indigeneity: The Politics and Ethics of a Concept

Timperley, Claire, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Balfour, Katharine, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Rubenstein, Jennifer, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Walsh, Denise, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Bird, Colin, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Olick, Jeffrey, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

Globally, indigenous groups have sought protections that are related to their indigenous, as distinct from simply minority, status. As recognition of a concept of indigenous rights has grown, some of these groups have received some of those protections. Efforts to reduce disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous populations through local, national and international fora have, however, achieved limited success. I suggest that one hindrance to success is a failure to address the role that conceptions of indigeneity play in shaping discourse that advances or minimizes indigenous rights.
In this dissertation I argue that political discourse around indigenous peoples in New Zealand and Australia limits recognition of, and redress for, past and present injustices. Moreover, I suggest that liberal accounts of historic injustice inadequately address indigenous grievances, as they fail to consider the ways that indigeneity, in and of itself, might affect entitlements. Insufficient consideration of how conceptions of indigeneity function, or the ethical demands they might generate, means that these accounts do not accurately identify who is affected by past injustices and therefore deserving of redress, or the ways in which these definitions shape the kinds of privileges and resources that should be extended to indigenous individuals or groups.
In response to this failure, I elucidate and advocate for a theory of ‘nonidentity’ thinking as a means of conceptualizing indigeneity. Nonidentity thinking challenges assumptions that individual or institutional portrayals of ideas or objects capture them in their entirety. It relies on constellations of concepts and historical processes to better understand what any particular concept might entail. Thinking in this way does not produce a definitive interpretation of any one concept; instead, it specifies a process to critically engage with discursive and legal norms to resist the hegemony of a set of ideas and practices. I argue that this approach might improve theories of historic injustice by attending more carefully to the ways that concepts of indigeneity are used to determine who receives recognition for unjust treatment and what that recognition entails. In addition, I suggest that nonidentity thinking is a promising resource through which to approach conceptions of indigeneity because it encourages reflection on the situated nature of indigenous claims and the relative weight given to indigenous or non-indigenous voices in any given context.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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