American Studies Association (ASA) 2019 Panel: "The Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism: Queering Indigeneity, Unsettling Life/Death"

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Call for Papers
November 7, 2019 to November 10, 2019
Hawaii, United States
Subject Fields: 
American History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Indigenous Studies, Sexuality Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies

This is a call for papers for a proposed panel titled "The Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism: Queering Indigeneity, Unsettling Life/Death" to be held at the American Studies Association (ASA) 2019 conference taking place in Honolulu, Hawai'i on Nov 7-10, 2019.

Biopolitics has become a critical theoretical framework to assess the calculated fragmentation of social life, where differential valuations in social, political, and economic utility create populational hierarchies that predispose certain bodies, populations, and forms of life to the agonizing violences of disposability, deprivation, and slow death, while investing in the animation and regeneration of other forms of life. Central to biopolitics is the notion that politics and life/death are inseparable spheres of activity, where political power and state intervention hegemonically determine and shape the populations targeted for eventual death and the populations energetically imbued with the enhancement of life.

Dominant frameworks of biopower (such as those put forth by Agamben and Foucault) and necropolitics (Mbembe), however, frame life and death as a sort of antinomy, where state power produces and deploys destructive technologies that are invested either in the right to kill and eliminate targeted forms of life or in generating calculated exposure to gradual populational extermination in what Mbembe calls “the creation of death-worlds” where “vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead” (2003: 40). In such framings, life and death become two opposing axes, with the preservation of life sacralized as the ultimate goal of existence and the provocation of death maligned as the greatest affront to the principles of life, further magnifying the conceptual and material polarities between the two.

Much work has challenged frameworks of biopolitics that naturalize practices of power as a transparent distribution between the right to preserve life and the right to incite death, dividing populations cleanly into those who must live and those who must die. Unsettling life and death from their extreme poles, then, becomes key to understanding how practices of power impact targeted populations in dynamic ways beyond the safeguarding of life and the fear of death, in particular for contemporary studies on settler colonial practices presently impacting indigenous populations. 

Jasbir Puar, for example, has demonstrated how the deliberate maiming of Palestinians, as a central tactic of Israeli settler colonialism in occupied Palestine, complicates conventional frameworks of biopolitics, where she argues that “the right to maim supplements if not replaces the right to kill” and "becomes a primary vector through which biopolitical control is deployed in colonized space and hence not easily demarcated as “necro”” (2017: 136). Framing maiming as a critical site where the poles of life and death converge, interact, and are concomitantly intensified, as opposed to operating as conflicting sites of power, highlights more broadly a central tactic and effect of the biopolitics of settler colonialism — the suspension of indigeneity between life and death through debilitation, a status that "is not merely another version of slow death or of death-in-life or of a modulation on the spectrum of life to death” but "a status unto itself, a status that triangulates the hierarchies of living and dying that are standardly deployed in theorizations of biopolitics” (137).

Likewise, Scott Lauria Morgensen importantly shows how modern queer cultures and practices of queer inclusion rest inevitably on inegalitarian divisions enforced between settler society and indigenous peoples, allowing for the fantasy that queer cultures and queer sexualities have developed generously in the absence of relations between white settler coloniality and indigeneity. Morgensen demonstrates how purportedly liberal, leftist, progressivist, and queer projects, within a settler colonial context, have always been solicited to serve the interests of white settler expansionism, racial capitalism, and neoliberal agendas that seek not to erase distinctive markers of indigeneity or consign indigeneity to a distant and completed past, but suspends it within the present and marks indigenous populations as available for the extraction of labor, the acquisition of cultural capital, and other vectors of resource extraction. Indigeneity, then, becomes a condition through which the settler colonial nation necessarily derives its means of social reproduction and acquiring legitimacy, marking indigenous populations as not targeted-for-death but not primed-for-life either — a conception that requires unsettling the extreme polarities enforced between the states of living and dying. 

Taking into critical consideration Puar’s provocation that “settler colonialism remains undifferentiated within theorizations of the biopolitics of colonialism, continuing the propagation of colonialism as a bygone event or within a naturalized frame of periodization” (138), in tandem with Morgensen’s suggestion that the “interdisciplinary theory of biopower has yet to investigate the specificity of settler colonialism” (2011: 59-60), this panel is thus interested in intellectual inquiries into the biopolitics of settler colonialism that complicate the antinomy constructed between the axes of life and death in biopolitical theory, center queer practices of indigeneity that resist settler expansionism and state inclusion, and foreground the contemporaneous effects of settler colonialism on indigenous life.

This panel invites papers and presentations that:

(1) reconsider the notion that death itself constitutes the ultimate assault on life within the context of settler colonialism, allowing for approaches, inquiries, and perspectives that explore how the operationalization of biopower produces the subjugation of forms of life in various dimensions beyond the perceived extremities of life and death;

(2) unsettle the presumption that settler colonialism is a distant and archived past by foregrounding its contemporaneity in present contexts;

(3) investigate practices and forms of settler coloniality that impact indigeneity in dynamic ways beyond the axes of life/death;

(4) interrogate relations between settler coloniality and the production of modern queer cultures and queer sexualities;

(5) explore queer, trans, and gender non-normative indigenous practices, ranging from political activisms and sites of cultural productions, that contest ongoing settler expansionism and normative state inclusion;

(6) foreground sites of research under-represented in research on biopolitics, settler colonialism, and queer and trans studies, such as Oceania, the Pacific Ocean, Asia-Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the indigenous populations of the Americas.

Papers that foreground black, queer of color, trans of color, and queer indigenous critiques of settler colonialism, as embodied sites of knowledge production and/or anaytical approaches, are especially welcome.

Please send a 300-word abstract and a brief biography to Adam Mohamed Aziz at latest by January 15, 2019.

Contact Info: 

Adam Mohamed Aziz