QUESTION: Ecology and Post-Colonialism Theory

question / pregunta: 

I am working on an article that attempts to think Colonialism and Imperialism as iterations of the ontological constitution of human vs. non-human. I would like help tracking down writers who deal with the correlation between the circumscription of the colonized peoples/lands and the circumscription of non-human life. Feel free to get in touch with more questions. And thanks for the work you all do. It is so important!


After our follow-up emails, my sense is that your question has two major concerns: how to define your approach to your research (what theoretical framework best fits your interests) and how to identify instances of colonialism that can help you explore human/non-human distinctions made during specific colonial regimes.

Because you have access to academic texts, research databases, and electronic journals through your college library, I looked for resources that you might be able to access at your institution. I conducted a preliminary search using Academic Search Premier (an interdisciplinary resear ch database) and Google Scholar, since these tools retrieve results from a number of disciplines. While I didn’t find any articles that exactly address your research question, I did find articles that might be helpful when read together. I’ve included a list of article and book citations below, with content or bibliographies you can consult as you expand your search.

Since you’re still developing your research approach and topic, I thought it might help to suggest some strategies you can use to look for more sources in your library’s research databases and catalog.

Identifying instances of colonialism

When you do a keyword search, try to think of multiple ways you could describe the topic. You can try searching with terms like ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism,’ and using truncation to find results for different forms of those words (colonial* will usually yield results for colonialism, colonial, and colonialist). As you try to find out more about environmental control in specific colonial con texts, you can search using terms like environment, nature, and land. You can also try searching for sources about specific places, colonial regimes, and/or time periods. Another approach you can take when keyword searching is searching some of these terms in combination with a key concept (e.g., postcolonial, human, dehumanization, archaeology, or genealogy ).

As you find sources – even if they don’t exactly match your research topic – you can note what terms authors use in their abstracts, and what subject terms catalogers and indexers have assigned to the texts. Try using some of these terms, if they seem appropriate.

Developing your theoretical approach

Remember that you can also use the name of a theorist or an author for a keyword or subject search. If you want to find out who else has used work by theorists who’ve explored questions of the human and nonhuman, search using a combination of your key terms and that person’s name (e.g., Butler AND human AND colonial or Foucault AND nature AND environment*). This way, you can see how other scholars are using the frameworks you’re considering for your own work.

Some sources that might be helpful starting points
These articles and books may be helpful as examples, or for their bibliographies. Many employ ethnographic or critical ethnographic approaches, or are coming from geography and related fields.

Barta, Tony. "Mr. Darwin’s shooters: on natural selection and the naturalizing of genocide." Patterns of Prejudice. June 2005, Vol. 39, Issue 2, p. 116-137.

Carr, Brian. "At the Thresholds of the 'human': Race, psychoanalysis, and the replication of imperial memory." Cultural Critique. Spring 1998, No. 39, p. 119-150.

Finzsch, Norbert. "'It is scarcely possible to conceive that human beings could be so hideous and loathsome': Discourses of genocide in eitghteenth- and nineteenth-century America and Australia." Patterns of Prejudice. June 2005, Vol. 39, Issue 2, p. 97-115.

Gupta, Akhil. Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India. Duke University Press,1998.

Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson, eds. Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Duke University Press, 1997.

Katz, Eric. "Imperialism and Environmentalism." Social Theory & Practice. Summer 1995, Vol. 21, Issue 2, p. 271-285.

Philip, Kavita. Civilizing Natures: Race, Resources, and Modernity in Colonial South India. Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Rutherford, Stephanie. "Green Governmentality: Insights and opportunities in the study of nature’s rule." Progress in Human Geography. June 2007, Vol. 31, Issue 3, p. 291-307.

Scott, Heidi. "A Mirage of colonial consensus: Resettlement schemes in early Spanish Peru." Environment & Planning D: Society & Space. Dec. 2004, Vol. 22, Issue 6, p. 885-899.

Sluyter, Andrew. Colonialism and Landscape: Postcolonial Theory and Applications. Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Tropp, Jacob Abram. Natures of Colonial Change: Environmental Relations in the Making of the Transkei. Ohio University Press, 2006.