Through my studies of the the history and historiography of North American anthropology, I have been struck by the lack of works on North American colonialism, Indigenous People and Anthropology/science. There is a great deal of work on, say, anthropology and colonial Africa or other places, but the silence on North American colonialism and Indigenous societies is striking. I have come to wonder about the reasons for this. Is is intentional or is just that the profession is uncomfortable with its own colonial dimensions in the Americas? The History of anthropology is completely silent on the subject. Where does such a subject even begin for anthropology? This something anthropology really needs to contend with for obvious reasons. Im looking for others interested in this history and historiographical dilemma.

Views: 148

Replies to This Discussion

Joshua,

Part of this concerns the different colonial experiences of the former "great" imperial powers (England, France, etc) as opposed to the earlier creeping colonial expansion of America, Spain, etc. There really was no 'anthropology' as such until the great power expansions for markets, resources, etc., of the later 19th century. Then, they were really needed. Earlier, (as well as later), force was simply the necessary factor, not some as-yet-non-existent social science. Different times have different responses. But remember, however, whatever they come up with is usually inadequate (or not really listened to--cf. the essentially useless Human Terrain experiments of the U.S. in Afghanistan). I am not saying the colonial anthropologists nor the Human Terrain people today are not insidious, it is just that the generals usually follow their own ideas. And many anthropologists who hire on to this kind of stuff are frequently hopeless.

This is not to say there were not folks who served imperial and colonial expansion--they were just mostly adventurers, explorers, etc. A few, however, were explicit, such as Sylvanus Morley in Yucatan. David Price probably has much more detail on these matters.

Best of luck on whatever you come up with. Jim Faris
James C. Faris said:
Joshua,

Part of this concerns the different colonial experiences of the former "great" imperial powers (England, France, etc) as opposed to the earlier creeping colonial expansion of America, Spain, etc. There really was no 'anthropology' as such until the great power expansions for markets, resources, etc., of the later 19th century. Then, they were really needed. Earlier, (as well as later), force was simply the necessary factor, not some as-yet-non-existent social science. Different times have different responses. But remember, however, whatever they come up with is usually inadequate (or not really listened to--cf. the essentially useless Human Terrain experiments of the U.S. in Afghanistan). I am not saying the colonial anthropologists nor the Human Terrain people today are not insidious, it is just that the generals usually follow their own ideas. And many anthropologists who hire on to this kind of stuff are frequently hopeless.

This is not to say there were not folks who served imperial and colonial expansion--they were just mostly adventurers, explorers, etc. A few, however, were explicit, such as Sylvanus Morley in Yucatan. David Price probably has much more detail on these matters.

Best of luck on whatever you come up with. Jim Faris
Some good points. I understand that there is a historical perspective that sees colonialism as different in the Americas than in places like Africa. This seems to be odds with the experience of Indigenous nations. Doing a genealogical history of how they American colonies (and eventually the United States government) negotiated and fought with Indigenous Nations demonstrates a much colonial enterprise that still takes place today. This colonial enterprise was/is underscored by notions of evoutionary thought (stage theories) ala enlightenment thinking. As much as Jefferson and Franklin, for example, loved and respected the ingenuity and advancement of Indigenous nations, they still wanted to dispossess them of their lands. Jefferson thought the best way to do so was by making them into farmers (since they allegedly had not progressed to this 'natural' stage of human evolution. Doing this, they could be brought into the modern and assimilated into the United States culture/politic.

Jump to the mid 20th century and we have people like Julian Steward working for the Department of Justice in providing evolutionary arguments to not only deny them land claims, but overturn legal Treaty agreements. The logic is that since they are so primitive on a scale of socio-cultural evolution, then whatever agreements the US made are null and void because it was mistake to assume such a primitive people had the authority to make such agreements.

The Calfifornia claims commissions and the Termination policies (HCR 108 in Congress) were driven by evolutionary thought and the assumption that assimilation is immanent and unavoidable: why not speed it along? Court cases in North america are still basically Indigenous peopls trying to resist a colonial foreign power. Anthrcopology in these court cases anthropologists are still the legal experts with the govenremnts side trying to argue that Indians are too primitive to have considerations.... the cases (which I read) often descend into absurdities.

It really is a clear misuse of law and argument to sustain a colonial enterprise over indigenous peoples. My question is why we can see and analyze these colonialisms elsewhere, but here the distinction is made between them as being different. Im not so convinced that they are. It is only in the western historical account that it is written as being different. Especially from a western legal perspective, it seems both the US and Canada as legal political entities are by definition still colonial.

It would be great to see some anthropological studies done on the legal and political aspect of this ongoing colonial relationship (the concept of Treaty for example would be interesting and what settler society's obligations are to the Treaties).

THe silence to me on this subject is shocking... no?
Joshua,

Yes, the silence is shocking. Probably a consequence of loyality and power by way of elite institutions (i.e., Harvard, with its legacy of Tozzer, Kluckhohn, etc, not to mention Coon and others in physical anthro).

And yes, the evolutionists, if we can call them that (Steward, Fried, etc) have certainly had an impact on the discipline (esp. on american archaeology). Anthropologists of that era were always "expert" witnesses at various court cases. My point, however, is that usually their anthropology was so bad that their testimonies could have hardly been of too much use (for example,the functionalism of Kluckhohn--on Navajo witchcraft--a consequence of social stresses--would be of little use in U.S. [BIA] attempts to alter things. Of course much of this is a reflection of your important fundamental point that legality is defined as Western, and any challenges by local folks is automatically absurd, the product of inferior (or mistaken) logic. Even when you get anthropologists who consider themselves sympathetic, however, if they subscribe to the orthodoxy, they are not going to be of much help. Keep up the good work. Jim Faris

Joshua Smith said:
Some good points. I understand that there is a historical perspective that sees colonialism as different in the Americas than in places like Africa. This seems to be odds with the experience of Indigenous nations. Doing a genealogical history of how they American colonies (and eventually the United States government) negotiated and fought with Indigenous Nations demonstrates a much colonial enterprise that still takes place today. This colonial enterprise was/is underscored by notions of evoutionary thought (stage theories) ala enlightenment thinking. As much as Jefferson and Franklin, for example, loved and respected the ingenuity and advancement of Indigenous nations, they still wanted to dispossess them of their lands. Jefferson thought the best way to do so was by making them into farmers (since they allegedly had not progressed to this 'natural' stage of human evolution. Doing this, they could be brought into the modern and assimilated into the United States culture/politic.

Jump to the mid 20th century and we have people like Julian Steward working for the Department of Justice in providing evolutionary arguments to not only deny them land claims, but overturn legal Treaty agreements. The logic is that since they are so primitive on a scale of socio-cultural evolution, then whatever agreements the US made are null and void because it was mistake to assume such a primitive people had the authority to make such agreements.

The Calfifornia claims commissions and the Termination policies (HCR 108 in Congress) were driven by evolutionary thought and the assumption that assimilation is immanent and unavoidable: why not speed it along? Court cases in North america are still basically Indigenous peopls trying to resist a colonial foreign power. Anthrcopology in these court cases anthropologists are still the legal experts with the govenremnts side trying to argue that Indians are too primitive to have considerations.... the cases (which I read) often descend into absurdities.

It really is a clear misuse of law and argument to sustain a colonial enterprise over indigenous peoples. My question is why we can see and analyze these colonialisms elsewhere, but here the distinction is made between them as being different. Im not so convinced that they are. It is only in the western historical account that it is written as being different. Especially from a western legal perspective, it seems both the US and Canada as legal political entities are by definition still colonial.

It would be great to see some anthropological studies done on the legal and political aspect of this ongoing colonial relationship (the concept of Treaty for example would be interesting and what settler society's obligations are to the Treaties).

THe silence to me on this subject is shocking... no?
Thanks Jim. That is kinda where I think the problem is manifest now; the idea that 'we dont do that bad anthropology' anymore. Yet, in the court cases, in Canada, for example- it is precisely that 'bad' anthropology that is still being argued in current cases over land rights and aboriginal title.

In the history of anthropology, there is no shortage of work labelling the British school (RB and Malinowksi, for example) handmaidens of colonialism, even thought both wrote scathing critiques of colonial administrations and endeavoured to fight against the establishment. Malinowski has a great article from the 1930s warning about the future of anthropology. Stocking's book on colonialism doesnt say anything about North America; Talal Asad's anthropology and the colonial encounter doesnt either.

I get the sense that the 'institution/elite-ism' that you point out is a major part of this silence, but I wonder if there is an ongoing complicity of social science with American colonialism; a cooptation in the ongoing denial of indigenous claims for recognition and treaty rights. We keep producing knowledge- more and more knowledge, theory and so on, but at what point are we trapping ourselves in our own mythologies....? I think these are questions that will eventually occupy our complete attention as a professional and intellectual community.
Joshua,

Yes, I agree. And our mythologies mean we don't believe theirs (ours are history, theirs are myth). And the elite of the profession set the prevailing methodologies and theories. I have an essay in the Asad volume (the first devoted to the subject exclusively, but as you say, nothing on North America) on Nadel, who was explicitly sent to the Nuba Mts. to help colonial administrators. But the anger generated was amazing. My little scatalogical essay was glib, but it made the rounds of anthro in London prior to the volume, being labelled"anti-Semitic." As you may know, this is a label hard to crawl out from under. The battle was inaugurated by Peter Loizos, an angry guy at LSE I believe. He wrote a response to my Nadel piece, and I got sent it, so suggested to Peter that we send them both to George Stocking, anthropology's official bourgeous historian. Peter didn't agree, so it all stopped there. The Asad volume also has included in it quite specific defenses of colonial anthro, some more tepid defenses ("E-P, the reluctant imperialist" and such like). I worked in Sudan (as well and Navajoland and Newfoundland), so knew many of these people (including Talal Asad--a jewel amongs the sand and rocks of the volume). Keep up the good work. Jim
Joshua Smith said:
Thanks Jim. That is kinda where I think the problem is manifest now; the idea that 'we dont do that bad anthropology' anymore. Yet, in the court cases, in Canada, for example- it is precisely that 'bad' anthropology that is still being argued in current cases over land rights and aboriginal title.

In the history of anthropology, there is no shortage of work labelling the British school (RB and Malinowksi, for example) handmaidens of colonialism, even thought both wrote scathing critiques of colonial administrations and endeavoured to fight against the establishment. Malinowski has a great article from the 1930s warning about the future of anthropology. Stocking's book on colonialism doesnt say anything about North America; Talal Asad's anthropology and the colonial encounter doesnt either.

I get the sense that the 'institution/elite-ism' that you point out is a major part of this silence, but I wonder if there is an ongoing complicity of social science with American colonialism; a cooptation in the ongoing denial of indigenous claims for recognition and treaty rights. We keep producing knowledge- more and more knowledge, theory and so on, but at what point are we trapping ourselves in our own mythologies....? I think these are questions that will eventually occupy our complete attention as a professional and intellectual community.

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2019   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service