walk the land free from fear and free from oppression.

We have one third great asset in this country, moving into nationhood, and this is the quality of the people of the land, a people tough and resilient, taught by adversity to endure hardship with patience, given some special spirit of loyalty to inspire them in their devotion to the causes they espoused, a people well understanding right from wrong, well understanding decency in government, well understanding justice and the rule of law. And those are great assets for a country to start with. And I say what I have so often said, if Jamaica fails it is Jamaica’s leaders that have failed, not Jamaica’s people.

Comrades, we must never forget that we start with all the legacies of 300 years of colonial rule. We would be foolish if we did not understand that you don’t throw off all the patterns of behaviour and thought that colonialism brings upon a people merely by becoming free. We have tried hard in this country to overcome them, but they are not yet overcome. In the old days each man sought his own good in the country and each man that made his way up turned his back on where he came from, and each man who achieved a high place on the ladder went steadily striving to bow the knee to wherever power was to be found in the Colonial Empire. Those patterns prevail in this country today and there are still men who in true colonial style serve one party only, the party in power—the pips who bow the knee and scrape and cringe and deny and falsify principles so as to protect themselves and their positions. Maybe it is common all over the world, but it is particularly common in societies that have known colonial rule for generations.

And I say one last thing. When I look into the future of Jamaica, I ask you to remember the three great tasks that confront us at this time as people. First, foremost and above all, to make come true this great motto that I am proud of having played a part in formulating when I was Premier of Jamaica: “Out of many, one people.” We are not one people today. We are many. That is history. That is colonialism. That is our particular history. That is the problem before all Jamaica today—how to make “out of many, one people.” That is a problem that we have understood for many years and that is something that our party must dedicate itself to achieving in this country.

We have another basic, fundamental problem, and that is how to continue to build our economy so as to create a society which offers the reality of equal opportunity to all people and offers the opportunity of decent Christian lives to every man, woman and child in the land.

As a nation our third great problem, and it would mean so much to us, is to present ourselves to the world so that we can mean something in the world of free peoples and free nations. In other words we want a meaningful foreign policy in Jamaica as a nation.

History now gives us the role to create the new things which will make that nation live and endure in the world to come. So let no man quarrel with history or question the judgments of the Architect of the universe.

Read the introduction to the The Jamaica Reader and save 30% on the paperback edition using the coupon code E21JAMRD.

New Books in August

Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!

In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreography on the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.

Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.

In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.

In The Politics of Decolonial Investigation Walter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.

Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.

Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.

Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.

The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.

In Policing Protest Paul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.

In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.

In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.

Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.

Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.

New Books in June

Looking for some summer reading? Check out the great new titles we have coming out in June!

Jennifer L. Morgan draws on the lived experiences of enslaved African women in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries in Reckoning with Slavery to reveal the contours of early modern notions of trade, race, and commodification in the Black Atlantic.

In Decolonizing Memory, Jill Jarvis examines the crucial role that writers and artists have played in cultivating historical memory and nurturing political resistance in Algeria, showing how literature offers the unique ability to reckon with colonial violence and to render the experiences of those marginalized by the state.

The contributors to Beyond Man, edited by An Yountae and Eleanor Craig, reckon with the colonial and racial implications of the philosophy of religion’s history by staging a conversation between it and Black, Indigenous, and decolonial studies.

In Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, Martin Savransky draws on the pragmatic pluralism of William James and the ontological turn in anthropology to propose a “pluralistic realism”—an understanding of ontology in which at any given time the world is both one and many, ongoing and unfinished.

In How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind, La Marr Jurelle Bruce ponders the presence of “madness” in black literature, music, and performance since the early twentieth century, showing how artist ranging from Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill to Nina Simone and Dave Chappelle activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition.

Việt Lê examines contemporary art in Cambodia and Việt Nam in Return Engagements to trace the entwinement of militarization, trauma, diaspora, and modernity in Southeast Asian art.

In Images of Beirut, Hatim El-Hibri explores how the creation and circulation of images has shaped the urban spaces and cultural imaginaries of Beirut, showing how images can be used to consolidate or destabilize regimes of power.

Editors Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith combine more than one hundred classic and lesser-known texts in The Jamaica Reader to present a panoramic history of the country—from its pre-contact Indigenous origins to the present—and provide an unparalleled look at Jamaica’s history, culture, and politics.

In Colonial Debts, Rocío Zambrana uses the current political-economic moment in Puerto Rico to outline how debt functions as both an apparatus that strengthens neoliberalism and the island’s colonial relation to the United States.

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández challenges the stereotypes of machismo in Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora with nuanced portraits of Mexican men and masculinities along and across the US-Mexico border.

The contributors to Words and Worlds, edited by Veena Das and Didier Fassin, examine the state of politics and the political imaginary within contemporary societies by taking up the everyday words such as democracy, revolution, and populism that we use to understand the political present.

A concise, easy-to-understand reference book, the revised and updated second edition of the bestselling All about Your Eyes tells you what you need to know to care for your eyes, various eye diseases and treatments, and what to expect from your eye doctor. The editors, Sharon Fekrat, Tanya S. Glaser, and Henry L. Feng are all physicians at the world-renown Duke Eye Center.

In an indispensable guide for all ethnographers, the editors of Experimenting with Ethnography, Andrea Ballestero and Brit Ross Winthereik, collect twenty-one essays that offer concrete suggestions for thinking about and doing ethnographic research and writing.

The contributors to Sound Alignments, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene, and Kaley Mason, explore the myriad forms of popular music in Asia during the Cold War, showing how it took on new meanings and significance as it traveled across the region and forged and challenged alliances, revolutions, and countercultures.

Shaoling Ma examines late Qing China’s political upheavals and modernizing energies through the problem of the dynamics between new media technologies such as the telegraph the discursive representations of them in The Stone and the Wireless.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

120th Anniversary of the Birth of C. L. R. James

c-l-r-james-3C. L. R. James was born on January 4, 1901, 120 years ago today. James’s work has been a huge influence on many of our other authors, and we are proud to be the home for the book series The C. L. R. James Archives, which both recovers works of James himself and offers new scholarship on his work. Christian Høgsbjerg, editor or author of many of the books in the series, says, “The C. L. R. James Archives series under the editorship of Professor Robert A. Hill has played a critical role in helping to ensure that the intellectual legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable Caribbean revolutionary writers and thinkers has continued to inspire new generations of scholars and activists in the twenty-first century.”

Editorial Director Gisela Fosado says, “C. L. R. James was brilliant, prolific, and influential in wide ranging social movements and scholarly areas. I’ve always loved the way the series forms a backbone for so much of our list. To name the fields that he influenced or that emerged through his influence is basically to name the major areas of strength of our publications.”   

Beyond a BoundaryBeyond a Boundary, which mixes memoir, history, and social commentary through the prism of cricket, is one of James’s best-known and most popular books. Sports Illustrated named it one of the best sports books of all times. Our fiftieth anniversary edition features a new foreword by Paget Henry. Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket, edited by David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsbjerg, and Andrew Smith features essays about the classic book.

James’s other best known work is The Black Jacobins, and we have two books in the series that examine that text. The Black Jacobins Reader, edited by Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg, features ten essays on the The Black Jacobins by a wide range of scholars. The contributors discuss its production, context, and enduring importance in relation to debates about decolonization, globalization, postcolonialism, and the emergence of neocolonial Making the Black Jacobinsmodernity. Making the Black Jacobins, by Rachel Douglas, examines the 1938 and 1963 editions of The Black Jacobins, the 1967 play of the same name, and James’s 1936 play, Toussaint Louverture—as well as manuscripts, notes, interviews, and other texts—to show how James continuously rewrote and revised his history of the Haitian Revolution as his politics and engagement with Marxism evolved. James’s play Toussaint Louverture was once thought lost until Christian Høgsbjerg located a draft copy in an archive in 2005. Our edition of the play includes the program, photographs, and reviews from that production, a contextual introduction and editorial notes on the play by Høgsbjerg, and selected essays and letters by James and others.

Høgsbjerg remarks, “Recent works of scholarship on C. L. R. James in the series such as these clearly remind us of the relevance of James’s classic history of the Haitian Revolution for the global Black Lives Matter movement today.” James and The Black Jacobins are regularly referenced in popular culture as well as by academics. The recent Steve McQueen film Small Axe features James as a character (played by Derek Griffiths) and another major character is seen reading The Black Jacobins.

CLR James in Imperial BritainChristian Høgsbjerg is also the author of C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain, which chronicles James’s life and work during his first extended stay in Britain, from 1932 to 1938. It reveals the radicalizing effect of this critical period on James’s intellectual and political trajectory. 

One of the goals of the series is to bring lesser known works by C. L. R. James back into print. Thus far, along with Toussaint Louverture, we have republished World Revolution, 1917–1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International, originally published in 1937, and The Life of Captain Cipriani, James’s earliest full-length work of nonfiction, originally published in 1932. Bridget Brereton edited and introduces The Life of Captain Cipriani, which also includes the pamphlet “The Case for West-Indian Self Government.” Christian Høgsbjerg is the editor of World Revolution, 1917-1936.

Høgsbjerg says, “For much of his own life, so many of even the most essential and foundational of  James’s works were sadly out of print, while much else by him never even found its way into print.  It is therefore tremendous that, thanks to Duke University Press, admirers of James are now able to read some of his very earliest political writings on black and colonial liberation, in works such as The Life of Captain Cipriani and his legendary play Toussaint Louverture, something which would have been almost unthinkable before the series began. Long may the series continue!”

Q&A with Catherine Besteman, author of “Miltarized Global Apartheid”

Besteman shotCatherine Besteman is Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby College. She is the author or editor of many books, including Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine (2016). Her latest book is Militarized Global Apartheid, which is part of the Global Insecurities series, which she co-edits.

As your title makes clear, your book argues that we are living under militarized global apartheid. You explain in your Introduction that your concept is (as might be suspected) modeled after South Africa’s apartheid, which extended officially from 1948 to 1994. How might the term apartheid, and the South African paradigm it references, contribute to an understanding of current global networks? And why might it be preferable to other words like imperialism, globalization, and transnationalism, which, as you mention, have been formerly utilized in your field?

Militarized Global ApartheidThe reason for defining the system I analyze as militarized global apartheid is to highlight the ways in which imperialism, globalization, and transnationalism are race-based projects. Imperialist projects over the past 500 years are projects of racial differentiation and racist domination; projects of capital accumulation enabled by globalization use hierarchies created by racial differentiation as a tool of extraction and domination; and transnationalism presumes nationalism, which, as I show, has become a racially coded identity in most parts of the world. As scholars such as Cedric Robinson, Charles Mills, Deborah Thomas, and Kamari Clarke have shown brilliantly in various ways, globalization has proceeded over the past 500 years through the creation and imposition of race-based hierarchies in ways that reinforce white supremacy and benefit the global north rather than the global south through the control of mobility and labor. Using the term ‘apartheid’ places race at the center of analysis of how power and capitalism work in our contemporary world.

Your project is built around a conceptual division of the world between the global north and the global south. As you yourself remark, the global south is a contested geographical category and not at all homogenous. Why is it important for you, nevertheless, to utilize this concept? What does the category miss, and what does it get right? 

Global north and global south are obviously roughly drawn terms that nevertheless I find useful for making my theoretical argument. I draw on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s definition of the global north and Jean and John Comaroff’s definition of the global south in recognition of the historical fact that the forces of capital extraction and finance emanate primarily from the global north and that most of the global south experienced colonization and neocolonization of one kind or another by countries in the global north. Of course, these terms carry the danger of reductionism and overgeneralization. Categories like these miss the class interests shared by elites across these divides, which is a critically important component of the contemporary world. These categories also run the risk of reinforcing dangerous assumptions about global north supremacy and global south impoverishment, which the book seeks to deconstruct. But I hope my use of these broad categories to describe the global patterns of militarized structures of control over mobility and labor clarify whose interests are being served and which parts of the world are being harmed.

You argue that our current framework of militarized global apartheid rests heavily on racialization, which is increasingly tied to nationality; long-standing systems of white supremacy, then, encourage heightened policing and militarization to contain people of the global south within geographical borders according to their perceived national belonging. Would you say that mobility, in the face of containment, is a human right? And how can we imagine “belonging,” as you title your first chapter, outside of the boundaries of national borders?

Yes, absolutely, I consider mobility to be a human right. Everyone should have the right to move. As for how to imagine belonging outside the boundaries of national borders, all we have to do is look at how much work has gone into constructing nationalism and national identities over the past century and a half alone. The monumental effort expended to cohere groups of people into accepting national identities as not only legitimate but primary suggests the power of alternative—and competing—sensibilities of mutuality, belonging, and commonality, often rooted in kinship, locality, language, religious affiliation, or other things. The notion of belonging carries a commitment to mutual responsibility, care, and social recognition; a sense of shared basic values; and a willingness to co-participate in problem-solving. We don’t need nation-states to create these things.  

In your introduction, you draw a connection between “security fears about immigrants, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black men in the United States.” Can you say more about this link? How can your concept of militarized global apartheid inform ongoing critiques of policing and incarceration within the US that systemically target Black people, despite their national citizenship?

This issue—the connection between the racialized policing and control of mobile populations and the racialized policing and control of internal populations—is really the crux of the book. Security imperialism—in the form of mobility controls wielded against mobile and potentially mobile populations from the global south by countries of the global north—is tightly and intricately connected to carcerality within nation-states of the global north. Racialized language and militarized security innovations characterize both arenas. The use of mass incarceration as a tool of social control in some parts of the global north, most particularly the US, is reproduced in the carceral forms spreading across the global south as imprisonment and containment become the norm for disciplining political dissent, removing populations whose presence is threatening to capitalist interests, and meeting the demands of the global north for constraining mobility. I call this security carcerality, and argue it is the new form of imperialism of our era.

You acknowledge early on that migrants resist militarized apartheid in diverse and creative ways, but that this resistance is not the focus of your current project. What brought you to the decision to aim your attention at global systems of containment, rather than on sites of contestation? 

There have been so many studies of migrant resistance, strategies, experiences, and tragedies, including by me. Migrants have been in the spotlight for decades, but especially since the so-called migrant ‘crisis’ of 2015 in Europe, and some scholars, like Shahram Khosravi, are calling for scholars to recognize a migrant ‘right to opacity’. The focus on the migrant can be seen as reproducing the perception that migrants are the problem, when in fact they are not. The problem is a global system which unequally apportions capital and the power of some over the livelihoods of others, controls mobility, and determines who has the right to move and whose mobility is blocked. The problem is a global system in which the lives of people in the global south are seen as sacrificable for the benefit of people in the global north. My choice in this book is to focus on the real problem, the global system of militarized apartheid.

Who do you hope reads your book? 

I hope the book will be useful for teaching, which is why it is short. Chapters can be excerpted and taught separately. I hope the book reaches a cross disciplinary audience, speaking to geographers, critical race and globalization theorists, migration scholars and advocates, journalists, and people working in critical security studies. I hope the book stimulates a range of new studies, and especially studies that push forward the discussion about alternative futures opened in the book’s final chapter. My 90-year old stepfather was the first family member to read this book, and he read it in two days and then phoned with a long list of questions. I hope people of all ages read this book and then get in touch with their list of questions.

New Books in December

As we close out 2020, check out our new December titles.

interimperialityWeaving together feminist, decolonial, and dialectical theory, Laura Doyle theorizes the co-emergence of empires, institutions, language regimes, stratified economies, and literary cultures over the longue durée in Inter-imperiality.

Prathama Banerjee moves beyond postcolonial and decolonial critiques of European political philosophy in Elementary Aspects of the Political to rethink modern conceptions of “the political” from the perspective of Indian and Bengali practices and philosophies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

the colonizing self

Hagar Kotef in The Colonizing Self explores the cultural, political, spatial, and theoretical mechanisms that enable people and nations to settle on the ruins of other people’s homes, showing how settler-colonial violence becomes inseparable from one’s sense of self.

Bakirathi Mani examines the visual and affective relationships between South Asian diasporic viewers, artists, and photographic representations of immigrant subjects in Unseeing Empire, showing how empire continues to haunt South Asian American visual cultures.

Claiming Union WidowhoodBrandi Clay Brimmer analyzes the US pension system from the perspective of poor black women in the period before, during, and after the Civil War in Claiming Union Widowhood; outlining the struggles of mothers, wives, and widows of black Union soldiers to claim rights in the face of unjust legislation.

Weaving together the black radical tradition with Caribbean and Latinx performance, cinema, music, and literature, Ren Ellis Neyra in The Cry of the Senses highlights the ways Latinx and Caribbean sonic practices challenge antiblack, colonial, post-Enlightenment, and humanist epistemologies.

In Utopian Ruins, Jie Li traces the creation, preservation, and elision of memories about China’s Mao era by envisioning a virtual museum that reckons with both its utopian yearnings and cataclysmic reverberations.

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Re-framing and Refusing the Enduring Colonial Fascination with Polynesian Origins

Today’s guest post is by Maile Arvin, Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. In her book Possessing Polynesians she 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 Nature is 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 the New York Times, Guardian and Science).     

Figure I.1 in Possessing Polynesians. “Polynesians “Polynesians a-ok!” Honolulu Star- Bulletin Honolulu Star- cartoon, 1962.

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. 

Read the introduction to Possessing Polynesians free online and save 30% on the book with coupon code E19ARVIN.

French Book Week

frenchbook

Literally Swiss, the European Literature Network and Pro Helvetia have launched the first French Book Week, an online forum dedicated to French literature, translation and publishing in the UK. We’re happy to share our new and upcoming French Studies titles as part of the celebration. UK customers can purchase these books from our European distributor, Combined Academic Publishers.

978-1-4780-0823-1_prThe Birth of Solidarity: The History of the French Welfare State by François Ewald is edited by Melinda Cooper and translated from the French by Timothy Scott Johnson.  The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986, revised in 1996, with the revised edition appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. It’s is a classic work of social and political theory that will appeal to all those interested in labor power, the making and dismantling of the welfare state, and Foucauldian notions of governmentality, security, risk, and the limits of liberalism.

Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950 by Eric Smoodin  takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s. Judith Mayne says, “Paris in the Dark is an outstanding study of the spaces and places of Parisian filmgoing and a major contribution to French film studies.”

Wombs of WomenThe Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism by Françoise Vergès will be published in August. Translated by Kaiama L. Glover, The Wombs of Women examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism. Vergès traces the long history of colonial state intervention in black women’s wombs during the slave trade and postslavery imperialism as well as in current birth control politics. She examines the women’s liberation movement in France in the 1960s and 1970s, showing that by choosing to ignore the history of the racialization of women’s wombs, French feminists inevitably ended up defending the rights of white women at the expense of women of color.

We also invite you to check out our journal French Historical Studies, the leading journal on the history of France, which publishes articles and commentaries on all periods of French history from the Middle Ages to the present. The journal’s diverse format includes forums, review essays, special issues, and articles in French, as well as bilingual abstracts of the articles in each issue. Also featured are bibliographies of recent articles, dissertations, and books in French history and announcements of fellowships, prizes, and conferences of interest to French historians.

Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Africa in Europe | Europe in Africa

In “Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Africa in Europe | Europe in Africa,” a new issue of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, contributors reconfigure concepts of art, culture, and politics through the lens of cosmopolitanism.

Cover of "Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Africa in Europe | Europe in Africa"

Focusing on the historical and cultural entanglement of Africa and Europe at the intersection of decolonization and modernity, the authors emphasize the potential of cosmopolitanism to shape possibilities for coexistence and living with difference among all people. Visual and textual essays address the causes and consequences of migration between Africa and Europe; the classification of artistic practices whose roots are not confined to any particular nation; and mid-twentieth-century debates on decolonization, modernity/modernism, and identity through a cosmopolitan viewpoint.

The issue’s introduction by editor Salah M. Hassan is free to read online. Fatima El-Tayeb’s article, “The Universal Museum: How the New Germany Built its Future on Colonial Amnesia,” which addresses the long-term impact of colonialism on Europe’s internal structures and on its self-positioning in a global context, is free for three months.

Learn more about Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art or purchase “Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Africa in Europe | Europe in Africa” here.

New Books in July

We are now mid-way through the summer, and it’s not too late to stock up on books to add to your summer reading list. Check out these brand new titles coming out in July!

978-1-4780-0602-2Journeys through the Russian Empire is a lavishly illustrated volume that features hundreds of full-color images of Russian architecture and landscapes taken by early-twentieth-century photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and juxtaposed against those of contemporary photographer and scholar William Craft Brumfield. Together their images document Russia’s architectural, artistic, and cultural heritage. This one will look gorgeous on your coffee table!

The contributors to Paper Trails, edited by Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman, examine migrants’ relationship to the state through requirements to obtain identification documents in order to get legal status.

978-1-4780-0954-2Written for humanities graduate students and the faculty they study with, Katina L. Rogers’s Putting the Humanities PhD to Work grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of how graduate training can lead to meaningful and significant careers beyond the academy.

In Keith Haring’s Line, Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries.

In ¡Presente!, Diana Taylor offers the theory of presente as a model of standing by and with victims of structural and endemic violence by being physically and politically present in situations where it seems that nothing can be done.

978-1-4780-0945-0Drawing  on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators, in Latinx Art Arlene Dávila explores how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists.

In The Wombs of Women, Françoise Vergès examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.

In Embodying Relation, Allison Moore examines the tensions between the local and the global in the art photography movement that blossomed in Bamako, Mali, in the 1990s, showing contemporary Malian photography to be a rich example of Western notions of art meeting traditional cultural precepts to forge new artistic forms, practices, and communities.

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