The ethical demands of settler colonial theory
Macoun, Alissa & Strakosch, Elizabeth (2013) The ethical demands of settler colonial theory. Settler Colonial Studies, 3(3-4), pp. 426-443.
This article explores the strengths and limitations of settler colonial theory (SCT) as a tool for non-Indigenous scholars seeking to disturb rather than re-enact colonial privilege. Based on an examination of recent Australian academic debates on settler colonialism and the Northern Territory intervention, we argue that SCT is useful in dehistoricizing colonialism, usually presented as an unfortunate but already transcended national past, and in revealing the intimate connections between settler emotions, knowledges, institutions and policies. Most importantly, it makes settler investments visible to settlers, in terms we understand and find hard to escape. However, as others have noted, SCT seems unable to transcend itself, in the sense that it posits a structural inevitability to the settler colonial relationship. We suggest that this structuralism can be mobilized by settler scholars in ways that delegitimize Indigenous resistance and reinforce violent colonial relationships. But while settlers come to stay and to erase Indigenous political existence, this does not mean that these intentions will be realized or must remain fixed. Non-Indigenous scholars should challenge the politically convenient conflation of settler desires and reality, and of the political present and the future. This article highlights these issues in order to begin to unlock the transformative potential of SCT, engaging settler scholars as political actors and arguing that this approach has the potential to facilitate conversations and alliances with Indigenous people. It is precisely by using the strengths of SCT that we can challenge its limitations; the theory itself places ethical demands on us as settlers, including the demand that we actively refuse its potential to re-empower our own academic voices and to marginalize Indigenous resistance.
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