Re: Colonialism as the big bang

Matthew S. Tomaso (tomaso@UTXVMS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU)
Wed, 8 Feb 1995 11:46:22 -0600

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>Date: Tue, 07 Feb 1995 09:40:41 -0600 (CST)
>From: Mike Lieber <U28550@UICVM.UIC.EDU>
>Subject: Re: Colonialism as the big bang
>In-reply-to: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 08:22:47 -0600
>To: "Matthew S. Tomaso" <>
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>> 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
>> 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
>> completely.
>> 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
>> dialogue.
>> Sincerely,
>> Matt
>> __________________________________________________________
>> Matt Tomaso
>> Department of Anthropology
>> University of Texas at Austin
>> __________________________________________________________
>Matt, good note. Excellent points. Are you at all familiar with the work of
>the historian McNeill? He has a wonderful little book on _Polyethnicity....
>That would pique your curiosity. Meanwhile, I have a little tidbit for you to
>chew on (no pun intended, here or below).
>The Hebrew word, goy, means 'nation'. The ancient Jews were and remain a goy,
>called the goy godosh, nation of the covenant. Linguistic scholars think that
>the word, goy, is a derivation of the word, g(a)by(a), which means penis. Is
>this biological implication of ethnic difference identical with racial
>difference? Can one define ethnic boundaries biologically without generating
>a racial theory? Pacific people certainly do. But you would have to start
>with assumption that all biology is ethnobiology and ask the appropriate
>ethnographic questions such that people delineate their local theories of
>ontogeny. This is exactly what some of us did for some Oceanic communities.
> Mike

Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin