Settler Colonial Biopolitics and Indigenous Lifeways, NAISA 2015 Panel (deadline Oct 24)

full name / name of organization: 
René Dietrich, PhD / Mainz University
contact email: 

7th annual NAISA meeting
June 4-6, 2015
Washington, DC

Panel CfP: Settler Colonial Biopolitics and Indigenous Lifeways

Biopolitics has recently received considerable attention as a central paradigm of settler colonialism in various national and continental contexts (Mark Rifkin, Scott L. Morgensen, Michael R. Griffiths, Morgan Brigg, among others). What might be most notable about these analyses is how the attempts to biopolitically regulate Indigenous peoples strongly depend on Indigenous peoples' utter depoliticization. In exercising biopolitics, settler colonial nation-states deny Indigenous nations the status of political entities in their own right, and ascribe to them instead the position of a population group among other groups that populate the territory over which a settler nation-state claims undisputed sovereignty. The main defining characteristic of the thus constituted indigenous population group is its separation via a "biopolitical caesura "(Joseph Pugliese) from the body politic proper of the settler nation-states, which also makes up the basis for government policies towards Indigenous peoples via their construction as an homogenous group, a biopolitical unit of, e,g, in the U.S., "Indians." It is thus arguably a means by which settler colonial nation-states constitute their own norm and create ways to insist on it as a newly established normativity. Furthermore, as Foucault has famously traced biopolitics to a shift in sovereign rule that 'makes live' and helps to produce and foster lives of subjects, this construction of settler normativities includes a classification of life according to which biopolitical practices operate that foster some life forms and lifeways while restricting, limiting, or abandoning others by 'declassifying' them.

A discussion of settler-Indigenous relations under the adage of biopolitics thus offers the opportunity to ask how the founding moments of settler colonial nation states in their devaluation of Indigenous nations as polities and of Indigenous lives as worthy of consideration are intertwined, and continue to be significantly embedded in the mechanisms and the structures of settler colonial nation-states today. Furthermore, and maybe even more importantly, it poses the question to which degree Indigenous lifeways – manifest in the realms of the social, political, economic, bodily, sexual, and spiritual, among others, and grounded in distinct traditions and practices – may illustrate Indigenous epistemologies (forms, concepts, knowledges) and politics of life that counter, oppose or in other ways interact with dominant settler colonial biopolitics. In this manner, it is the stated goal of the workshop to consider and explore 'life,' which settler cultures define for Indigenous peoples predominantly as an apolitical and largely ahistorical existence, as a central concept and category for the political analysis and critique in settler-Indigenous relations, evolving formations of sovereignty and agency, and in concentrated efforts toward decolonization. This panel thus invites papers from all areas of study and all contexts of settler-Indigenous relations seeking to explore the complex relations and interactions between biopolitics and Indigenous lifeways with a specific interest in discussing the potential, or limits, of 'life' as a critical concept and political category in Indigenous Studies.

Please send an abstract of up to 300 words and a short CV including your current affiliation to by October 24, 2014. I will notify you whether you have been accepted to the panel proposal by end of October. For any queries, please contact me via the same email address.

Dr. René Dietrich
Mainz University, Germany
American Studies
Center for Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies