Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Social Policy

Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States

Article excerpt

Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States Audra Simpson, Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Audra Simpson's book, Mohawk Interruptus, is an achievement of scholarship. It delivers what it promises, has a strong authorial voice that is both in keeping with rigorous academic prose and that is easily understandable by a wide readership. Her examples are rich, engaging, and accessible. She combines sophisticated theoretical analysis with rich ethnographic detail, making for a challenging but enjoyable read. Her stories, I imagine, would resonate with individuals inside and outside the communities she renders visible, quite deliberately foregrounding her ethical relation to the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke. The stories she shares are clear, poignant, respectful, and at times simultaneously humorous and horrifying. Simpson seemingly effortlessly weaves her own embodied subjectivity, with rich ethnography, political theory, and compelling narrative in this excellent, robust, and nuanced study.

Simpson makes three claims in this book: (1) "sovereignty may exist within sovereignty," and that such nested sovereignty has implications for the seemingly settled conditions of settler colonialism (p. 10-11); (2) there exists an alternative to "recognition" which is "refusal"; (3) hitherto this point, and as a result of their Western, institutional, and statist forms of analysis (p. 11), neither political theory nor anthropology have offered the conceptual tools required to make sense of Indigenous politics and their challenge to settler colonialism (p. 177). Simpson makes Mstrong arguments to support these claims throughout the book, presenting interruption and refusal as political forms and strategies, ultimately achieving what she sets out to do. Throughout her work, Simpson offers some compelling conceptual tools that launch a rigorous challenge to historical and contemporary forms of anthropology.

Using the three signposts of "membership" (p. 13), "detention and recognition" (p. 18), and "refusing to play the game" (p. 25), Simpson deftly navigates the reader through her argument. Her argument builds methodically, and for this reason I structure my review in a way that mirrors the arc of her argumentation. She first maps a genealogy of history and context to orient the reader, she admits in a partial and event-driven way, to Kahnawà:ke (Chapter 2). She does this particularly to signal that the territorial history shapes the complex questions of membership that she later tracks throughout the monograph. This context is essential to her third claim: to make sense of the complexities of membership in Indigenous communities, conceptual tools that account for histories of colonialism and the ongoing dispossession upon which settler states are premised and maintained are required.

Simpson moves to construct her ethnography of refusal (Chapter 4), arguing that if "we take this historical form of ethnological representation into account, we might then be able to come up with techniques of representation that move away from 'difference' and its containment, from the ethnological formalism and fetishism" (p. 97) that she describes in Chapter 3. In her articulation of ethnographic refusal, Simpson offers both a theoretical and experiential ethics of refusal in her writing, indicating her purposeful inclusion and refusal in the context of ongoing dispossession and colonialism. This is a deeply political and ethical move, in keeping with the refusals and interruptions that she documents throughout the monograph. This refusal is buttressed by her exploration of the "ethnographic limit" of her research and writing, punctuated by her questions to herself that guide the arrival at enough: "Can I do this and still come home; what am I revealing here and why? …

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