School of Social and Political Sciences - Theses

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    Structure and event: the politics and poetics of settler colonial critique
    Al-Asaad, Faisal ( 2021)
    In recent years, the study and critique of settler colonialism has emerged as a distinct and key area of scholarship with a notable presence across the humanities and social sciences. This scholarly field has made a significant contribution to the critical study of race, colonialism, and empire, and many of its concepts and ideas are fairly prevalent and recognisable in both academic and activist spaces. This thesis examines the imaginary of settler colonial critique, highlighting some of its key terms and tendencies in order to reflect on the analytic and political effects, as well as analytic and political potential, of this critical practice. The discussion explores the structure of a critical narrative that gives this practice its efficacy and distinct character, while also generating some persistent questions for its practitioners. One of these questions can be understood as that of the colonial subject or the subject of race, and this thesis suggests that settler colonial critique reintroduces this question in a way that is both problematic and productive. It further suggests that the way in which a critical imaginary stages its subject is consequential for its analytic and political efficacy. To explore these questions, the discussion looks closely at the work of late historian and scholar, Patrick Wolfe, which has been formative for the emergence of settler colonial studies and in the articulation of its critical narrative and vocabulary. It highlights the multiple analytic possibilities in this work and considers the political and pedagogic motivations that shaped its imaginary. It further situates the latter in the onto-epistemic conditions of critique and critical practice, privileging the historical intersection of anthropological and Marxist thought and exploring this as a crucial if contradictory site for reimagining social forms and historical determinacy. I show how Wolfe’s theorising shapes the analytic gaze of settler colonial critique, and how the latter comes to predominantly ‘see’ or understand the social and historical logics of determinacy by which settler colonial practices and subjects are constituted. Critical responses to settler colonial studies have been alert to the problems of determinacy that have emerged as a result. While my argument is in conversation with these responses, it also departs from them by suggesting that Wolfe’s work remains highly instructive for reimagining and renarrating settler colonialism’s logic of social and historical determinacy in ways that can be analytically productive and politically enabling. The emphasis on the notion of the critical imaginary therefore is a way of arguing that settler colonial critique is a practice that participates in realising ethico-political possibilities in the process of imagining them and the subjects that embody them.