Liberal Subjectivity and the Constitution of Race in Settler Colonies

Jessica Evans
Jessica Evans
  York University


The tendency of Marxist theories to conceptualize racism as a product of capitalist divide and conquer techniques, to impose race superficially on top of the basic divisions of class society, has rarely if ever been an adequate reflection of the historical record. In this paper, I argue that the relationship between capitalism and racism is far more nuanced and variable than the conventional explanation. I locate the genesis of fixed categories of race, equating phenotype to socio-economic, mental and moral qualities, in the attempt to reproduce ‘liberal subjectivity’ in spaces markedly different from those in which such subjectivity was initially constituted (namely Britain). I argue that racialization emerges as a fixed category of differentiation, first, in the settler colonies, and this owing to the international dissemination and uneven and combined development of the social technologies aimed at fomenting a liberal subject population. As has been aptly demonstrated in numerous works of historiography, simple dispossession has rarely, if ever, been adequate to convert individuals into the ‘ideal market citizen’. Such constitution has always required a myriad of social technologies (for example the Poor Law Reform, vagrancy laws, workhouses, etc.). My argument is that the transposition and combination of these technologies into spaces characterized by markedly different social property relations resulted in the need to produce a ‘national liberal citizenry’ through the demarcation of the ‘barbaric, racialized outsider’.

Race - Uneven and Combined Development - Settler Colonialism - Migration - Indigenous