Settler colonialism and liberalism are imbricated: Theodra Bane, A Question of Rights: Settler Colonialism, Racialization, and the Political Economy of Liberalism, PhD dissertation, Villanova University, 2022


Abstract: In times of crisis, liberalism is frequently upheld as the only alternative to authoritarianism because of its foregrounding of rights. This is the internal mechanism to governance that enshrines in law the protection of the individual. Further, rights frameworks allow for ongoing amelioration and expansion, rectifying previous practices of exclusion. However, this positive narrative does not consider ongoing systems of exclusion within liberalism. Are modes of exclusionary violence within liberalism a misapplication of rights, or are rights as a structure endemic to an exclusionary model of governance? The work of this dissertation takes seriously the latter position by theorizing the structure of rights relations themselves. Under liberalism, rights function to protect the individual insofar as that individual’s self and interests can be made legible to the state apparatus. Specifically, rights within liberalism rely on a dual ideological function to identify their proper subject: the reduction of land into property; and the reduction of persons into bodies. Taken together, these two structurally foundational components of rights posit an ontologically salient ideal of the liberal citizen—the normative self-possessive human subject. Rights discourse thus becomes a necessary condition for addressing liberalism as a political economy because it gives us an ideological mode with which to track the obfuscation and denial of the economic realm in governance and the normative, regulatory demands on subjects to be legible to liberalism in the first place. This dissertation will demonstrate that settler colonialism and racialization are not anomalies of liberal application, but endemic to how such a system governance operates through the demand of legibility for rights to function. The work of this dissertation is not to dismiss the salient power of rights regimes in fighting for a more just world. Rather, it is an analysis of how rights function in our current shared ideological schema. Rights are constructed and premised upon the capitalist property relation—the possession of the self and of objects for accumulation. This logical premise means that who counts as self-possessive or human enough to participate or be worthy of recognition will be an ongoing terrain of contestation within the framework itself. 

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