Settler colonialism is a form of exogenous domination typically organized or supported by an imperial authority. Settler colonialism contrasts with exploitation colonialism, which entails an economic policy of conquering territory to exploit its population as cheap or free labor and its natural resources as raw material. In this way, settler colonialism lasts indefinitely, except in the rare event of complete evacuation or settler decolonization.
Settler colonialism was especially prominent in the colonial empires of the European powers between the 16th and 20th centuries. The settling of Boers in South Africa, British, French, Portuguese and Spanish expansion in the Americas as well as the settlement of the Canary Islands by Castile are classical examples of settler colonialism.
Settler colonial studies have been applied to many conflicts and polities throughout the world. However, the field has also received criticism for perpetuating the racist notion of noble savages, being overly moralistic in character rather than a dispassionate instance of analysis, focusing on particular cases of imperialism over those done by the Global South, and generalizing a near-cultural universal as exclusive to Europeans or Westerners.
Origins as a theory
During the 1960s, settlement and colonization were perceived as separate phenomena from colonialism. Settlement endeavors were seen as taking place in empty areas, downplaying the Indigenous inhabitants. Later on in the 1970s and 1980s, settler colonialism was seen as bringing high living standards in contrast to the failed political systems associated with classical colonialism. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the field of settler colonial studies was established distinct but connected to Indigenous studies. Although often credited with originating the field, Australian historian Patrick Wolfe stated that "I didn’t invent Settler Colonial Studies. Natives have been experts in the field for centuries". Additionally, Wolfe's work was preceded by others that have been influential in the field, such as Fayez Sayegh's Zionist Colonialism in Palestine and Settler Capitalism by Donald Denoon.
Definition and concept
Settler colonialism occurs when foreign settlers arrive in an already inhabited territory to permanently inhabit it and found a new society. Intrinsically connected to this is the displacement or elimination of existing residents and destruction of their society.
Some scholars describe the process as inherently genocidal, considering settler colonialism to entail the elimination of existing peoples and cultures, and not only their displacement (see genocide, "the intentional destruction of a people in whole or in part").
Settler colonial studies has often focused on former British colonies in North America, Australia and New Zealand, which are close to the complete, prototypical form of settler colonialism. However, settler colonialism is not linked to any specific culture and has been practiced by non-Europeans. The settler colonial paradigm has been applied to a wide variety of conflicts around the world, including the Andaman Islands, Argentina, Australia, British Kenya, the Canary Islands, Fiji, French Algeria, Generalplan Ost, Hawaii, Hokkaido, Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Italian Libya and East Africa, Kashmir, Korea and Manchukuo, Latin America, Liberia, New Zealand, northern Afghanistan, North America, Posen and West Prussia and German South West Africa, Rhodesia, Sápmi, South Africa, South Vietnam, and Taiwan.
During the fifteenth century, the Kingdom of Castile sponsored expeditions by conquistadors to subjugate under Castilian rule the Macaronesian archipelago of the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco and inhabited by the Indigenous Guanche people. Beginning with the start of the conquest of the island of Lanzarote on 1 May 1402 and ending with the surrender of the last Guanche resistance on Tenerife on 29 September 1496 to the now-unified Spanish crown, the archipelago was subject to a settler colonial process involving systematic enslavement, mass murder, and deportation of the Guanches, who were replaced with Spanish settlers, in a process foreshadowing the Iberian colonisation of the Americas that followed shortly thereafter. Also like in the Americas, Spanish colonialists in the Canaries quickly turned to the importation of slaves from mainland Africa as a source of labour due to the decimation of the already small Guanche population by a combination of war, disease, and brutal forced labour. Historian Mohamed Adhikari has labelled the conquest of the Canary Islands as the first overseas European settler colonial genocide.
As part of the Western Sahara conflict, the Kingdom of Morocco has sponsored settlement schemes that have enticed thousands of Moroccan citizens to relocate to the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. This regulated migration has been in effect since the Green March in 1975, and it was estimated in 2015 that Moroccan settlers accounted for two-thirds of the 500,000 inhabitants of Western Sahara.Under international law, the transfer of Moroccan citizens into the occupied territory constitutes a direct violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (cf. Turkish settlers in Northern Cyprus and Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories).
In 1652, the arrival of Europeans sparked the beginning of settler colonialism in South Africa. The Dutch East India Company was set up at the Cape, and imported large numbers of slaves from Africa and Asia during the mid-seventeenth century. The Dutch East India Company established a refreshment station for ships sailing between Europe and the east. The initial plan by Dutch East India Company officer Jan van Riebeeck was to maintain a small community around the new fort, but the community continued to spread and settle further than originally planned. There was a historic struggle to achieve the intended British sovereignty that was achieved in other parts of the Commonwealth. State sovereignty belonged to the Union of South Africa (1910–61), followed by the Republic of South Africa (1961–1994) and finally the modern day Republic of South Africa (1994–Present day).
In 1948, the policy of Apartheid was introduced South Africa in order to segregate the native African population from Boer settlers and ensure the domination of the White populace over non-whites, politically, socially and economically. While Apartheid was formally abolished in the 1990s, economic inequality still persists with 80% of the nations wealth being owned by 10% of people, primarily those among the White population. A land audit launched by the South African government in 2017 found that 72% of the land owned by individual landowners in the country, was owned by Whites.
As of 2014, the South African government has re-opened the period for land claims under the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act.
In colonial America, colonial powers created economic dependency and imbalance of trade, incorporating Indigenous nations into spheres of influence and controlling them indirectly with the use of Christian missionaries and alcohol. With the emergence of an independent United States, desire for land and the perceived threat of permanent Indigenous political and spatial structures led to violent relocation of many Indigenous tribes to the American West, in what is known as the Trail of Tears. Frederick Jackson Turner, the father of the "frontier thesis" of American history, noted in 1901: "Our colonial system did not start with Spanish War; the U.S. had had a colonial history from the beginning...hidden under the phraseology of 'interstate migration' and territorial organization'". While the United States government and local state governments directly aided this dispossession through the use of military forces, ultimately this came about through agitation by settler society in order to gain access to Indigenous land. Especially in the US South, such land acquisition built plantation society and expanded the practice of slavery. Settler colonialism participated in the formation of US cultures and lasted past the conquest, removal, or extermination of Indigenous people. The practice of writing the Indigenous out of history perpetrated a forgetting of the full dimensions and significance of colonialism at both the national and local levels.
Near the end of their rule the Qing tried to colonize Xinjiang, Tibet, and other parts of the imperial frontier. To accomplish this goal they began a policy of settler colonialism by which Han Chinese were resettled on the frontier. This policy was renewed by the People's Republic of China, led by Chinese Communist Party.
Palestine, Zionism and Israel
In 1967, the French historian Maxime Rodinson wrote an article later translated and published in English as Israel: A Colonial Settler-State? Lorenzo Veracini describes Israel as a colonial state and writes that Jewish settlers could expel the British in 1948 only because they had their own colonial relationships inside and outside Israel's new borders. Veracini believes the possibility of an Israeli disengagement is always latent and this relationship could be severed, through an "accommodation of a Palestinian Israeli autonomy within the institutions of the Israeli state". Other commentators, such as Daiva Stasiulis, Nira Yuval-Davis, and Joseph Massad in the "Post Colonial Colony: time, space and bodies in Palestine/Israel in the persistence of the Palestinian Question" have included Israel in their global analysis of settler societies. Ilan Pappé describes Zionism and Israel in similar terms. Scholar Amal Jamal, from Tel Aviv University, has stated, "Israel was created by a settler-colonial movement of Jewish immigrants".
Writing in the 1990s, the Australian historian Patrick Wolfe is credited with originating the field. He theorized settler colonialism as a structure (rather than an event) premised on the elimination rather than exploitation of the native population, thus distinguishing it from classical colonialism. Wolfe argued that settler colonialism was centered on the control of land, that it continued after the closing of the frontier, and that continued to exist today, classifying Israel as a modern form of settler colonialism. His approach was defining for the field, but has been challenged by other scholars on the basis that many situations involve a combination of elimination and exploitation.
The portrayal of Zionism as a settler colonial movement is perceived by some scholars and commentators, as well as many Israeli Jews, as either an attack on the legitimacy of Israel or a form of antisemitism. Moses Lissak asserted that the settler-colonial thesis denies the idea that Zionism is the modern national movement of the Jewish people, seeking to reestablish a Jewish political entity in their historical territory. Zionism, Lissak argues, was both a national movement and a settlement movement at the same time, so it was not, by definition, a colonial settlement movement. It is also argued that Jews are indigenous to the region.
Russia and the Soviet Union
This colonization continued even during the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The Soviet policy also sometimes included the deportation of the native population, as in the case of the Crimean Tatars.[unreliable source?]
Europeans explored and settled Australia, displacing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Indigenous Australian population was estimated at about 795,000 at the time of European settlement. The population declined steeply for 150 years following settlement from 1788, due to casualties from the Australian frontier wars, infectious disease including the use of disease as biological warfare, and forced re-settlement and cultural disintegration.
While not disagreeing with the field in of itself, settler colonialist scholar Lachlan McNamee has criticized the field's perpetuation of the noble savages idea, its often overly moralistic character rather than the field serving as a dispassionate form of analysis, its focus on particular cases of imperialism over those done by the Global South, and frequently generalizing a near-cultural universal as merely exclusive to Europeans or Westerners.
Settler colonialism exists in tension with indigenous studies. Some indigenous scholars believe that settler colonialism as a methodology can lead to overlooking indigenous responses to colonialism; however, other practitioners of indigenous studies believe that settler colonialism has important insights that are applicable to their work. Settler colonialism as a theory has also been criticized from the standpoint of postcolonial theory.
Political theorist Mahmoud Mamdani suggested that settlers could never succeed in their effort to become native, and therefore the only way to end settler colonialism was to erase the political significance of the settler–native dichotomy.
According to Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd, in contrast to settler, the term arrivant refers to enslaved Africans transported against their will, and to refugees forced into the Americas due to the effects of imperialism.
In his book Empire of the People: Settler Colonialism and the Foundations of Modern Democratic Thought, political scientist Adam Dahl states that while it has often been recognized that "American democratic thought and identity arose out of the distinct pattern by which English settlers colonized the new world", histories are missing the "constitutive role of colonial dispossession in shaping democratic values and ideals".
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The key phrases Wolfe coined here – that invasion is a 'structure not an event'; that settler colonial structures have a 'logic of elimination' of Indigenous peoples; that 'settlers come to stay' and that they 'destroy to replace' – have been taken up as the defining precepts of the field and are now cited by countless scholars across numerous disciplines.
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[Settler colonialism is] a system defined by unequal relationships (like colonialism) where an exogenous collective aims to locally and permanently replace indigenous ones (unlike colonialism), settler colonialism has no geographical, cultural or chronological bounds... It can happen at any time, and everyone is a settler if they are part of a collective and sovereign displacement that moves to stay, that moves to establish a permanent homeland by way of displacement.
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Settler-colonialism describes the logic and operation of power when colonizers arrive and settle on lands already inhabited by another group. Importantly, settler colonialism operates through a logic of elimination, seeking to eradicate the original inhabitants through violence and other genocidal acts and to replace the existing spiritual, epistemological, political, social, and ecological systems with those of the settler society
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Though often conflated with colonialism more generally, settler colonialism is a distinct imperial formation. Both colonialism and settler colonialism are premised on exogenous domination, but only settler colonialism seeks to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers (usually from the colonial metropole).
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