The making of ethnic territories: Governmentality and counter-conducts

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“Ethnic territories” were a central political technology of colonial rule, which also shaped strategies of anti-colonial resistance in diverse contexts. Today, in former colonies, the making of ethnic territories remains a key site of both governmentality and political struggle. This Special Issue brings together six ethnographic case studies (from Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, DR Congo, Paraguay and Peru) to explore how discourses of ethnicity and territory are combined and deployed in various technologies of government and resistance – from colonial native policies, to land titling programs, to struggles for territorial self-rule and recognition. In this Introduction, we set out an analytical approach to understanding the contemporary nexus between ethnicity, territory and governmentality in postcolonial states. Rather than being the result of “top-down” governmental projects, or forms of resistance “from below”, we explore how “ethnic territories” are created by diverse subjects engaged in situated struggles over categories, recognition and boundaries. Our approach draws on Foucault’s concepts of “governmentality” and “counter-conducts” in order to capture how struggles may simultaneously contest and reproduce dominant ethno-territorial regimes of truth, and how subjects may consciously refuse the “conduct of conduct” of governmentality. We extend this analysis by drawing inspiration from postcolonial and decolonial scholarship to highlight how subaltern actors engage with, appropriate, problematise or refuse governmental interventions in pursuit of their own political projects and visions for self-determination, which may exceed the scope of governmental knowledges. At the same time, we seek to problematise accounts that essentialise ethnic territories as bounded sites of ontological difference and indigenous resistance. Building on recent work by indigenous scholars, we propose an approach that takes seriously subaltern agency and the endurance of alternative ways of being and knowing, while keeping the persistent constraining effects of the colonial nexus between ethnicity, territory and governmentality firmly in view.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-226
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ID: 251180894