‘Latin American states are settler colonial states’: Shannon Speed, ‘Structures of Settler Capitalism in Abya Yala’, American Quarterly, 69, 4, 2017, pp. 783-790


Excerpt: Latin American states are settler colonial states, though they are rarely analyzed in this way. Indeed, there often seems to be a kind of entrenched resistance to thinking about Latin America in settler colonial terms, for reasons that are complex, but have to do in large part to an implicit adherence to some premises of settler colonialism put forward by Patrick Wolfe, who is often credited with having popularized the term and, intentionally or not, generating the field of settler colonial studies.

Wolfe did not, of course, coin the term. Native scholars and activists had been using it for some time, as he himself regularly pointed out. Further, a group of prominent feminist scholars published Unsettling Settler Societies, edited by Daiva Stasiulis and Nira Yuval Davis, in 1995, three years before Wolfe published Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology. Notably, Latin America was included in that volume (see contributions by Gutierrez and Radcliffe). That said, Wolfe’s lucid articulation of the structure and logics of settler colonialism has been and remains tremendously influential, and continues to undergird—at times a bit too rigidly—our understandings of the workings of settler power in the field of Native studies. In particular, the land–labor binary, the importance of which Wolfe elaborated in most of his works and reasserted in the recent Traces of History (2016), has become an often-unspoken and largely unexamined premise of the settler state in ways that occlude significant complexity and foreclose recognition of settler structures. I do not raise this in an antitheory sense, to challenge abstraction in favor of empirical specificity per se. Rather, I think the specificity of cases all too often discarded without further or sufficient examination may in fact add new richness and dimension to the overall theoretical analytic.

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