adam barker reviews recent literature in settler colonial studies


Adam J. Barker, ‘Locating Settler Colonialism’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 13, 3 (2012).

There has been a definite shift in recent years relating to studies of colonialism. Increasingly, scholars are asking what might seem like a regressive question—”what is colonialism?”—and encountering surprising answers. This shift has been sparked by a concept that, while part of the lexicon of “colonialism” for decades, was reinvigorated in the 1990s, and is now perceived as key to a critical and challenging new perspective on colonisation. That concept is “settler colonialism”: a distinct method of colonising involving the creation and consumption of a whole array of spaces by settler collectives that claim and transform places through the exercise of their sovereign capacity.

Work on settler colonialism has exploded recently, especially in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, but also with respect to Canada, the United States of America, South Africa, Israel and other places primarily colonised by the post-Columbian European or Euro-American empires. The result has been a reopening and reinvigorating of debates over self-determination and Indigenous resistance that, while still vitally relevant, have become at times frustratingly fragmented. Despite this upsurge of interest and attention, though, the location of settler colonialism is difficult to determine. How does one identify exactly where and when settler colonisation happens given the pervasiveness of its structures and institutions, and normalisation of its associated and myriad lifestyles? Settler colonisation is, Lorenzo Veracini tells us, largely invisible.

Understanding settler colonialism by definition requires piercing this invisibility, revealing that which colonial power would obscure for its own interests. A search for the location of settler colonialism—the source of the settler coloniser’s collective power—is likely as conceptual as it is material. Yet it still implies geography, and as such a spatial form or dynamic that can be identified as distinct.

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