john french on the construction of self and other in south africa, australia and the united states


John Mark French, ‘Native, narrative, and nation: The construction of self and other in European settler colonies’. Ph.D. diss. (UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO, 2010).


A new theory is presented which uses the work of Michel Foucault to link the appearance of national identity to the development of the modem state. Drawing on thinkers like Hilary Putnam and Ian Hacking, it is suggested that national identities must be understood in terms of everyday practices, and that state policies in particular are important for understanding how such identities develop. The concept of “enactment” is developed to draw out the connections between practice and identity.

This theory is explored using three case studies: the United States, Australia, and South Africa. It is argued that by looking at native policies in such “settler societies,” we can see more clearly the ways in which state policies work to enact national identities. The three cases can be characterized in terms of the role that native peoples play in the developing self-conceptions of the settlers. This role varies across the cases along a spectrum from absence to presence. Various reasons for the differing outcomes, including economic structures and differences in the relationship between colony and metropole, are explored.

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