Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty

Tue, 21/11/2023 - 08:00
Tue, 21/11/2023 - 08:00

Aileen Moreton-Robinson in her book The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty presents a collection of essays on race, dispossession and sovereignty. She argues that ‘the thread that weaves the chapter(s) together is the intersubstantive relations between white possession and Aboriginal sovereignty’. Moreton-Robinson’s position aligning with the aim of the book as written by a critical Indigenous scholar is clear and well-defined through a wide range of issues that are addressed in each of these essays. Thus, there are a number of avenues that a commentary on this book can take – I choose to focus on two main broader themes in relation to solidarity and power.

The aim of this book is to reveal how racialization is the process by which whiteness operates possessively to define and construct itself as the pinnacle of its own racial hierarchy.

There is no doubt that this is a powerful aim. However, as a migrant to Australia I was questioning the core of this book: are possessive logics only limited to whiteness? According to Aileen Moreton-Robinson, based on the arguments in the book, the answer to this question is undoubtedly ‘no’ as she limits the boundaries of indigeneity to the US, Canada and New Zealand. This book would have been more impactful had it addressed issues with indigeneity and dispossession beyond the so-called global north context and beyond whiteness.

I would like to acknowledge that I am writing this commentary as a migrant coming into Australia with existing sets of ontological attachments to land. Although Moreton-Robinson does refer to non-white migrants as those that ‘can belong, but they cannot possess’, she also states:

Nonwhite migrants’ sense of belonging is tied to the fiction of terra nullius and the logic of capital because their legal right to belong is sanctioned by the law that enabled dispossession.

There is a lot of emotion attached to the above statement and depending on the ontological positions, various non-white migrant groups will read this accordingly. This is a different take to critical colonial history as compared with Priyamvada Gopal’s views in her recent book Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. Through a comprehensive historical analysis of anticolonial resistance, Gopal illustrates the significant role of solidarity among various groups (white and non-white) to create meaningful revolutions. Solidarity is a key aspect and potentially a way forward towards decolonization, which is missing from The White Possessive.

The above observations and reflections on the book are based on who I am and my relation to Country (as a migrant). The following few paragraphs will focus on specific reflections on the content with reference to the use of Michel Foucault and the post-structural approach framing The Whie Possessive. First, there are some discrepancies in Moreton-Robinson’s position as a post-structuralist especially in relation to the issue of power. In the last, third section of the book, Moreton-Robinson uses ‘Foucault’s sovereignty, race and biopower thesis to propose a new research agenda for Critical Indigenous studies.’ In my view, Foucault’s concept of power is relational. In Foucault on Power, [...]

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