‘Here from Elsewhere’–settler-colonialism with a southern horizon

James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, Kate Darian-Smith

James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, Kate Darian-Smith

Here from Elsewhere was the final in this year’s Southern Perspectives series at the IPCS. The series began with Raewyn Connell’s outline of ‘southern theory’ as a counter-hegemonic argument against the concentration of knowledge in the metropolitan centres. It set the scene for speculative propositions about forms of knowledge particular to the periphery, which included developments in indigenous theory, tidalectics and humid thinking.

One of the obvious points of connection between countries of the south lies in the settler-colonial experience. But recent developments in settler-colonial studies disturb the comfortable opposition between centre and periphery, north and south. The Imperial/Settler binary is counterbalanced by the Settler/Indigenous divide. While it might seem possible for those who cast themselves as ‘southern’ to join in solidarity against the metropolitan centres, there remains the historical conditions that continue to split these nations along colonial lines.

New Zealand historian James Belich (Victoria University, Wellington) began by outlining the argument in his recent book Replenishing the Earth. He articulated the three phrases of Anglo settlerism: incremental, explosive and re-colonisation. In the discussion that followed, Belich’s concept of the ‘re-colonisation’ was seen as implying that the flow of influence from Britain had ebbed before it was re-kindled.

Specialist in settler colonialism Lorenzo Veracini (Swinburne University, Melbourne) provided an analytic account of the distinction between colonialism and settlerism. He argued that settlerism was a distinctly southern phenomenon, emerging from the periphery. The discussion questioned the qualitative difference in relations with indigenous between colonial and setter. Veracini gestured the difference as one between the colonist addressing the indigenous with ‘You, work for me!’ (colonial), or ‘You, go away!’ (settler).

Historian Kate Darian-Smith (University of Melbourne) reflected on her own research, particularly in the circulation of objects related to reconciliation around the Pacific rim. In discussing the significance of objects such as the brass gorgets, Darian-Smith pointed to the active ways in which settlers proceeded to make their claims on the new land. She also implied a gender dimension in analysis of settlerism.

The following discussion continued the spirited contestation and defence of the settler-colonial paradigms that were presented. In terms of ‘southern perspectives’, it raised some important questions:

  • What is the substantial difference between the settler-colonialism experienced in Australasia and that of the United States?
  • What is the prognosis for the condition of settler-colonialism? Is it an original sin beyond redemption?

Clearly, the notion of a southern perspective must critique the manufactured forms of solidarity that elide the violence of colonisation. Settler colonial studies provides a powerful argument to expose facile alliances.

But settler-colonial studies also provides a powerful enabler of south-south dialogue by exposing exceptionalism as a common condition. In the case of Australia, the concept of the ‘great southern land’ encourages the narrative of a lucky country with singular promise. Through the settler lens, we see the way other countries create parallel forms of exceptionalism, particularly from the booster narratives of explosive colonisation. This applies not just to Anglo cousins, but across the latitude to Latin America and southern Africa.

So the challenge now awaits to use this platform as a way of journeying out beyond the familiar forums into south-south conversations. This notion of south is not the ground we stand on, but the horizon towards which we can gaze.

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