“Models” of Anthropological Colonialism?

I have been considering the diverse ways in which a relationship exists between anthropology and colonialism, sketching some very rough ideas on this blog (as usual, I feel the need to apologize). In part this comes out of some productive engagements with essays written in ANTH 601 at Concordia University, to which I owe many thanks. Students expressed a concern with the “decolonizing anthropology” literature that seemed to suggest to them that colonialism was monolithic, and that the vast diversity of anthropological subject positions and research engagements went unaccounted for or were severely reduced to a caricature of the discipline. I am thinking of ways of rendering colonialism less monolithic with reference to anthropological knowledge production, by adopting/importing a series of models that I learned as a student of the history of Caribbean political economy, developed in part by the likes of independent scholars/public intellectuals as the late Lloyd Best in Trinidad, in part using the work of historian Lowell Joseph Ragatz. Let’s see how this can work.

Three different types of colonial situations have been posited in the past. Colonies were divided up into different types:

(1) Colonies of settlement: cases where large numbers of people from the colonizing country moved to, settled in, and directly produced a surplus (for example, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand) –- this is essentially a Europe Part 2;

(2) Colonies of conquest: surplus is produced by a resident, indigenous population, and extracted by a small stratum of colonialists in the form of soldiers (conquistadores) and administrators, who reside in the colony, and who reside permanently in cases, but in small numbers; and,

(3) Colonies of exploitation: surplus is produced from the importation of an enslaved population and extracted by a tiny elite that originates from the colonizing state. Absentee landlords and rotating colonial officials dominate such colonies.

In this sense, colonialism indeed was not monolithic. So how might one discuss the coloniality of anthropology without producing a monolithic caricature? I will adapt some of the terminology from the above to create three possible models:

(A) Settlement: the reconstruction of other social entities (nations, villages, “tribes,” groups of persons) as “fields”, where the anthropologist moves to the field and occupies them during “fieldwork” (not an original idea, by the way, and the reference will come later); the anthropologist is the sole producer of knowledge, acquiring the “native point of view” because s/he will be the sole authority for (re)presenting the native view–Malinowskian ethnography; on a social level, the anthropologist may also be part of the settler population; settling the native’s landscape by displacing the native: classic evolutionary anthropology (polygenetic and monogenetic forms), where the native was either biologically inferior or culturally backward, and either way doomed to extinction; anthropological endorsements for colonization, extermination, domination over natives, especially circa the 1850s;

(B) Conquest: (this is where direct application of the types listed above begins to experience turbulence, where direct application becomes difficult) –- the key informant who in fact writes the texts that are then retooled by the anthropologist –- Boasian ethnography; early forms of superficial coproduction where the anthropologist ultimately takes the reins over production of knowledge in published form; on an epistemological level, “native categories” are treated as “folk concepts,” emic views, indigenous ways of “unknowing” the world that can only be made sense of, and explained, by the anthropologist as an authority of cross-cultural comparison, the one who possesses a more global view, who devises scientific concepts.

(C) Exploitation: predatory relations, where persons are reduced to objects, and not just that, the objects of experimentation –- Chagnonian ethnography; counterinsurgent ethnography, where domination over the Other, in real political and military terms, is the objective –- ethnography à la McFate; old physical anthropology–phrenology, anthropometry, natives as mere bodies on which were mapped ideas of race; the ethnological exhibition; the museum; writing behind people’s backs; acquiring public funding to produce private research; the scientific journal–exploitation conjures up so many possibilities that it could easily overshadow (A) and (B) above.

Even as a preliminary attempt, this is a rough scheme. The intent is to show the “diversity” of anthropological/colonial possibilities, which neither produces a monolithic view, nor does it minimize the coloniality of anthropology.