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The White Possessive

The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The White Possessive
    Book Description:

    The White Possessiveexplores the links between race, sovereignty, and possession through themes of property: owning property, being property, and becoming propertyless. Focusing on the Australian Aboriginal context, Aileen Moreton-Robinson questions current race theory in the first world and its preoccupation with foregrounding slavery and migration. The nation, she argues, is socially and culturally constructed as a white possession.

    Moreton-Robinson reveals how the core values of Australian national identity continue to have their roots in Britishness and colonization, built on the disavowal of Indigenous sovereignty. Whiteness studies literature is central to Moreton-Robinson's reasoning, and she shows how blackness works as a white epistemological tool that bolsters the social production of whiteness-displacing Indigenous sovereignties and rendering them invisible in a civil rights discourse, thereby sidestepping thorny issues of settler colonialism.

    Throughout this critical examination Moreton-Robinson proposes a bold new agenda for critical Indigenous studies, one that involves deeper analysis of how the prerogatives of white possession function within the role of disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4458-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION White Possession and Indigenous Sovereignty Matters
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    It seems apt to begin with a quote from my recently departed Gami (uncle) because he was a humble, kind, and wise man. Gami’s words succinctly encapsulate what I am striving to reveal in this book. While writing this introduction, race as a socially constructed phenomenon is busy doing its work within Australia, measuring Aboriginality by the shade of skin color. It is as though race travels back and forth in time to show us its indeterminacy, seductively enticing us to commit ourselves to its truths. We know not its origins, as a form of exclusion, though there is some...


    • 1 I STILL CALL AUSTRALIA HOME: Indigenous Belonging and Place in a Postcolonizing Society
      (pp. 3-18)

      Migrancy and dispossession indelibly mark configurations of belonging, home, and place in the postcolonizing nation-state.¹ In the Australian context, the sense of belonging, home, and place enjoyed by the non-Indigenous subject—colonizer/migrant—is based on the dispossession of the original owners of the land and the denial of our rights under international customary law. It is a sense of belonging derived from ownership as understood within the logic of capital, and it mobilizes the legend of the pioneer, “the battler,” in its self-legitimization. Against this stands the Indigenous sense of belonging, home, and place in its incommensurable difference. It is...

    • 2 THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT: Britishness and White Possession
      (pp. 19-32)

      The British imperial project was predicated on taking possession of other peoples’ lands and resources for the benefit of Empire. Britain took possession in a number of ways. In Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, it was through negotiated settlements and treaties with Indigenous peoples that lands became appropriated by the Crown. The right to take possession was embedded in British and international common law and rationalized through a discourse of civilization that supported war, physical occupation, and the will and desire to possess. Underpinning property rights, possession entails values, beliefs, norms, and social conventions as well as legal...

      (pp. 33-46)

      Beaches remain important places within Indigenous coastal peoples’ territories, though the silence about our ownership is deafening. The coastline of the Australian continent was frequented for centuries by mariners and traders from Asia with whom some Indigenous groups established trade and familial relations.¹ The first verified contact by Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon was in March 1606; he chartered the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. Over the next two centuries the charting of the Australian coastline was primarily undertaken by British explorers. Since 1788, the coastline of this continent has been colonized by British colonists and their...

    • 4 WRITING OFF TREATIES: Possession in the U.S. Critical Whiteness Literature
      (pp. 47-62)

      Whiteness studies proliferated in the United States in the 1990s in response to overt acts of racist violence reported in the press and the need to reconsider the persistence of racism in light of the proposition that race was socially constructed and not biologically determined. Whiteness studies scholars share in common their commitment to racial justice, antiracism, and a more humane society. In most of the literature, prescriptive politics assume a central role; many writers are committed to the abolition of whiteness through naming it, deconstructing it, resisting it, and betraying it. Their scholarship is informed by a variety of...


    • 5 NULLIFYING NATIVE TITLE: A Possessive Investment in Whiteness
      (pp. 65-78)

      Whiteness in its dominant contemporary form in Australian society is Anglicized, institutionalized, and culturally based. Australian culture is less white than it used to be, but Anglicized whiteness forms the center where white men established institutions encouraging a possessive investment in whiteness.¹ Colonial and subsequent governments legitimated the appropriation of Indigenous lands, racialized incarceration and enslavement, and limited naturalized citizenship to white immigrants.² While blackness was congruent with Indigenous subjugation and subordination, patriarchal whiteness was perceived as being synonymous with freedom and citizenship.

      This chapter argues that patriarchal whiteness is imbued with power. It confers dominance and a property right...

      (pp. 79-92)

      After theMabodecision, the subsequent introduction of the Native Title Act 1993, and extensive community consultation, the Yorta Yorta people decided in January to lodge an application for determination of native title with the national Native Title Tribunal.¹ The Native Title Tribunal accepted the application and began mediation with interested parties to the claim. As no mediated agreements could be reached through the Tribunal’s processes, in April 1995 the application was lodged in the Federal Court. In preparation for the arduous task before them, the Yorta Yorta prepared for trial by collecting as much evidence as possible to substantiate...

    • 7 LEESA'S STORY: White Possession in the Workplace
      (pp. 93-108)

      “Possession” is one of those little words with lots of meanings: ownership, rights, containment, domination, and control. In Australia, taking possession of Indigenous lands and people by the British Crown was a proprietary right exercised under its law. The Crown “owned” and continues to “own” the land inhabited by its subjects and confers on them proprietary rights that are intangible and tangible. The colonists were formally deemed to be property-owning subjects through their relationship to the Crown regardless of whether or not they came in chains. The development of civil rights had occurred in Britain in the eighteenth century and...

      (pp. 109-122)

      Captain James Cook looms large as an iconic figure in the Australian imaginary. His name is synonymous with “discovering” Australia, and his reputation has grown over time as the West’s greatest seafarer. As an enduring icon, his face is displayed on water bottles, plates, and other paraphernalia in Australian popular culture. As a historical figure, he is placed at the beginning of Australian history.¹ Within the academy, there is an impressive array of literature about Captain Cook, but perhaps the most controversial is the debate between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere. Sahlins argued inHow “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook,...


    • 9 TOWARD A NEW RESEARCH AGENDA: Foucault, Whiteness, and Sovereignty
      (pp. 125-136)

      In the epigraph above, Indigenous scholar Irene Watson poses questions that are almost unimaginable in the context of Australian sociology where the discussion of “sovereignty” in modernity does not include Indigenous subjects. The “sociological imagination” has not been applied to investigate the existence of Indigenous sovereignty within both structure and agency, yet this is surely what sociology requires. C. Wright Mills coined this popular phrase, which is used as an epistemic tool to distinguish the “sociological” from the social. Developing a sociological imagination means one should be able to think beyond the temple of one’s familiar to examine the social...

    • 10 WRITING OFF SOVEREIGNTY: The Discourse of Security and Patriarchal White Sovereignty
      (pp. 137-152)

      Race has been central to Australian politics and the transition from colony to nation, yet its significance as a concept has often been overlooked in Australian political theory, with the exception of its application to those who are not white. Since the election of the Liberal Party to government in March 1996, several scholars have written about how “race” plays a role in conservative politics. Judith Brett’sAustralian Liberals and the Moral Middle Classforegrounds how under Prime Minister John Howard’s leadership the Liberal Party was reconfigured to represent the nation.¹ Brett argues that his stand on multiculturalism, immigration, and...

    • 11 IMAGINING THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN: Race War and the Pathology of White Sovereignty
      (pp. 153-172)

      In June 2007, the federal government sent military and police into Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory on the premise that the sexual abuse of children was rampant and a national crisis. This “crisis” was constructed as something extraordinary and aberrant, requiring new governmental measures. Giorgio Agamben argues that this “state of exception” is now the normal form of governance within democracies, which “establishes a hidden but fundamental relationship between law and the absence of law. It is a void, a blank and this empty space is constitutive of the legal system.”¹ Guantánamo Bay has become the public face of...

    • 12 VIRTUOUS RACIAL STATES: White Sovereignty and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
      (pp. 173-190)

      The contentions in the epigraph above by white American scholar Jennifer Harvey are not new to Indigenous people. We experience and tolerate racism on a daily basis, and its perpetration is usually invisible to those who practice it, particularly when it is exercised with a reliable self-calibrated moral compass. It would be a mistake, however, to place total responsibility on individual white subjects for their attitudes and behavior when relations of force shape and produce the conditions under which racism flourishes. Governments were responsible for facilitating and appropriating Indigenous lands, and through the use of the law enabled the death...

    (pp. 191-194)

    Possession works in different ways. Throughout this book I have illustrated how the possessive logics of patriarchal white sovereignty discursively disavow and dispossess the Indigenous subject of an ontology that exists outside the logic of capital, by always demanding our inclusion within modernity on terms that it defines. Think of how we are overdetermined as Indigenous peoples, simultaneously relegated to the past while existing in the present, saturated with meanings operationalized within racialized discourses. The possessive logics of patriarchal white sovereignty require the constructions of Indigeneity to be validated and measured through different regulatory mechanisms and disciplinary knowledges within modernity....

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 195-222)
    (pp. 223-224)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 225-239)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)