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  • Reflections on Settler Colonialism, the Hemispheric Americas, and Chattel Slavery
  • Stephanie E. Smallwood (bio)

Attention to "settler-driven" colonies as a distinct form first emerged in the context of the long nineteenth century of modern British imperial expansion.1 It was in that context that geographer A. Grenfell Price extolled the vision of British colonialist Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to whom "credit" was to be given for "evolving an economic, social and political theory of colonisation, calculated to be of equal benefit both to England and her colonies," that prioritized emigrant settlement.2 More precisely, what Price valorized in his analysis of colonizing was racial differentiation and its enduring reproduction across time. Measured against a standard that valued "permanent colonization" of European emigrants and their reproduction as exogamous and racially exclusive settler communities, Price figured the long history of "white" colonial settlement (by which term he meant to designate a plurality of [End Page 407] "white races of European ancestry," inclusive of both "northern whites" and "Mediterranean whites") as an extended litany of failures reflecting what he characterized as "the problem of white settlement in the tropics."3 Amid growing British metropolitan anxiety and debate about the management of imperial rule, the settler colony merited analysis and praise, then, as an exemplar that modeled lessons learned from the past and portended a stable and enduring means to the end of British global hegemony.4

The critical theorization of settler colonialism that has emerged in the wake of anticolonial mobilizations of the 1960s and 1970s turns this imperialist romanticism on its head.5 In its most widely cited iteration, settler colonial critique posits that settler colonizing turns specifically on an expropriation of Native land that rejects, rather than exploits, Native labor. "Settler colonialism," writes anthropologist Patrick Wolfe, "seeks to replace the natives on their land rather than extract surplus value by mixing their labor with a colony's natural resources."6 Instead, Wolfe elaborates, settler colonialism "brings its own labor."7 The result is a colonialism that seeks to eliminate Native societies. Indeed, this "logic of elimination" is the "organizing principle" of the settler colonial form.8

What Wolfe calls "franchise colonialism" is the correlate against which the particular features of the settler colonial form are posited. Offering British India and Dutch Indonesia as examples of the former, he defines the "franchise" colonial phenomenon as "a situation where Whites oversaw a system in which natives worked for them." If settler colonists seek to [End Page 408] eliminate and replace Indigenous peoples whom they regard as superfluous and in the way of their own arrogation of territorial dominion, then in the franchise colonial setting, colonists "sit on top of native society and set it to work for them on their own land," making the Indigenous "indispensable to the project of extracting surplus value."9

The difference between settler and franchise colonialisms manifests itself most clearly in the outcome of nationalist mobilizations for independence. In the franchise setting, postcolonial independence results in white colonists being "throw[n] . . . out," according to Wolfe.10 Having only ever been a demographic minority, "the Whites turn out not to have been established in the same way that settler colonizers have been established."11 But the opposite is the case in the settler context. Regarding Australia, for instance, Wolfe explains that white colonists "went to Australia to replace Aborigines and themselves become Australians, so their children would be Australians and Australia would then go on forever."12 Given that, what settler colonial critique problematizes most directly is the enduring continuity of colonial relations of power that imperialists such as Price celebrated and romanticized. As the claim most readily associated with settler colonial critique asserts, "settler colonizers come to stay," with the result that the invasion at the heart of settler colonialism "is a structure not an event."13 Settler colonial theory's problem space, then, is the as-yet-unfinished project of decolonization, and the principal work the settler colonialism concept does is to account for the process of supersession whereby the settler colony is replaced by the "settler-colonial state"—the independent polity born of (white) colonizing settlers turned sovereigns and the eliminatory logic that authorizes the...

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pp. 407-416
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