In this supposedly “post-colonial” age, the idea of the native continues to be distorted and deployed, whether in Narendra Modi’s India or calls for “British jobs for British workers”. How and why has this word – so powerful in the age of empire – lived on into the 21st century? Who gains? And how has it gone from being a term applied to those ruled over by colonisers, to a label chosen by people promoting their own interests against others?
Nandita Sharma joins Alexis and Rosie to discuss all this and more, including the exclusionary logic at the heart of the post-colonial nation state. We further ask: how can true decolonisation occur if the very idea of the nation state still features colonial logic? Does it make the idea of decolonising the “national” curriculum an oxymoron?
Also, Nandita exposes the assumptions revealed by researchers’ fears of “going native”, and reflects on the idea of a borderless world. Plus: a celebration of Manuela Zechner’s “Remembering Europe”.
Guest: Nandita Sharma
Hosts: Rosie Hancock, Alexis Hieu Truong
Executive Producer: Alice Bloch
Sound Engineer: David Crackles
Music: Joe Gardner
Artwork: Erin Aniker
Find more about Uncommon Sense at The Sociological Review.
Nandita, Rosie, Alexis and our producer Alice recommended
From The Sociological Review
By Nandita Sharma
Rosie Hancock 0:05
Hi, welcome back to Uncommon Sense from The Sociological Review. I'm Rosie Hancock in Sydney, Australia.
Alexis Hieu Truong 0:12
And I'm Alexis Hieu Truong in Ottawa, Canada. Each month, we take a theme that seems straightforward – say "emotions" or "cities" – and talk our way through it – into it – to see it more critically, more sociologically.
Rosie Hancock 0:27
Yeah, it's about seeing our world through a lens, but without the paywalls, or the sometimes complex language that comes with sociology. And we do this because we really do think that seeing and listening to the world like a sociologist – although there's not only one way of doing that, of course – can help us to think differently about that world, and also to start changing it. It helps us call out what might look to be done deals or just the way it is kind of situations, and say "hang on, maybe not". And this week, we're thinking about the idea of Natives – of "being native". This is a notion that relates really closely to some of the conversations we've already had about things like security, emotion and home. Actually, Alexis, I think it was for that home episode that you and I – living where we do – both mentioned the importance of acknowledging we both work on what often gets called "unceded indigenous land", and that's something that we might return to. Alexis, that word – "native" – what does it bring up for you?
Alexis Hieu Truong 1:28
I'm not sure. Growing up in Quebec and studying in French, the French word "Natif" didn't have any special meaning that I can remember – just being from somewhere, I guess, like, "what city are you from?" I've also heard the word "native" being translated into French as a "autochtone", which would itself be closer maybe to "autochthony" – or something to do with being indigenous basically in English. But yeah, I feel like all of these words have slightly different meanings, and are being used in different ways in different national or cultural context. So, I'm really looking forward to exploring this today.
Rosie Hancock 2:09
Yeah, it's interesting. I've kind of feel a little bit maybe uncomfortable about the word "native" in Australia. If you were to say "native" to describe people, I think it kind of has a pejorative association; and would probably say "indigenous" or maybe "Aboriginal" or even "first peoples". Although, interestingly, if you're saying "native" to refer to plants or other animals, it's totally mainstream, right? Although, I guess it's worth saying that even if we've changed the words that we're using in the hope of being – I don't know – not problematic, there's still a lot of problems with both how we talk and how we treat indigenous people in Australia – just to drop that in there. But today we're with Nandita Sharma, an activist and sociologist based in Hawaii. And among other things, her latest book "Home Rule" shows how this category of "native" has been employed and distorted over the ages – moving from being a label applied to colonised populations to an identity category people now actively choose to distinguish themselves from migrants, who in turn get branded as "colonisers". And curiously, this is all taking place in the supposedly post-colonial age of the supposedly liberating, desirable, only-option nation-state. Nandita, thanks for joining us today.
Nandita Sharma 3:31
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really pleased to be here.
Rosie Hancock 3:34
As you can probably tell from how I just delivered that opening there, we're aware that you're going to throw a lot of those terms I've just mentioned into question – the idea of the "nation-state", our "post-colonial" world, the idea of the "migrant" as well. And we're talking today about this idea of "native" or "natives", something that you address in your book "Home Rule", where you write about your mother's story in the opening pages. Can you elaborate on what the term "native" meant to her, and in turn to you, to your stories?
Nandita Sharma 4:06
Yeah, a large impetus for my wanting-to-write this book was trying to understand my mother's life and our life together. You know, it started with the fact that, during the course of her life, she inhabited a number of different state categories, starting with the category of "native". She moved from being a "native" of the British colony of India, to a "national" of the new nation-state of India, when she was a teenager; and after we moved to Canada together, she became an "immigrant". And shortly thereafter, a Canadian "citizen". So, how the same person could occupy these multiple state categories – they themselves remaining that person, but how they're treated in the world becomes very different – was fascinating to me, and I really wanted to explore that further.
Alexis Hieu Truong 5:03
Today, you live and work in Hawaii. So, how salient is that word – "native" – there? It's a place that I feel is so subject to various stereotypes that have to do with this idea of the "native". But there's also things like the Hawaiian sovereignty movement ... Can you tell us about that story?
Nandita Sharma 5:21
Yeah, thank you for that question. Because the dominant idea of Hawaii is a place that you come to experience "native" Hawaiian culture. And one of the most powerful social movements in Hawaii is the Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement. Many people kind of traverse, you know, move from calling themselves "native Hawaiian" to calling themselves "indigenous to Hawaii". The category of "indigenous" has become more and more powerful and popular politically since the 1980s. But the Hawaiian national sovereignty movement, as it has evolved, has increasingly called non-natives in Hawaii "colonisers", right, and particularly "settler colonists". So, that may be more salient in the academy here in Hawaii – at the University of Hawaii – rather than on the streets in Hawaii; but calling people "settler colonists" has become a way for native Hawaiians, or indigenous Hawaiians, to lay claim to an exclusive control over political community – who gets to belong to the political community here and who doesn't – exclusive claims to territorial sovereignty. And those claims – because the category of "native", like all categories, are relational – is laid against the claims of others in Hawaii, to also belong, to also have rights, to share in sovereignty.
Alexis Hieu Truong 6:56
I must say that when I first read the introduction to your book, I started to construe with my own identity, having a father that came from Vietnam, living in Canada, having a mother with a ... my grandfather was from France – but knowing that ... like they, at a certain time, came to Canada as migrants. But clearly, the word "native" isn't just a bygone thing. And it's out there. It's doing real work, right now. It's also talked about in academia and popular serious nonfiction. We'll put some recommendations in our episode notes. Beyond the example of Hawaii, can you talk us through the common sense way in which nativeness is currently used and discussed, and perhaps what you felt was missing when you started to work on this?
Nandita Sharma 7:44
The common sense way that "native" is used today is to lay claim to exclusive belonging and exclusive territorial sovereignty. And it only makes sense in the context of anti-immigrant politics, right? So, around the world – so here in Hawaii, for instance – it's not unusual to be driving around and seeing decals or bumper stickers that say things like "100% native" or "pure Hawaiian", and those things – you know, the necessity to put that out there – I think, is speaking to the power of the category of "native" to emplace people – to to make them "the group" of people who have an unquestioned right to be somewhere. And the people in the world who don't have a right to be where they are – unless they get official permission to do so – are people who are categorised as migrants, right? Migrants' right to be somewhere is always mediated through the people who truly belong.
Rosie Hancock 8:58
So, it seems nativeness can ... is not only kind of taken for granted as a category, but also as an apparently "fair basis" for laying claim to things like belonging, and rights, and land. But "native" is also a word that was used uncritically for a long time in disciplines like Sociology and Anthropology – not just the early anthropology, with its concern for studying "native islanders", but also by researchers critical of those who "go native" – that phrase is sort of in scare quotes there. So, those who cross boundaries, who become too close to the people we're studying, that's apparently a serious problem. So, what do you think's revealed by that concern?
Nandita Sharma 9:41
Well, I think, first and foremost, what's revealed is the imperial history of the disciplines of Anthropology and Sociology. And secondly, the belief ... you know, this is the kind of housing of Anthropology and Sociology in something we call the Social Sciences, right? So this idea that we, as anthropologists or sociologists, are scientists, you know, rationally studying the "other" – or the "deviant" in the case of sociology – and "going native" literally means we've lost our scientific objectivity; and perhaps even our claim to civilization, right? But I think, secondly, "going native" also indicates that there is an "us" and "them" – that there is a difference here between natives and non natives – and that's what is resonating in today's politics very much, right, that, you know ... and that's a racist, that is a racialised way of imagining people – that we belong to different "types", right? That's literally what is meant when we say, "I belong to race X, and you belong to race Y". And I think that that category of "native" is not only an imperial state category of subordination, of colonisation, but also a racialised category that makes you "someone who is not like me".
Rosie Hancock 11:07
Okay, let's try and build a bit of a timeline here. As I understand it, this category of "native" that's around today emerged, or at least became really entrenched with the rise of empire, yes.? Could you tell us more about how that happened? And also, what age of empire you're talking about?
Nandita Sharma 11:26
Right? So the category of "native" actually has a class basis. The kind of first use of the category of native was meant to indicate that you were a servant, that you were someone whose labour was controlled by someone else. It then moved into the imperial realm as empires in Europe expanded and started forming colonies. Ireland, for instance – the people who were colonised in Ireland would have been called "the natives of Ireland". And that class connotation remained; that these "natives of Ireland" – and then, you know, the "natives of Barbados", the "natives of India" – were the people whose labour would be controlled, and the wealth of whose labour would be appropriated by the imperial rulers. And then, this kind of strengthening of a racialised component was added, where being a "native of a colony" was not only politically subordinating you, was not only, you know, putting your labour under the control of someone else, but also, you were a different "kind" of human being from those who are colonising you – an "inferior" kind of being from those who are colonising you.
Alexis Hieu Truong 12:44
Okay, so, how was this category of "native", then, given new extended life in nation-states? One might assume that it would go away with the so-called "end of empire" in the mid-20th century, in a supposedly "liberatory", "celebratory", quote "post-colonial" moment, but it didn't.
Nandita Sharma 13:03
Yeah, I think that, you know, people who were categorised by imperial states as "natives" of one or another colony tried to run as far away as they could from that category, while they were engaged in independence movements. They, I think, in is sense, bought into the hierarchy that if you belong to "nations", that meant that you were of a higher order of human being than if you were a "native", or a "tribe", or a "clan". And so, I think that people who are categorised as "natives" tried to reimagine themselves as "nations" again – in order to lay claim to independence to home rule, to self rule. Nation-states announced themselves on the world stage as independent sovereign bodies by enacting immigration controls. So, as you see – each and every new nation-state being formed – you see new laws passed against citizenship and immigration. Who could be a member of the nation? Who had the right to be on the territory of the state? So this category of "native" became very useful within nation-states to distinguish themselves from those who came to be called "migrants".
Alexis Hieu Truong 14:25
Actually, can we expand on that a bit with an example? Perhaps, Narendra Modi's India? A country that's been marking 75 years since the end of imperial rule, and where Hindu nationalism is now a guiding principle.
Nandita Sharma 14:39
Yeah, so India has been independent – an independent nation-state – since 1947. [It] passed, you know, citizenship and immigration law quickly after declaring itself an independent nation state, and since that time has been narrowing the criteria for national belonging. And we're seeing that intensifying with the rise of the Hindu nationalist or – you know, some would argue and I would not disagree with them – Hindu fascist movements, to say that the "true nationals" of India, that "true natives" of India, are those who are Hindus – that India is a Hindu nation. And if you're not Hindu, then you are a suspect member of the nation or – and especially if you're Muslim today, or Christian – you are an absolute outsider to the nation. And, you know, one thing that's important to note here is that, when we categorise some people as "native members of the nation" and other peoples as "foreign to the nation", we're also ... what India is doing under Narendra Modi is replaying the anti-colonial movement. Right? You know, this happens across the world, actually. But what Modi is doing is saying, not only are Muslims or Christians outsiders to the nation, but they're "foreign occupiers". And so, they mobilise the same kind of sentiments that were mobilised against the British, to say that "to be truly liberated, to be truly sovereign over our territory, we need to eliminate this foreign occupier". So I think, again, this is where the category – like, the conflation of people as "foreigners" and "colonisers" or "occupiers" comes into play.
Rosie Hancock 16:29
In countries like Australia, where I am, Nandita – and indeed in the US where you are – you have reservations, kind of places, these sites that ostensibly preserve and protect indigenous communities; where identity, land, and rights map onto each other. I'm wondering how you would talk critically of this particular kind of setup, and how it might speak to this complicated idea of "autochthony" that Alexis mentioned, right, at the top of the show? So, that's this word to do with a kind of "truly" an "original" belonging to a particular place – like literally to the soil – yeah?
Nandita Sharma 17:09
Right. I think that in Australia and in the United States – and in the other, you know, former British white settler colonies – the category of "native" was used to immobilise people, to steal their land, to take away their rights, and to subject their labour to the control of the coloniser. Right? So, reservations were these kind of contained spaces from which the – quote-unquote – "natives" of the colony were not allowed to move out. So, we can also kind of trace back the history of mobility controls – passport controls too, for example – [to] the pass laws that were enacted against, then – quote-unquote – "natives" of these British white settler colonies. So that's one thing, right? The second thing is that, as colonised people of those places were contained in those, there were also certain kinds of rights that were attached to belonging to a native group, right? And each of these states – the Australian state, the Canadian state, the US state, the New Zealand state – in that, you know, put into place – quote-unquote – "native" leaders or "native" rulers on reservations; with a kind of idea, once again, that the natives were, in fact, ruling themselves on their reservations. And, I think, they also established criteria for membership in "native" political bodies, right? And that was often on a racialised basis. So, how much – quote-unquote – "native blood" did you have, was often the main criteria for whether you were allowed to live on the reservation, whether you were allowed to have whatever rights to land came from being a member of that political formation.
Rosie Hancock 19:02
So, Nandita, I am curious. We've spoken about India, and then we've just kind of been speaking about Australia. And I'm curious about the difference between these contexts, because it strikes me that in a place like India that so-called "natives" are now in power. Whereas, in Australia and the US, the experience of colonisation could actually still be ongoing for people. And so, it feels like there's a different there – there are different kinds of factors at play in these different contexts. And that perhaps ... that the idea of "nativeness" or "indigeneity" might still have salience for people in contexts where they're still feeling the effects of kind of dispossession and oppression. And I'm just curious what you would say to that.
Nandita Sharma 19:46
Well, I certainly think that it is true that indigenous people in Australia, or Canada, or the United States are facing enormous subjugation and subordination; but laying claims to "nativeness" in the world today is to lay claim to ideas of "nationness", right? So, "native" used to be a category that didn't allow you to make very many claims at all other than, for instance, the claim to "I get to live on this reservation". But today, claiming, you know ... laying claim to "nativeness" allows you to be heard on an international stage as having national status in a particular place. So, I think that that's one historical difference that we need to pay attention to. The other thing, of course, is, you know, we really do need to unpack nationalism here, when we're talking about laying claim to national territorial sovereignty. The idea that "the natives rule in India" is, I think, a nationalist myth. And it's certainly a Hindu fascist myth that the Hindus rule India. I think what nationalism does is convince people that they are the sovereign, right? You know, this idea of popular sovereignty, rather than that they are in fact being ruled over. So, what I tried to do in "Home Rule" is to show that claims of national independence did not ... and the realisation of national independence, which many indigenous nationalist movements today hope for, right ... that achieving national independence did not end the relationships of colonialism.
Alexis Hieu Truong 21:36
And maybe we can pause here and note that history, actually, didn't have to go this way. Right? I mean, we've been talking about how the damaging idea of the "native" that underpin empire lives in the nation-state as the basis for "us", and then politics, and for dangerous ideas to do with belonging and entitlement and so on – ideas explored by Bridget Anderson, actually, in her book "Us and Them?" – "them" having like a question mark at the end. But some thinkers have actually done this thought experiment ... Can you introduce us to any who've pictured alternative paths?
Nandita Sharma 22:11
Well, I think that the people who envisioned alternative paths aren't the theorists, or the historians, or the sociologists – it's the people who were fighting colonialism, right? Not all anti-colonial movements were framed as "national liberations" – wanting to achieve territorial sovereignty or independence as a new nation-state. There were many, many other ways that people fought colonialism. So, for instance, in the French Empire in Africa, Frederick Cooper, the historian, has documented ways that people fought against their subordination within the French Empire – for example, by saying that railroad workers in French colonies in Africa, their anti-colonial demand wasn't for territorial sovereignty, but for wage parity with workers in European France, right? So they were saying that "if I'm a railroad worker within the French Empire in Africa, I should have the same wages as the railroad workers in European France". There were even more radical demands in that, by saying that there shouldn't be class rule – that, you know, "not only do we want wage parity, we want an end to the exploitation of our labour", right? "We want our lands to be held in common; we don't want to live within state territories; we want to have a common relationship, common property relationship to the land; we want a relationship to one another as commoners, rather than the subjects of any state." So, there were incredibly – I would argue – much more radical demands, and hopes, and dreams than those achieved by national liberation movements. And, in fact, I would, you know, go even further and say that national liberation movements co-opted anti-colonialism in order to put in a new set of rulers who were supposedly – quote-unquote – "us", and what we've seen is that, of course, that changed very little and, in fact, made things much worse.
Rosie Hancock 24:22
Yeah, right. I think what you've just been saying kind of ... you've brought up this idea of "methodological nationalism". So, kind of how sociology and its way of going about research and theorising can inadvertently reproduce the nation – like when people might study migration by accepting the state's own categories, for example. And that's something that's written about by Nina Glick-Schiller, and also Gurminder Bhambra on "methodological whiteness" – which is all just a really good reminder for us not to fall prey to dominant discourses in our work. And it's also a reminder of how another state is possible, or at least imaginable, I suppose. For now, though, we see how the contemporary nation-state really relies upon those old ideas of "natives" versus "non-natives" that was so powerful under colonial rule. But as you observe it, it's been flipped around a bit to the extent that migrants now get labelled as "colonisers". Is that a fair summary? It sounds like quite a feat of logic.
Nandita Sharma 25:28
We only have to look at politics around the world. We can do it through a lens of political sociology, for instance. Like, how do these discourses and state categories shape social relationships? What institutions are imposing these relationships upon us? And what we see across the world and across the political spectrum – from Left to Right – is an increasing claim to nativeness against the migrant "other". We see that, for example, what we've been talking about – labelling non-natives as "settler colonists" – but we also see it in far-right movements in Europe, right? We were talking in September, and we've just seen the victory of a far-right coalition of parties in Sweden. One of the main parties of that coalition are the Swedish Democrats. And they have long been arguing that their platform is to return Sweden to its "natives", and to have a 100% ban on the incorporation of migrants into Swedish society. So, you know, this is a very, very powerful force – it's not just something that, you know, obscure sociologists may be interested in looking at. The category of "native" has been turned on its head from a category of subordination under empires, to a category of exaltation under nation-states.
Alexis Hieu Truong 27:08
Actually, Nandita, you mentioned, like, the far-right, and I was wondering about how even on the Left, you get calls – like in the UK, for example, for "British jobs", for "British workers" – and that kind of discourse. Now, critics of that might call it, I guess, fascism, which helps to frame it as extreme or as exceptional. But, I guess, what you're saying about the nation-state, and how it frames ideas – for example, entitlement and belonging – also shows that this kind of thinking is pretty much encouraged by our current systems – it's at a systemic level – as well as exceptional?
Nandita Sharma 27:49
Yeah, that's a really great way of putting it; that the nation-state encourages us to think of ourselves as "nationals" – to think that the only people who have a right to life in the places that they live are those who have been identified as members of the nation. And that is narrowing and hardening around the category of the "native". So that in the UK, for instance, you don't get to be a member of the nation just because you have UK citizenship. You also have to be part of this imaginary of the "ancient people of England". And so, it's really hardening around these kind of racialised, nationalised categories. And it's not exceptional at all. And I think that fascism is – perhaps, you could even argue – part of the logics of nationalism, right? The idea that we can distinguish amongst people based on ideas of blood and soil is central to both fascism and central to the existence of the structure of the nation-state.
Rosie Hancock 29:00
We're going to loop back around to some of this when we focus on this important but rather glibly use term – "decolonisation". But first, a quick note from our producer, Alice.
Alice Bloch 29:13
Hello, and thanks for listening to Uncommon Sense from The Sociological Review, where every month Rosie and Alexis here are joined by an expert guest to dig into an everyday concept we might all tend to think is pretty much straightforward, or indeed common sense. So, so far, that's included talking around things like bodies, emotions, cities, security, care. You'll find details on all of our guests, our reading lists, and every episode from series 1 so far. And do remember to tap "follow" in the app you're using to hear this. It really does help us to keep bringing more Uncommon Sense for everyone. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll see you back here soon.
Rosie Hancock 29:56
Nandita, Uncommon Sense is all about interrogating everyday assumptions. And, I think, we've done that a lot so far already today. But this is the part of the show where we really dig into one thing – so, a trope, a buzzword, a wildly misunderstood idea – and interrogate it, try to see it differently. And we need to talk about "decolonisation". But as you might imagine, that needs a little bit of setting up first.
Alexis Hieu Truong 30:23
So we talked earlier about the rise of the nation-state as Empire declined. Many would describe that as the move to, maybe, a post-colonial era? But you write about Postcolonial New World Order, which sounds way more ominous. And as part of unpacking this, you talk in part about the West African state of Ghana, and its post-colonial leader, Kwame Nkrumah. Can you tell us why?
Nandita Sharma 30:53
The reason I coined this kind of pithy term – Postcolonial New World Order – and its menacing kind of character, was to say that the world of nation-states that was formed shortly after the end of World War Two, was not a state in which practices of colonialism ended. Right? But it was, nonetheless, a time when the legitimacy of imperial states was over. It was no longer legitimate, socially, to exalt empires, right? The idea was, now, we are in this "liberated" world where each – quote-unquote – "nation" gets its own sovereignty and home rule. But I wanted to show that that world of national territorial states actually contributed to the intensification of the kinds of things that people were fighting against when they were fighting against empires. The expropriation of people's lands, the exploitation of people's labour, the denigration of people – all of that continued under new nation-states. And I bring in Nkrumah there, because Nkrumah was not only a very powerful post-colonial leader of Ghana – in the international arena – but also coined the term "neo-colonialism" to try and make sense of this post-imperial or post-colonial world. And I take umbrage with that term, you know – I don't think that that is a very useful term. I think what "neo-colonialism" popularly means to people is that relationships of colonialism are continuing. That's absolutely correct. But they're not continuing through the practices of imperialism. They are continuing through the practices of nationalism. And so, for someone like Nkrumah, who was the leader of Ghana, and one year after independence outlaws labour strikes, passes a preventative detention act, put into place an incredibly brutal national security service, eliminated any semblance of democracy by stating that only his party could stand for election, while at the same time, cording capital to come in to build mega development projects, to expand capitalist social relationships in Ghana; all while deporting people that he claimed were not "true" Ghanians ... To say that all of that was the fault of some foreign "other" – some kind of international body – and not that new leaders of nation-states, served as an alibi, right? So that term – "neo-colonialism" served both as an alibi to not hold these new leaders of nation states accountable for their own actions against the people who live in those nation-states, but also served to kind of mystify the power of nation-states and of nationalism, right? You know, it served to once again say that "if we have any problems, they're always about foreigners ruling over us", right? "The problems are never the actual structures and institutions that govern our lives; the problem is some foreigner, whether it's, you know, a foreign state, whether it's a foreign body, or whether it's a foreign worker in Ghana, those are our problems."
Alexis Hieu Truong 34:36
So, what I'm hearing is that one of the possible problems with decolonisation movement work, is that it can make foreignness for example, a problem. Yes? And the whole, like, "blame foreigners" thing – can it ever lead to a good place? Like, I mean, I guess it's kind of rooted in a poisonous logic.
Nandita Sharma 34:56
Yeah, it's rooted in the logics of separation. That makes it impossible, actually, to bring about the fundamental changes that, you know, people calling for decolonisation want.
Alexis Hieu Truong 35:11
Nandita, I can imagine well-meaning people on the Left get tangled up in this, yes? I mean, if you support into the indigenous people's struggles for self-determination, nationhood, and so on, what language are you meant to speak? It feels like there's no safe vocabulary left?
Nandita Sharma 35:32
Yeah, I think that the idea that the only way out of colonialism is national territorial sovereignty, is gotten us into a big mess, right? Because we have a long history, now, of seeing what happens when people achieve that. And it doesn't look or feel like liberation to most people who are, you know, being governed by those regimes. But I do think that there are alternatives, and some of those alternatives are being called for by social movements today. For example, no borders, movements, right? People who are arguing that all beings have the freedom to move and the freedom to stay. I think that that is an alternative to the nationalist imaginary that the sovereign gets to control who belongs in any political community, and, more importantly, who doesn't get to belong. Another demand that, you know, more and more people are calling for is, rather than nations or nationhood – rather than sovereignty, rather than territory – let's have a commons, right? And the relationships of the commons – the kind of property relationships, the social relationships of the commons – is fundamentally based on the principle of non exclusion – that all people, all living beings extending beyond human beings, share a planet together. Right? So, from a sociological perspective, it is about redefining the space and scope of society. It's going to, you know, I think, something that Immanuel Wallerstein called for many, many years ago – is the recognition that the only society we live in today is a world system.
Rosie Hancock 37:28
So, on the subject of how we do go ahead and talk about "decolonisation" properly – how we talk about it without relying on racist or xenophobic binaries, or without reinforcing damaging ideas about borders and entitlement ... I'm thinking this in terms of the challenge of decolonising the curriculum, which has been talked about a lot recently. Scholars like Linda Tuhiwai Smith – who gave The Sociological Review's Annual Lecture back in 2019 – but also Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have written about it with great rigour. It's also a term that can be co-opted and become a bit of a shallow buzzword, should we say. What are its pitfalls? And how can we ensure that we approach a task – like decolonising the curriculum – thoughtfully and properly?
Nandita Sharma 38:18
Yeah. I mean, I think, first of all, we need to have a clear definition of what we mean when we hope for decolonisation. Unfortunately, for most people – and I would include Tuck and Yang in this grouping ... by decolonisation, what we still mean is national territorial sovereignty, right? So, you know, Tuck and Yang, when they're arguing against decolonisation as a metaphor – that it means social justice. For them. decolonisation literally means the repatriation of land from – quote-unquote – "settlers" to "indigenous" people; and that the idea that "indigenous" people are the, you know, sovereigns of the territory. So, you know, even the land is kind of brought up in those arguments. I think they're really talking about territory, right? And territory is state control over land. So, I think that, from the get-go – unless we have an idea of decolonisation to mean the end of expropriation, to mean the end of labour exploitation, to mean the end of denigration and social hierarchies of subjectivities – what we always end up with is the same old tried and failed attempt to create national entities.
Alexis Hieu Truong 39:45
So, like, when we talk about decolonising – or like, decolonising the curriculum in schools, for example – we also mean national curriculum. Does that make the whole mission a bit of a oxymoron? Like you write that for true decolonisation to proceed, we need to dis-identify with being national citizens, right?
Nandita Sharma 40:08
Right. I think that that's a great point. How do you decolonize within a national framework? I think that for many people that is not a contradiction, that is what decolonisation means, right – is literally "our own nation-state" – and, you know, "let's not pay any serious attention to all of the amazing work that's been done on the dangers of nationalism", and what that means, and how that contributes to the entrenchment of class rule, in particular, and patriarchal rule. But it also doesn't call for a fundamental reorganisation of the institutions that govern our lives, right? That somehow that, you know, the nation-state is okay. It's, again, this kind of logics of separation. It's a refusal to acknowledge how connected we are to one another across the planet. It's a refusal to acknowledge that society exists at a planetary level. So, we still have the kind of separation between ideas of "Western" knowledge and "Indigenous" knowledge, and these kind of highly essentialised, ahistorical, problematic ways. As if people in the – quote-unquote – "West" are also not experiencing very, very harmful practices, and as if there is no kind of class hierarchies within many subordinated communities, right? So, rather than focusing on the basis of subordination, we kind of just focus on – again – groups. And we position ... we kind of analyse the world as if, you know, we have a hierarchy of groups, without analysing the social structures that create those groups and place them in that hierarchy in the first place.
Rosie Hancock 42:04
Okay, so, I guess it seems we're back to methodological nationalism. And that was just a very good reminder that we have to constantly keep challenging ourselves and challenging these kind of taken-for-granted – or not let ourselves take for granted – the concepts that we deal with every day. But we're now moving on to our pop culture section. It's time to share our tips for, say, a book or a movie, a piece of art, a social media meme, or whatever speaks to today's theme, which is "natives". So, there's a lot we could choose from, and we'll throw a few of our favourites into the episode notes – including Cathy Park Hong's "Minor Feelings", which is the recommendation from our producer, Alice. But, Nandita, what would you want to share with us?
Nandita Sharma 42:47
I recently saw a beautiful docu-fiction film called "Remembering Europe", directed by Manuela Zechner. So, "Remembering Europe" is this beautiful film-essay set in the year 2040, when people are remembering this kind of recent past of a time when there were borders against people's mobility. And, you know, remembering back to a time when people actually thought that racialised categories honestly represented the people who inhabit those categories – harkening back to a time where people didn't have democratic control over decisions on what to do with land and air and water. And, you know, harkening back to a time when people were separated from one another – particularly people in Africa separated from people in Europe. So, I really thought that this was a beautiful thought experiment. You know, oftentimes, when radical change or transformation happens, it happens very suddenly. And then we're like, "oh, okay". And so, I really love this film, because it allows us to think, you know, it's not that impossible and it's not that far off – a world with no borders, no nations, no states, no classes.
Rosie Hancock 44:12
That sounds like such a wonderful piece of work to engage with. It's really interesting. When I was trying to think up my pop culture recommendation, it was very tricky, like, I kept coming up with what are really fantastic works of theatre, in particular. And there's this great indigenous playwright Nakkiah Lui, who has some plays – one is "Black is the New White", which I loved – and they are like reflections on contemporary indigenous experience in Australia. But I realised that a lot of this, actually, doesn't get to the heart of what I think we've been speaking about today in terms of kind of querying our understanding – if you will – of nativeness; but also borders, and race, and nationalism. And, I don't know, that's probably a comment on my consumption of pop culture and what I gravitate towards more than anything else. But, I guess, could also be that – at least what your average person comes across in pop culture – really doesn't get to a lot of these concepts.
Nandita Sharma 45:12
Yeah, we have a lot of work to do.
Rosie Hancock 45:13
Alexis, what about you?
Alexis Hieu Truong 45:15
The first thing that my mind went to was a song from Snotty Nose Rez Kids, which is a duo, and they have a song called "Bougie Native", which is critical of both capitalist bourgeoisie – referring to what, Nandita, you said about class – and also about being a "native". But, in general, I really feel like many of their songs explore things we've discussed today.
Rosie Hancock 45:39
Okay, so we've got some recommended listening, as well as watching and reading. So, thank you so much, Nandita, for coming on. It's been great to hear the – is it cockerels or roosters? – in the background as well!
Nandita Sharma 45:50
Yes, wild roosters. Thank you for having me on your podcast. It's an enormous resource, and I'm going to recommend it to everyone I know.
Alexis Hieu Truong 46:04
That's it for this month. You can catch today's reading list with pieces from The Sociological Review and more by clicking on the podcast page at The Sociological Review website. Or take a scroll of our episode notes in the app you're using to listen to this. They're pretty handy and ready to share with your students, friends, whoever. Rosie, talking to Nandita has made me think about debates that are ongoing here in Quebec, about the statuses of different people who live here and, I guess, their substantive citizenship. And it's also gotten me thinking about how even many of the seemingly progressive or relatively liberal points that get raised – for example, around sovereignty – are still speaking from within some of these trappings that Nandita talked about today.
Rosie Hancock 46:49
I really enjoyed the discussion that we had today about "decolonisation", and it's really got me more aware of the kinds of discourses and histories I might be immersing myself in when I use words like that. Speaking of language, next month, we'll be talking to Les Back about noise, sound, and silence – a fitting theme for what will be the end of the series actually.
Alexis Hieu Truong 47:15
If you've enjoyed listening to us, tap "follow", give us a rating in whatever app you use to hear this, and keep sharing us with everyone – because sociology is for everyone!
Rosie Hancock 47:26
Our executive producer was Alice Bloch. Our sound engineer was Dave Crackles. See you back here soon.
Alexis Hieu Truong 47:32
See you. Bye.
Rosie Hancock 47:33