Colonialism as the big bang

Matthew S. Tomaso (tomaso@UTXVMS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 08:22:47 -0600

Recent social theory dealing with colonialism has suggested that the
colonial moment generates everything from socially bounded ethnicities and
racism to the nation state. That is, by implication, none of these things
are seen to have been possible prior to colonialism - at least not in the
forms seen today. While I recognize that the theorization of such
categories of abstraction must be a task directed at their present utility,
and that anthropologists are not privy to the ideological realms of
prehistory, and I also recognize the obvious need to understand colonialism
and its productions, the archaeologist in me is bothered by the folowing
notions which appear to be implicit in the logic of several social
anthropological treatments of colonialism:

1. Colonialism appears to refer to European colonialism within the last 600
years only. It is no longer possible to imagine the Inca or Romans, for
example, as colonialists.

2. The new theoretical definition of ethnicity appears to be something like
- a bounded social unit with an internally recognized name and a shared and
coherent set of expressions, symbols, etc, which differentiate it from
others. Incidentally, this definition is enough to convince me that the
thing in question never existed and never will. I always thought that the
biggest and most ethnocentric problem in Barth's definitions were his uses
of social boundaries, now I see that I was wrong and what we really needed
(in order to theorize ethnicity out of existence) were even more rigid
boundaries. Some would also like to make colonialism part and parcel of
this definition - thus avoiding the problem of prehistoric ethnicity

3. Racism did not exist prior to colonialism. What a wonderful world it
must have been. Take note J.J. Rousseau! I guess my interpretation of the
bible must be way off then.

I'd really like to discuss these issues or the texts involved with anybody
who has the time and inclination. despite my generally disrespectful
attitude I try to have an open mind and would really appreciate some open



Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin