The standpoint of settler colonialism (and that of settler colonial studies): Ashley Glassburn, ‘Settler Standpoints’, The William and Mary Quarterly, 76, 3, 2019, 399-406

07Aug19

Excerpt: THE framework of settler colonialism invites scholars to use an Indigenous standpoint to better understand history and society. The hashtag #VastEarlyAmerica and the conversations it has sparked urge scholars to account for the complex and varied relations that shaped the settling of the North American continent. In practice #VastEarlyAmerica encourages decentering the standard British colonial, Euro-American, westward-moving narrative of the United States by diversifying the regions, peoples, and forces on which we focus our historical gaze. Under this umbrella, settler colonial studies and Indigenous history are often understood as contributing to a more vibrant and complicated understanding of early America, but settler colonialism can offer even more as an analytic tool for shaping methodology when conceptualized as a standpoint.

Standpoint theory was popularized by feminist epistemologists in the 1980s as a way of talking about knowing across differences, whether sexual, racial, cultural, or, in this case, historical. In juxtaposition to claims that all knowledge is grounded in personal experience, Sandra Harding argues that people can learn and think through the perspectives of others in order to take up their standpoint. Furthermore, according to Harding, social justice demands that those with the most social capital, such as scholars, have a responsibility to give voice to the least powerful by cultivating a standpoint that centers marginalized experiences and interests. For Harding, standpoint theory is a political commitment to address unrecognized bias shaping research projects by intentionally seeking to understand and represent the most vulnerable. For her part, Patricia Hill Collins describes the theory’s resonating logic of prioritizing “subjugated knowledge” as a means to decenter hegemonic paradigms that normalize structures of oppression, a program that clearly overlaps with the goals of #VastEarlyAmerica.



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