Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pacific Epistemologies

This year is looking very exciting in terms of my work and research, especially in the ways I will conceptualize the Pacific and therefore situate myself in it academically and theoretically.

In the past few days I've worked on two abstracts for conference papers, and the only thing that's more exciting than the shifts in my own work is the fact that I'm working with others on these directions and on these projects.

The first abstract is for a paper me and my friend Theo are working on. We're both in the the Ethnic Studies department at UCSD and very interested in moving beyond the US People of Color paradigm that traditionally movtivates and therefore inhibits Ethnic Studies, by articulating what the indigenous (non) subject is in relation to the nation (and not just assuming that its just another person of color). We're submitting this to the Pacific Epistemologies conference next year in Fiji. If it gets accepted it'll be a real big deal for both of us. For Theo it'll help him connect to the conversations, communities and commentartors that are or will be vital for his dissertation research (which will be a comparision of how America and Britian in Australia dealt with their indigenous populations). For me it'll mean starting to take part in some of the conversations I've intentionally stayed away from for years, but will be absolutely necessary if I'm to build up my reputation as a "Pacific scholar" and therefore get hired at the University of Guam when I'm done with my Ph.D.

Here is our abstract below. Its a basic framework for the paper, with very few specifics, but because me and Theo aren't sure yet of the course of it, we left it like that.

The “American Pacific” is a vast collection of islands which spans thousands of miles and dozens of indigenous islander groups. Comprising all of Micronesia and parts of Polynesia, within it you’ll find the places where America’s Day Begins, where America’s ballistic missile testing continues and where military recruiters’ dreams come true. Through a century of varying military and economic necessities these islands have each in someway or another been incorporated into or attached to the United States and its interests. In the islands today, some are American citizens, others are nationals. Some belong to nations, others to states, and some to colonies.

A critical analysis of the political existences of these islands must not rely on dominant descriptions of them as either fortunate American footnotes or unfortunate tragic dependencies, but instead see them, in the Batillean sense and otherwise, as objects of American sovereignty. In the “American Pacific” we find forms of colonialism, imperialism and militarism so excessively banal that they are assumed to be natural and necessary. Therefore colonialism doesn’t really count as colonialism, when the perception is that only through these types of interventions can these islands survive. The production of this naturalness, this easy assumption of necessity is sovereignty. It allows the excesses of colonialism and militarization that the United States creates in the Pacific to be consumed without critique, this consumption most visibly taking the form of military bases and eager brown skinned military recruits.

The intent of this paper is to reveal the moments of sovereignty that are created through this sea of inclusions/exclusions and discuss what national function the production of these ambiguous indigenous subjects perform.

The second abstract I'll mention here isn't really mine, but just one that I'm helping another friend of mine from my program Madel with. She is planning on submitting a paper to the Pacific Epistemologies conference as well and we spoke for several hours today trying to come up with a good way to articulate her critiques. Madel is from Belau (Palau) and her current work is critique of dominant constructions of Palauan national identity through a geneaology of colonialism and coercion (which reveals the limits that the United States has placed over Palau and how it can configure its identity) as well as political economic portrait (which reveals how elite Palauns responded to this limit, by constructing a national subject which placed two of their colonizers, the US and Japan at the center of their identities). I love spending time with Madel, talking theory with her or even just hanging out with her. We share similar problems of being invisible, coming from invisible communities and being indigenous people attempting to speak when all our speech is already pre-given or pre-thought, pre-known by the national subject. (this is my most simple answer to whether or not the subaltern can speak. Probably not, since speech would be unexpected and anything the indigenous (non) subject says which is unexpected is not entertained).

Although our discussion was geared toward what Madel would submit for this conference, I definitely felt like it was partly mine because so much of this abstract is the critique that we constantly develop in conversation with each other. Here is the draft that I came up with based on what we came up with today.

The sudden global interest in how natives think int he Pacific should be met with enthusiasm, but also with cautious suspicion. While there can be no doubt as to the existence of "pacific epistemologies" the vital questions islanders must ask ourselves are not just, what this would be, but what informs our choices for representations of our epistemologies, and how too often these informing assumptions can hardly be called our own. What I am referring to is the danger in naming our epistemologies without critically shifting our positions, and thereby calling into question the positions that modernity and anthropology have dictated for us and are too often the only places from which we feel we can speak. If true decolonization is our goal and pacific epistemologies are the objects we seek, then we must take into account the ways in which centuries of colonialisms, imperialisms and militarisms have positioned us beneath the western gaze as effects of exotic difference and therefore not articulate our epistemologies as reliant upon anthropology and its requirements that our knowledge be property of ghosts and old women alone, but seek our ways of knowing in the real conditions of our existences, whether it be in villages, cities, the sands of Iraq and across the diaspora.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


My Island brothers and sisters, "Men and women will fight you down when you see the light...We can't give up the fight!" A lot of our brothers and sisters through indoctrination, exploitation, and westernization have come to believe our unique and significant lives are insignificant because we aint a military force with any desires to conquer another people and exploit them.

It's time to educate our brothers and sisters that we are a voice with great history, pride, courage, compassion, wisdom, and morals and that no person, no country, no nation can try to tell us otherwise. The days of the persecuted "brown savages" are over...We won't accept 2nd class citizenship. We are not the "educated fools" that they tried to make us become. This is why we've survived such great adversity, atrocities, and suffering. Our simple yet truthful understanding of the meaning of life which is family/people and nature living in one harmony can not be discredited. No longer shall we be fooled by imperial foolish education because we know that it is foolish to abandon our familial roots for individualistic corruption and exploitation. We may not have the "foolish education" of the west but we have the inspiration of our ancestry.


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