Orfalea Center Thematic Research Cluster

Resistance, Autonomy, Liberation

Section One: The Genesis and Consolidation of the Colonial Matrix of Power

Jessica&Eric Huntley exhibition |

                  Late Guyanese public intellectual Walter Rodney provides an expansive materialist history of the African continent before, during, and after European colonization, up to the early 1970s. Rodney’s elucidation of numerous precolonial African societies and cultures as well as capitalist Europe’s deliberate refusal to advance the technology of African agricultural production serves as a crucial counterpoint to the claim made by Eurocentric historians like Hugh Trevor-Roper that Africa’s history only began with European colonization, which brought net economic, social, and political benefits that have since been squandered by dysfunctional independent regimes.

         Late Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano’s reputation as “a literary giant of the Latin American Left” stems in no small part from this magisterial, poetic, and all too timely account of the European settlement of the continent and its continuing manipulation and exploitation by the United States, other foreign powers, and native elites. This book serves as a spiritual companion of sorts to Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, highlighting how Latin America’s natural and human resources have been integral to the consolidation of the capitalist world-system.

Based on Democracy Now! co-host Juan González’s book of the same name, this documentary illustrates how the long history of US interventionism in Latin America has shaped the geopolitical landscape of the United States itself, above all else through immigration. Featuring interviews with many public figures such as Guatemalan Indigenous feminist Rigoberta Menchú, this film sheds light on how Latin American communities–both in the heartland of American empire as well as the countries subjected to its influence–have endeavored to reclaim their histories, cultures, and societies.

         Prolific public historian and veteran activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz challenges the founding myths of the United States by demonstrating how its centuries-long settler-colonial project has dispossessed, displaced, and massacred Indigenous peoples. In addition to critically framing genocidal policies such as Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, Dunbar-Ortiz interrogates the diffusion of anti-Indigenous sentiment throughout mainstream American culture, thanks in no small part to writers like Walt Whitman and filmmakers like D.W. Griffith. Dunbar-Ortiz by no means depicts Native Americans as passive victims of the American settler-colonial project, instead highlighting how they have contested it virtually every step of the way.

Late Palestinian American public scholar Edward Said’s monumental historical and literary study establishes Orientalism as a field of academic study and political action based upon a fundamental distinction between “the Orient” and “the Occident” that allows the latter to dominate the former. Said’s analysis is as useful for critiquing media organizations and other cultural institutions for perpetuating Orientalist tropes as it is for confronting imperialist ventures informed by Orientalist logic, such as the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

         This brief book chapter provides a useful overview of colonialism as “the combination of economic, social, political, cultural, and other policies by which an external power dominates and exploits the people, ideas, and resources of an area.” This overview is constructed around a succinct but fairly detailed case study of the British colonization of India, framing relatively complex concepts like the hybridity and mimicry of colonized populations in broadly accessible terms.

In this scholarly article, Clapperton Mavhunga considers how colonialism reduced its subjects to the status of “human game (animals hunted for food and sport but not normally domesticated, or that which is “fair game”) and evenfurther, into a vermin being (pestiferous being in need of elimination).” Mavhunga uses the example of the settler-colonial Rhodesian state (now Zimbabwe) to show how placing colonized populations into these categories enabled colonial regimes to extract and produce wealth. Colonialism, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, functioned as “pesticide” to maintain its power, as exemplified by the chemical and biological weapons extensively used by Rhodesia’s military and paramilitary forces.

         Martinican poet Aimé Césaire mentored Frantz Fanon (see below), and this incendiary essay encapsulates many of the ideas that Fanon explored in greater depth in his own work. It is an incisive indictment of Europe’s civilizing mission in the colonized world, considering how this mission systematically “de-civilized” its defenders. Césaire provocatively argues that Nazi fascism was little more than the colonizing impulse turned inward, with the spectre of Hitler haunting even the most respectable European bourgeois subject. 

During his all too brief life, Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon established himself as one of the contemporary world’s foremost anti-colonial voices. His first major written work is a probing and often unsettling investigation of the social psychology of colonialism. It analyzes the “zone of non-being” to which colonized subjects are relegated and interracial sexual desire and mental illnesses as the products of interactions between the colonizer and the colonized, among many other intrapersonal and interpersonal issues pertaining to the colonial context. 

This documentary chronicles one of the darkest episodes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century “Scramble for Africa” by European colonial powers: King Leopold II of Belgium’s reign of terror over the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), which claimed up to 10 million lives between 1885 and 1908. This film brings to life the testimonies of the perpetrators, victims, and opponents of the atrocities in question, in addition to highlighting the importance of their erasure to the legitimacy of the modern Belgian liberal democratic state.

This haunting BBC documentary recounts the all too frequently ignored German colonial genocide against the Herero and Nama populations of modern-day Namibia. Its particular strength is its emphasis upon the substantial links between this settler-colonial enterprise and the genocidal project advanced by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Europe a few decades later, starkly illustrating Afrocarribean revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon’s famous rhetorical question, “What is fascism but colonialism at the heart of traditionally colonialist countries?”

This lecture by Harvard historian Caroline Elkins exposes “Britain’s gulag” in colonial Kenya: the extensive detention system and overarching police state set up to crush the anti-colonial Mau Mau insurgency mounted by members of the country’s Gikuyu population between 1952 and 1960. Elkins importantly stresses how independent Kenya’s first prime minister Jomo Kenyatta, as well as subsequent heads of state, were complicit in the denial and erasure of this period of extreme repression, with the harm caused to millions of colonial subjects yet to be comprehensively addressed.

As a freedom fighter who became the first prime minister and president of the independent Republic of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was more than familiar with the insidious machinations of colonial powers. This unfortunately prescient text considers how a country with all the trappings of independence can still be politically and economically controlled by external actors. Nkrumah reviews a range of neocolonial strategies that continue to be deployed on the African continent and across the Global South / East to this day, from conditional aid to military intervention to evangelism.

Colombian-American anthropologist and post-development theorist Arturo Escobar provides a detailed historical analysis of the development enterprise that has dominated societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin American since World War II. Escobar details how the postwar “discovery” of poverty in the societies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America compounded the legacies of colonialism, paving the way for national and international technocrats to propose solutions to social problems that suppressed Indigenous and otherwise vernacular cultures while advancing industrialization, urbanization, and overall modernization for the sake of capitalist accumulation. Escobar further highlights several examples of oppressed communities that have fought to subvert and transcend this narrow mode of development.

The Development Dictionary extends Escobar’s analysis in Encountering Development by bringing together some of the world’s foremost critical development scholars and practitioners for a discussion of key concepts within the field. Contributors to the Dictionary scrutinize how the hegemonic notions of equality, participation, planning, science and technology, and the standard of living, among others, have served as instruments of control. 

Yellowknives Dene First Nation scholar-activist Glen Sean Coulthard argues that the liberal politics of recognition employed by the Canadian settler-colonial state and many contemporary Indigenous movements themselves has actually reinforced “colonialist, racist, patriarchal state power.” Drawing upon the works of Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, and liberal theorist Charles Taylor, Coulthard demonstrates that land claim settlements, economic development initiatives, self-government agreements, and other reconciliation strategies have bolstered Canada’s self-image as a plural and tolerant liberal democracy while leaving past colonial violence unaddressed and allowing neo-colonial violence through ongoing dispossession to continue. Coulthard’s insights can be extrapolated not only to other settler-colonial states but to regimes seeking to integrate Indigenous peoples while attacking their means of survival everywhere.

In this bestselling book, Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein traces the birth and evolution of neoliberal capitalism; she focuses on its tendency to administer the “shock therapy” of privatization, deregulation, and other free market reforms in the wake of disasters and social upheavals. Klein investigates this “disaster capitalism” within an array of contexts, from Chile under the dictatorial Augusto Pinochet to post-communist Eastern European societies under the influence of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Klein’s acerbic diagnosis of the American state’s failures following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005 offers much food for thought on how the neoliberal “Washington Consensus,” so often implemented through foreign interventionism, has returned to haunt the United States.

Based upon British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed’s book A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, The Crisis of Civilization is a darkly comedic documentary that examines the interconnections between the modern world’s foremost political, economic, and social crises. Drawing out the linkages between climate catastrophe, plateauing energy production, food insecurity, economic instability, international terrorism, and militarism, this film paints a stark picture of neoliberal capitalist modernity. Nonetheless, it concludes by pointing to pathways out of these interlocking crises and towards a post-peak world.

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