Abstract: Qualitative research in Tucson, Arizona reveals limitations to coalition building based on activists’ distinct positions and experiences, as well as their disparate understandings of the meaning of solidarity. Nonetheless, in the context of increasing militarization in the United States-Mexico borderlands/occupied O’odham territory, there is a history of coalition building to challenge the violence, at times halting the U.S. state’s plans for further militarization. Thus, it is timely to consider the (im)possibilities for solidarity amongst activist groups confronting militarization. To do so, I first examine the analysis and strategies put forward by immigrants’ rights groups, incorporating literature related to racial capitalism and imperialism. Next, I consider critiques and strategies presented by a Palestine/occupied O’odham land solidarity group, integrating scholarship on settler colonialism and indigenous resistance. Finally, I discuss challenges to and potentials for coalition building in the region based on listening to activists’ varying sentiments related to solidarity. I posit that a form of solidarity that requires finding a common struggle, despite the recognition of different experiences, may reify settler colonial ways of relating. I argue a decolonial framework may foster a form of solidarity that does not require a search for one form of oppression that is “common” to all, but rather embraces a form of solidarity that strives to listen to and learn from multiple subject positions. Additionally, a form of solidarity that embraces analyses born out of listening to various (hi)stories of those affected by the ongoing militarization in the region provides a nuanced understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands/occupied O’odham territory. Such an understanding highlights the complexity and multiple technologies of power at play in the U.S. settler colonial capitalist nation, as well as various forms of ongoing resistance to oppression.

American Association of Geographers (AAG)
Annual Meeting Washington, DC, April 3-7, 2019
Organizers: Rhys Machold (University of Glasgow), Stepha Velednitsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Sara Salazar Hughes (USC)
Both interest in settler colonial studies and critiques of that field (Simpson 2017; Snelgrove et al 2014; Macoun & Strakosch 2013; Svirsky 2017) have been on the rise in the last decade. These discussions have been animated by comparative studies of different “cases” of settler colonialism as well as a focus on the notion of certain forms/sites as “exemplars” (Lloyd 2012), often defined by heightened levels of deprivation and violence. In differentiating settler colonialism from other colonial forms but also exploring the interconnections between them, leading theorists have often focused on the guiding logics and structures behind these socio-historical formations. Indeed, settler colonial studies  “leans towards the discursive aspects and imaginative geographies of settler colonialism” (Salamanca 2014:22), often negating its material and infrastructural underpinnings and the recurring disruptions/frictions involved in practices of accumulation through violence and dispossession. This tendency among critics has produced a unidirectional, instrumental and unhindered picture of settler colonial formations that sediments rather than usettles their perceived inevitability and coherence and develops a (possibly) misplaced focus on typologies. As Laura Ann Stoler has recently argued, “Settler colonialism might better be understood not as a unique ‘type,’ but as the effect of a failed or protracted contest over appropriation and dispossession that is not over when the victories are declared, killings are accomplished, and decimation is resolved as the only ‘solution.’ Settler colonialism is only ever an imperial process in formation […] that it is always at risk of being undone” (Stoler 2016: 61). Indeed, while settler formations are built on claims of inevitability and coherence, and can appear as unidirectional, instrumental, and unhindered, their material unfoldings are riddled with failures and disruptions. Settler colonial societies are therefore invariably marked by a series of recurring settler anxieties: anxiety about how the colonized shape and are an intrinsic part of the colonizing society’s identity; existential fear of being undone by indigenous resurgence; need to keep separate ‘what we have done’ from ‘who we are’ (Veracini 2011).

Within this session, we are interested not just in the conceptual and material ways that settlers manage these psychic conflicts and psychopathologies, but also in the ways movements for decolonial resistance might leverage these fissures and disjunctures toward liberatory futures, thereby unraveling settler colonial fabrications. We seek to do so by exploring the workings of settler colonial failures and the roles of expertise within the troubled ideological and embodied interfaces of settler ideology and indigenous/decolonial resistance. Within these conversations, we are also interested in the distinctions between the more conventional representation of expertise as ‘packages’ of knowhow to be exchanged in a marketplace versus the idea of expertise in terms of relations between different sites and actors (cf. Agnew 2007). By positioning claims and practices of expertise in the latter way, we aim to probe how self-declared ‘experts’ and their claims to expertise enable connections and networks to be forged between various places and processes:

  • How do communities create and/or exploit failures within settler colonialism  for anti-colonial and decolonial resistance (Tuck and Yang 2012)?

  • How does the interface between the imagined/psychic and the material/practical inflect expressions of failure and possibly evoke struggle or resistance?

  • How is expertise deployed to address settlers’ anxieties about perceived threats?

  • In what ways are the junctions of settler ideology/knowledge/expertise and resistant knowledges/sites of material resistance productive, fraught, or disruptive?

  • How do settlers strategically mobilize/deploy anxiety through recurring claims to overcoming failure/difficulty via ‘progress’ and ‘innovation’?

  • How does geographic, economic, and political variegation shape the ways in which ideology and expertise operate within a range of settler colonial projects?

Interested applicants should send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Stepha Velednitsky at velednitsky@wisc.edu by Monday, October 15th. Accepted applicants will be notified by October 22. *Note: to enhance the quality of discussion, session participants must submit brief conference papers (approx. 10 pp.) to the session organizers by March 18, 2019 for distribution to discussant(s).

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Abstract: Liberia, the West African nation, whose name connotes freedom, was the creation of the American Colonisation Society (ACS) whose initial aim was to rid the United States of a growing population of ‘free people of colour.’ Yet it became a unique imaginative space on to which were projected the hopes, dreams and fears of various groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This study examines the various ways that the country (established as a colony in 1820 and declared a republic in 1847) was imagined, constructed and represented in a wide variety of American, Liberian and English texts from 1820-1940. Ultimately, Liberia came to be widely regarded as not merely the reversal of the Middle Passage but a path whereby the descendants of slavery, figured as socially and spiritually unmoored in the New World, might be anchored and regenerated in Africa. For the pioneering members of the free black community and newly emancipated slaves who colonised it, Liberia came to be represented as a recovered homeland, a space in which the experience of New World slavery could be rendered meaningful in the secular and sacred arenas through nation-building and the Christianisation of the African continent. White Americans promoted colonisation as the Manifest Destiny of the free black community, giving them the opportunity to carry the ideals of revolutionary America to their ancestral home. Late nineteenth-century American and Caribbean black commentators figured Liberia as a base for a Pan-African nation that presented a historic opportunity to define the ultimate destiny of the African Diaspora. These different representations positioned the Black Republic as a supposed utopia where black masculinity and femininity, so deeply undermined by the institution of slavery, could be restored and revitalised. For contemporary English and European visitors, the nation was a troubling anomaly in a continent ruled by European imperial powers. The accounts of these travellers to Liberia represented it as a state in crisis, whose failure they attributed largely to the incapacity of African people for self-government. Liberia represents a re-figuring of the very concept of settler colonialism. Its distinctive and contested nature offers a singular paradigm that transforms and destabilises understandings of discourses regarding race and colonial relationships, complicates ideas of liberty and agency, and widens the scope of abolitionism, black nationalism and American imperialism. It adds a new dimension to our conceptualisation of the Black Atlantic and extends the developing genre of black American literature beyond the borders of the United States.

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