Re: Colonialism (long)

Matthew S. Tomaso (tomaso@UTXVMS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU)
Tue, 7 Feb 1995 23:22:06 -0600

John Cook wrote:

>I must say I think you are grossly mischaracterising the debate about
>colonialism here.

I was not responding to the debate about colonialism. I wanted to address
the issues that I brought up.

>It would have been good if you could have given some cits
>as to where you drew your views from.

Where are yours? I've been looking at the Comaroffs, Ben Andersen, Nicholas
Dirks, Sherry Ortner, Gramsci, Foucault, V. Rafael, Taussig, F. Cooper, T.
Mitchell, A. Stoler, Bourdieu, Stuart Hall, and a few hundred other
published texts. I don't like to drop names - which is why I don't often
use quotations or citations in Email.

>Having said this, yours is not in any
>sense an incomprehensible response and one that has certainly been brought
>up before.

gee thanks, I think. (you know John, your taking an awfully authoritarian
stance here... but I forgive you)

>I'd draw the problem down to the old chestnut (to start with) of the
>universal and the particular. Colonial theory as it's mostly found today is
>concerned with primarily particular colonialisms.

Actually, most of what I have read is presented as universalizing
generality. It seems to me that statements about the time and place where a
particular analysis may be applied died with modernism.

>That is, coming out of
>decon, pomo, etc postcolonialism as theory is primarily driven by a certain
>brand of relativistic particularism.

I don't understand your sentense. Most of these terms have imprecise
meanings, at best. Please define what you mean. BTW, I think
'post-colonialism' is a term best reserved for ideologists promoting the
existing power structure through propaganda. When did the USA, for
instance, give up colonialism?

>This is to say that the ancient Romans
>were not neccessarily not colonial, but they were a particular form of
>colonial. Whether or not it is justifiable or indeed useful to reduce the
>particular forms of Roman and New World societies into a generalised or
>universal form of colonialism is then what is at issue. The same goes for
>racism, I think there are very good arguments to state that there are very
>important even conclusive differences between the historical specificity of
>American racism, and slavery in Athens.

What exactly is a 'conclusive difference' ? Does that mean that with the
pronouncement of conclusiveness, all arguments are concluded?
Yes fine, one involves slavery, the other racism. I defy anybody to show
'conclusively' that there is no implication of racism (in the thoroughly
modern sense of the word) in the bible, the travels of Sir John Mandeville,
etc etc etc.

>Thus it is not that rascism did not
>exist but that a particular racism did not exist.

Absolutely true. But why is it that I get negative responses from so many
people when I try to talk about racism that pre-dates colonialism. Why do I
frequently get 'that's not possible, you obviously don't understand whjat
racism is' and words to that effect.

>Whether it is feasable to
>posit a category of universal racism from here is then under negotiation.
>With regards to your comments on ethnicity, I think you point to fascinating
>and vital issue.

Really? Then why do you then jump into...

>Your discussion of ethnicity makes the simply error of not making a
>distinction between ethnicity as a percieved, natural, category and
>ethnicity as a transformative, creative and negotiated process.

Actually, your dead wrong on this and I wish you'd keep your assumptions
about me to yourself. Can you substantiate your accusation? As an
archaeologist, I find it particularly bizarre that you claim that I don't
understand the dynamics and diachronics of the thing. Read Barth 1969 - one
of the first and best serious attempts to theorize ethnicity. He defines it
more or less as you have (with less of an emphasis on abstraction and
processual-sounding verbiage) and he went quite a bit farther. There is
nothing even slightly static about his concept of ethnicity except the
'social boundaries' he discussed.

>I think this
>is part of the future of anthropology and the core of the resistance to R
>Johnsons suggestions. Anthropology has historicalally revolved around the
>interpretation (scientific or otherwise) of percieved natural categories of
>ethnicity, perhaps (and this is my view) it should be working towards a
>greater understanding of culture as not simply recieved and percieved (here
>I am dramatically characterising anthropology, it's not intended as a
>condemnation) but as creative, shifting, and tranformative.

I agree with all of this. You've clearly missed most if not all of my
point. What I was responding to was not Johnson's propositions, but a
problem I am having with some of the things I have to deal with in my own
research. It is this kind of polarizing misinterpretation and lack of a
common ground that widens the gulf between our disciplines. I don't like it.

>I hope this quick repost is some sort of a contribution to a discussion.

It was. Thanks for the effort

>John Cook

All the best,

Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin