lorenzo veracini on viruses and bacteria


Lorenzo Veracini, ‘Understanding Colonialism and Settler Colonialism as Distinct Formations’, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies (2013).

A growing body of literature has characterized settler colonial phenomena as ‘distinct’, and called for the establishment of dedicated interpretative tools. ‘Distinct’, however, begs the question: distinct relative to what? This essay reflects on this distinctiveness, and heuristically suggests that reference to the diverse operation of viral and bacterial phenomena can help an understanding of the distinct functioning of colonial and settler colonial systems. While both viruses and bacteria are exogenous elements that often dominate their destination locales, viruses need living cells to operate, while bacteria attach to surfaces and may or may not rely on the organisms they encounter. Similarly, while both colonizers and settler colonizers are exogenous elements that assert their dominance over their destination locales, a colonial system of relationships, unlike a settler colonial one, is premised on the presence and subjugation of exploitable ‘Others’. This essay also suggests that this metaphorical conceptualization can facilitate reflection on the decolonization of settler colonial forms.

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