English 9108 ~ Indigenous Critical Theory: Key Concepts and Debates

Professor Pauline Wakeham

Full Year Course.

In her groundbreaking work, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith considers the historical forces and power asymmetries that have created a hegemonic intellectual “text world in which the centre of […] knowledge is either in Britain, the United States, or Western Europe” (Smith 35) and, moreover, where theory is naturalized as the invention and provenance of the West. Ironically, at the core of much Western thought, Indigeneity constitutes the sometimes repressed and sometimes overt catalyst for theorization—the figure of radical alterity, the bearer of “the gift,” the carrier of knowledge to be colonized for the West’s own self-reinvention. This graduate seminar is premised upon the urgent need to do more than re-trace the spectres of Indigeneity in Western thought or even examine the West’s unacknowledged debt to Indigenous intellectual culture. Instead, the course will challenge the limits of academic theory’s traditional “text world” by engaging with the transdisciplinary field of contemporary Indigenous thought, a field in which Indigenous peoples are the agents, instead of the objects, of theory. In so doing, the course will lay a critical foundation for understanding key concepts and debates in the field of Indigenous studies.

In this context, the course will grapple with the following questions: How might we engage with Indigenous theory beyond paradigms of “writing back” or “theorizing back” against Empire? What is the relation between theory and practice? How might theory be mobilized to better address Indigenous rights and social justice? How do a range of Indigenous cultural practices constitute forms of theorizing and how might we read them for their theoretical innovations? In exploring these and other questions, the course will consider how both thinking Indigeneity and Indigenous thinking enable important critical reappraisals of questions of identity, subjectivity, temporality, sovereignty, citizenship, and power. While the emphasis will be on Indigenous thought and cultural production in Canada and the United States, the course will also consider broader global concerns and contexts.

View the course syllabus here: English 9108.