audra simpson on ‘settlement’s secret’, and the anthropology of native america


Audra Simpson, ‘Settlement’s Secret’, Current Anthropology 26, 2 (2011):

In the spirit of Orin Starn’s piece for Cultural Anthropology “Here Come the Anthros (Again): The Strange Marriage of Anthropology and Native America,” I offer the following response that orients to three periodizations within his review of the literature. These periodizations are marked by an anthropological (1) dependence on Native peoples, (2) estrangement from Native peoples, and (3) (tentative) rapprochement with Native peoples.

I depart from the premise of settler colonialism to meet Starn in the history he has mapped out for us. Settler colonialism is predicated on a territorial possession by some and, thus, a dispossession of others. In this model of colonialism, “the settler never leaves,” so the possession of territory requires the disappearance of “the native” (Wolfe 1999, 2006). The condition of Indigeneity in North America is to have survived this acquisitive and genocidal process and thus to have called up the failure of the project itself. In my reading of Starn’s piece and my admittedly particular rereading of the anthropological literature offered here, I respond to what I see as his central claims but do so with this reframing of the work of anthropology within the ongoing historical and political process of settlement. I organize my discussion in three parts that respond to the organization of Starn’s article: (1) spectacle, (2) anthropology, and (3) sovereignty.

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