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Consent’s Revenge: An Inquiry into the Politics of Refusal

Audra Simpson
Associate Professor, Columbia University
Date and Time: 
Monday, March 13, 2017 - 15:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Key to liberal governance is the notion of consent, of an agreement to subject position in relation to a larger political order that contracts one, via reasoned consent, into a political order that presumably will protect them and their interests in exchange for abstracting themselves out of their own specificity.  Implicit in in this is a sense of an inherent virtue and need to enter into such agreements in order to preserve oneself from the chaos and tyranny of a state of nature, the space, some early political theorists argued, in various ways was chaotic, dangerous, where life was “nasty brutish and short.”  This was the space of the ‘the savage’ and actual savages, or rather, actual Indigenous peoples, who did not know of their uses to political theorists and planners of the day, who governed themselves according to their own reason, their own systems of order and their own governance structures became a foil for this theorizing that they knew nothing about. Their order became the ghost in the colonial machine as the force of Empire came to Indigenous territories during and after these axiomatic theoretical arguments regarding political life. This paper examines the ordered ghost of reason that shades these theoretical moves with attention to the ways in which Indigenous life refused, did not consent to, and still refuses to be folded into a larger encompassing colonizing and then settler colonial narratives of savagery, of failure, of diminishment that informs the apprehension and at times, the ethnography and governance of Indigenous life.