A response to Elizabeth Strakosch, Alissa Macoun, ‘The Violence of Analogy: Abstraction, Neoliberalism and Settler Colonial Possession’, Postcolonial Studies, 23, 4, 2020, pp. 505-526)

03Dec20

Scholars committed to decolonial activism should discuss ways in which settlers can support Indigenous struggles and consider whether Indigenous examples could inspire and guide a commitment to decolonisation. Instead, I here feel compelled to write a post about being politically confronted by scholars committed to decolonial activism like me. Perhaps this is what blogs are for …

A couple of items of housekeeping first. I never used ‘Indigenous-like’ as an expression (a metaphor is not an analogy), and that Strakosch and Macoun should cite me doing so, with inverted commas and all, as if I actually did, is disheartening (see pp. 512, 514, 515, 519). They also repeatedly refer to my intervention as ‘the settler colonial theory neoliberal argument’ (pp. 510, 512, 514, 515). Let’s be clear: the ‘theory’ is not settler colonial but about settler colonialism, and the argument is not neoliberal but about neoliberalism. This liberal use of adjectives is misleading; quite neoliberal in its determination to vandalise meaning. Then the argument, which is primarily about an analogy. Another analogy may be apt to explain an analogy: if I say that ‘2 and 3 are in a relationship that is similar to the relationship that 4 and 6 entertain with each other’, I am most definitely not saying that ‘2 is 4’; I am not even talking about 2 and 3, or about 4 and 6, but about distinct relationships. For example, if I was to say that Strakosch and Macoun’s reasoning replicates the way prosecutors crafted their arguments during the Stalinist trials, including false accusations and misrepresentations, I would not be suggesting that Strakosch and Macoun are Stalinist. What I would be saying is that the relationship between facts and inference in the Stalinist trials and in the context of this particular scholarly debate are homologous.

Strakosch and Macoun criticise my argument for saying that 2 is 4, or that settlers are indigenous or Indigenous (or ‘Indigenous-like’). I did not, and the analogy I used did not: either Strakosch and Macoun do not consider the possibility of rational numbers, of distinct relationships between concepts, or they misunderstand my argument before misrepresenting it. Because they certainly misrepresent it. I do not ‘collapse’ Indigenous peoples and settlers, and there is no ‘slippage’ between the two in my article. These collectives remain separate, and I deliberately develop a new category of analysis, ‘endogeneity’, to ensure that no slippage should be inferred. No identity or convergence between settlers and Indigenous peoples is implied or averred in my argument, and sustained difference is rendered explicit through terminological distinction.

Specifically, Strakosch and Macoun frame their critique in four segments. ‘Fantasies are not realities’ (pp. 511-512) comes first. Indeed! And the reality of my text is not about a fantastic reconstruction of it. ‘Colonisers are not workers’ comes next (pp. 513-515). A ‘change in our status as workers does not entail a comprehensive change to all aspects of our status as colonisers’, they note, adding that as ‘colonisers, we still work on stolen land in a capitalist relation that we imported; this ongoing relationship with Indigenous peoples does not alter simply because our capitalist relations are changing’ (pp. 514-515). It is a reasonable contention, and this is precisely what I have argued in my work too. Let me restate my argument: we were once (largely) colonisers and workers, we are now colonisers and no longer collectively defined primarily by waged work. Does this shift, which Strakosch and Macoun also recognise, change anything? It should (even if it does not turn colonisers into noncolonisers, a point I am more than willing to concede, especially because I have argued it in the first place).

‘Superfluity is not elimination’ they continue (pp. 515-516). This is also uncontroversial, and why I refer to a ‘logic’ rather than to actual ‘elimination’. ‘Appropriation is not possession’, Strakosch and Macoun then conclude (pp. 516-517). They then conclude: ‘capitalism does not wish to replace or become us, and there is no imperative that mirrors the settler colonial need to be the only and legitimate authority in a place’ (p. 516). This is a legitimate conclusion, and perhaps the moment when we may begin debating rather than misrepresenting. So, let me restate: the developing mode of domination I and others are talking about does not want to literally replace us, but it does want to replace the relationship we entertain with each other and with the places we inhabit. Who are we when these relationships are finally replaced by data mineable, fully surveillable transactions? Doesn’t this predicament also follow a logic of elimination (which is not elimination)? As for capitalism’s alleged unwillingness to remain the only ‘legitimate authority in a place’, Strakosch and Macoun are factually wrong. The determined destruction of all commons, historical and ongoing, is precisely about capitalism’s relentless resolve to always remain the only legitimate authority everywhere. I am surprised that an accomplished scholar and critic of neoliberal ideologies would argue differently.

There are other ways in which this reconstruction of my argument is ungenerous, but I am focusing here on the way Strakosch and Macoun turn an analogy into a similitude. I do so because it shows that they have no case, and because I recognise that I share with them a commitment to live under meaningful and substantive Indigenous sovereignty and act locally for decolonisation.



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