Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two Weeks Til My Defense

A little less than two weeks before I defend my dissertation. Sumahi and I are heading to San Diego this morning to prepare for my defense and graduation. For those of you who have been interested in what my dissertation is about, and I haven't been able to tell you, or told you I would tell you later. Here's the fragment that I've written to introduce it.


GUAM! Where the Production of America’s Sovereignty Begins!

This title might seem odd for a number of reasons. It collapses, or causes a collision between, a number of different concepts that many might not be familiar with, or feel go together. First we have Guam, a colony of the United States, or as it is more formally known, a territory or a dependency of it. Then we have the United States, which most likely needs no introduction, but the reference to its sovereignty might cause a few eyebrows to be raised. Sovereignty can refer to many things, but generally deals with nations, their rights, their ability to govern themselves, and their ability to provide stability and security for their way of life. Lastly we have the idea of production, representing the link between Guam and the United States (and its sovereignty). Aside from the literal interpretations, this marker is meant to convey that somehow Guam plays an active role or is a source of the constitution of American sovereignty. It is the curiosity that this title might instill or, the curiousness it exudes, that is the impetus for this dissertation.

The title is drawn from a phrase which began as a tourist slogan for Guam, but has become a slogan representing Guam in general. Guam: Where America’s Day Begins! can be found on t-shirts, websites, blogs and furthermore, makes appearances in the speech of US Generals, Guam Governors and Senators. Its influence goes beyond its being a mere slogan for tourists, but extends into grounding the political identity of Guam. For those of us from Guam, this slogan represents a way in which we can overcome the colonial difference that marks all aspects of our lives, so that we may somehow embody America and claim to finally be a secure piece of it. It joins other slogans - most notably: Guam: America in Asia, Guam: The Edge of America, Guam: The Tip of America’s Spear. - meant to re-mark or remake the colonial tie between Guam and the United States, Chamorros and their Mother Country, not as a point of inequality or exploitation, but rather as a point of celebratory exceptionality.

These slogans are a point of frustration for someone such as myself who is interested in Guam’s decolonization rather than the maintenance of its colonization. Despite the superficial nature of these slogans, their impact, their power runs very deep in terms of reinforcing/reproducing very real and intimate worlds of dependency. They reinforce colonial fictions as to who makes the colonies possible and who makes them function.

What defines Guam, or more deeply, what makes Guam possible, what makes it secure and prosperous, makes it a place that can be recognized as having value or purpose, is this link to the United States. It authorizes Guam as a place in the world through different geopolitical, military, economic and other discourses. As a result, Guam is reduced to an object, an inactive supplementary fragment within the political metaphor - something made by America, a weapon used by America. It is a place that signifies in so many ways Guam’s powerlessness; it is rendered as nothing but a dependency, a dot on a map, the tip of a spear, something that does nothing more than signify the prowess and greatness of the United States.

Although as a colony, one might consider sovereignty to be absent with regards to Guam, this is hardly the case. The concept appears everywhere in a multitude of ways, especially by virtue of Guam’s exceptional, ambiguous political status. So when I refer to sovereignty in this dissertation, there is no single way I am intending it, but will constantly move throughout the variations of the concept, dragging the site of Guam along with me, seeking its traces.

I will refer to sovereignty as a dream and a nightmare, a goal and an obstacle; a force or which some strive and struggle for, while others jealously defend. It is considered to be the lynchpin of the world order, a concept which cannot be questioned or supplanted for fear that the world will regress or return to a previous violent moment. It is a theory of rights (and wrongs) for nation-states, a theory for who should have power and who shouldn’t. It can be a show of power or strength, it can be the force through which the inconsistencies of a nation are dismissed or dispelled, and a feeling of stability and order is maintained.

Specifically for colonies and people still struggling for self-determination, sovereignty can be a frustrating paradox, a source of authority for colonizers and those who build their foundations upon conquest and discovery. At the same time, sovereignty signifies a hope for a radical change of meaning, an end to the trauma of colonization and a path towards decolonization. For indigenous people, such as Chamorros, sovereignty is a source of power, it can be a path towards finding oneself and one’s true powers in a world which is built upon their reduction to ghosts in their own lands.

In this dissertation, Guam’s place, or non-place, in that ever-growing body of knowledge on sovereignty will be interrogated, with the intent of revealing the structure of Guam’s colonization and decolonization. The various chapters will each start with a different definition of sovereignty, and then proceed to answer the following questions: What role does these definitions of sovereignty play in creating that colonial status? How can they help us enhance our view of that status and how that status can be challenged or changed?

In order to reveal this structure, I will use not only academic and theoretical texts on sovereignty and imperialism, but also deploy as text the discourses that reveal the everyday sentiments of those seeking to produce or prevent sovereignty for Guam. Just as Guam sits at the edge of America and the edge of the world, it also sits at the edge of sovereignty. And so this dissertation will not just ground itself in academic texts on sovereignty, but also in the stories, statements and blog comments of Chamorro activists, cultural preservationists, US Congress-people and US military commanders. Since Guam persists as more of a ghost with reference to sovereignty than an acceptable object of political inquiry, the capturing of its non-/place can only be achieved through a similar sort of intentionally ambiguous methodological engagement, and a constant movement between different level of official and unofficial texts. Therefore in terms of evidence, an off-hand remark made by a US Naval Admiral can lead us closer and more quickly to capturing the political status of Guam, than an entire shelf of academic texts on sovereignty or on Guam’s political status.

This dissertation is not about sovereignty, it is about Guam, and about decolonizing it. However, to decolonize Guam requires first that its place in the structure of American sovereignty be revealed. This means that throughout this dissertation, Guam will be repositioned, reimagined, and reorientated, from a supplementary, dependent effect of American power, to something which plays a role and holds a place in creating that power. It is for that reason that this dissertation possess the peculiar title of “Guam!: Where the Production of America’s Sovereignty Begins!”


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kob said...

I hadn't considered the negative consequences of the slogans. For someone with a mostly mainland perspective, your work is offering a much needed insight.

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