Audra Simpson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. She is the author of Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Duke University Press, 2014), winner of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s Best First Book in Native American and Indigenous Studies Prize, the Laura Romero Prize from the American Studies Association as well as the Sharon Stephens Prize from the American Ethnological Society (2015). She is co-editor (with Andrea Smith) of Theorizing Native Studies (Duke University Press, 2014). She has articles in Cultural Anthropology, American Quarterly, Junctures, Law and Contemporary Problems and Wicazo Sa Review. In 2010 she won Columbia University’s School for General Studies “Excellence in Teaching Award.” She is a Kahnawake Mohawk.
“Consent’s Revenge: An Inquiry into the Politics of Refusal”
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.