erich steinman on settler colonialism and the american indian sovereignty movement

06Mar12

Erich Steinman, ‘Settler Colonial Power and the American Indian Sovereignty Movement: Forms of Domination, Strategies of Transformation’, American Journal of Sociology 117, 4 (2012).

The article extends the multi-institutional model of power and change through an analysis of the American Indian Sovereignty Movement. Drawing upon cultural models of the state, and articulating institutionalist conceptions of political opportunities and resources, the analysis demonstrates that this framework can be applied to challenges addressing the state as well as nonstate fields. The rational-legal diminishment of tribal rights, bureaucratic paternalism, commonsense views of tribes as racial/ethnic minorities, and the binary construction of American and Indian as oppositional identities diminished the appeal of “contentious” political action. Instead, to establish tribes’ status as sovereign nations, tribal leaders aggressively enacted infrastructural power, transposed favorable legal rulings across social fields to legitimize sovereignty discourses, and promoted a pragmatic coexistence with state and local governments. Identifying the United States as a settler colonial society, the study suggests that a decolonizing framework is more apt than racial/ethnicity approaches in conceptualizing the struggle of American Indians.



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