Against the ‘settler common sense’, a decolonial one: Christopher Clements, ‘Between Affect and History: Sovereignty and Ordinary Life at Akwesasne, 1929–1942’, History and Theory, 54, 4, 2015, pp. 105–124


Abstract: This essay seeks to recover the ordinary and its analytical and decolonial potential within the extraordinary conditions created by settler colonialism. To do so, it investigates moments when Mohawks at Akwesasne, a community that straddles the US–Canada border, refused to acknowledge settler authority, paying particular attention to the relationship between their refusals and the condition of ordinary life. This article also considers the historical challenge of how to preserve moments of experience and their complex meanings without enveloping them in broader narratives dominated, in this case, by questions of sovereignty. How do theories of sovereignty affect the production of history, and what constraints do they place on our ability to narrate Indigenous experiences? What if we cast away the two narratives that dominate tellings of Indigenous histories: that of a settler crisis over control and that of an age-old struggle for sovereignty? Is it possible, or useful, to differentiate between acts focused primarily on maintaining the contours of ordinary, everyday life—expressions of lateral agency less about the “long haul” than about the here-and-now—and deliberate acts of political engagement, consciously aimed at the structural inequality undergirding a particular situation? Through a deep historical treatment of several moments within Akwesasne’s early twentieth-century history, this essay proposes and attempts to execute a methodology that draws together multiple theories of affect and sovereignty.

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