Re: >Colonialism (long)

Anthro Students (Anthro.Students@ANTHROPOLOGY.SU.EDU.AU)
Wed, 8 Feb 1995 22:16:01 -0500


I'm sorry, I don't connect the list of authors you gave as proponents of
"universalising generality", I would, however, connect them with the idea
there is a time and a place for particular theoretical forms, but I would
not claim that these were some replaced form of modernism, or even
particularly strongly connected with modernism.

As to the term post-colonial, there is a large body of theoretical and
critical material (Bhaba, Spivak etc) that is generally included under the
idea "post-colonialism". It is not " a term best reserved for ideologists
promoting the
existing power structure through propaganda." As for the question "When did
the USA, for
instance, give up colonialism?", well the question of what the "post" in
post-colonialism means has been of major consideration to this genre.

My reference to a notion of "conclusive difference" was simply (and I take
it that this is what you thrust of your disagreement is) that there is a
level of particularity to the phenomenon of New World racism that means that
attempts to generalise a theory of racism beyond this particularity are very
limited in their ability to account for the lived experience of New World
racism. I would certainly agree that the Bible is intimately connected to
the character of New World racism, but I would not neccesssarily agree that
racism, as it occurred at the time of the Bible's writing is deeply
connected to NW racism. I think most of us simply see NW racism in the

I agree with you that that Barth has a nice open conception of ethnicity. I
wasn't trying too say I had a problem with that. I guess I was just trying
to get at some sort of idea that ethnicities as they are frequently
constiuted in the context of the late twentieth century are self
consciousness aware of a notion of "cultural difference" and of the way in
which one is percieved as "culturally different' to be central to the kind
of political space an "ethnicity is able to occupy". I don't whether I'm
still a bit muddy,but it's this kind of perception of "ethnicity" that I
don't really think is contained within Barth.

Iwasn't suggesting that you were trying to respnd to R Johnson, but I think
what you are both circling around is a similar set of issues.

Common Ground is where you make it.

Happy to discuss this with you further

John Cook.
>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
>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

>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