what’s in a place? 地方的本體論--Coulthard論土地在去殖民的地位

This week, I’m doing the first of my virtual symposium pieces. I’m briefly going to introduce a short article, for which I will give the citation below. My introduction intends to get at a few possibly useful lines of conversation, hoping that it will encourage some talk. So this post is a bidding to get us conversing on critical indigenous studies




Land in indigenous movements is more than what settler society considers real estate. It is not a commodity

在他的(2010)著作「place against empire」Yellowknives Dene 學者、原運者Glen Coulthard 討論著土地在原住民運動的地位,他提到,如果將土地視為一種生產工具而已,我們就看不出土地對原住民和原運的重要性。但是Coulthard不想重複講一個我們早已知道的事實。原住民族社會對「鄉土」(homeland)有濃厚的感情,跟土地有親密的聯繫,這件事我們無論在台灣或北美也都很清楚,Coulthard卻要探討一個更廣泛的問題,就是土地的倫理力量和政治位置,即「土地當作一種讓人了解社會和環境關係的本體論架構」(an ontological framework for understanding relationships): 土地雖然是一個非常重要的物件,她也是體驗、了解世界,跟世界互動的道路/方法(way)。當Coulthard提到土地是體驗世界的道路,就讓我想到,按照人類學的現象學(phenomenology)、行動者網路(ANT)等理論,土地可能也是我們共同將經驗加以塑造、構成「世界」,一個worlding的模式。Coulthard也強調,因為土地是族人跟世界互動的道路,土地的重要性不限於倫理,也頗有政治涵義,所以土地一直提供對抗殖民勢力、走向後殖民和平相處的新視野。就是說土地是原運中的行動者,是一個主體

In his 2010 essay, “Place against Empire” Yellowknives Dene scholar and activist Glen Coulthard discusses the place of land in Indigenous movements. Coulthard notes that if we think of land as a productive tool or valuable material object, we miss the point. However, Coulthard does not want to repeat simple facts that we’ve already known about Indigenous relationships to land. Of course, most Indigenous peoples have deep affection and connection to their homelands. Whether we are in North America or Taiwan, that’s something we all know. Coulthard is more interested in examining the political and ethical place of land, or as he puts it, the ways that land is “an ontological framework for understanding relationships.” Even as land is an important material object, it is also a mode of experiencing, understanding and interacting with the world. As an anthropologist with phenomenological and actor-network theory commitments, I would add, it is a way of “worlding,” or transforming experience into a world. Coulthard sees the importance of land not just ethically but politically. As he argues, land constantly has provided–and continues to provide–means to resist colonial power and new visions of post-colonial coexistence


Coulthard illustrates his arguments from examples from hunters’ narratives of his own community, which fill in a Dene ontology of land. According to Coulthard, the Dene see the land as a subject which can interact with people through the other living creatures that inhabit it, thus establishing a web of ethical relationships. Coulthard sums these relationships up by saying that the land cares for people and develops mutual care with humans and other creatures. People thus have obligations to have gratitude, respect, and care for the land: humans not only dwell on the land but also belong to it; we are part of the land. Nonetheless, Coulthard resists both primitivism and neo-traditionalism. His concern with the ontology of land is to complicate contemporary discussions of political economy. Placing his discussion within contemporary Marxian and radical critique, he wishes to see how the land might provide new visions. He hopes that the Dene ontology of land can inform and move forward discussions of issues such as dispossession, class conflict, and capital accumulation. Thus the interest in the ontology of land gets at how we might reinterpret economic relations. If the land is subject and not commodity, how should we treat it within our economic systems and our critique of these systems? How do we understand colonial dispossession historically and in the present?



Coulthard’s argument in “Place Against Empire” gives us a very large space for imagination and application. Of course, we can expect that the land ontologies of different Indigenous groups will vary widely; yet we can from ethnographic work move forward, gradually increasing our knowledge of these formations, including their frameworks, characteristics, and potentials. As for my part, I am certain that to people in ‘Atolan where I work (and to most Taiwanese indigenous communities in their sixteen recognized and several not yet recognized groups) land is not just a commodity to be wrestled away from the settler colonial government, but is a subject who interacts with us. We can begin to study the different ways that such subjects present themselves to people living different societies. I’m not sure whether they do so as living beings, forces, whether they are personalized or non-personal. But if we continue our research and discussion, we should find in it an in our descriptions of land ontologies something like Coulthard’s discovery, new visions and ways to move toward decolonization

Now read the article and discuss! 現在呢,一起看此篇論文,一起來討論

citation: Glen Coulthard, “Place Against Empire: Understanding Indigenous Anti-Colonialism,” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 2010, pp. 79-83.

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