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Settler economies and Indigenous encounters

Christopher Lloyd, University of New England, 9 November 2009

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: Thank you Ian. Yes, it very much follows on from what Jon [Altman] was talking about. I’ve been inspired in part to write this paper by an encounter with his work but also, the larger, longer term background is work that I’ve been doing on settler economies, comparative international histories of such economies over long periods of time and I think this discourse about hybridity is something that economic historians in my reading of the literature has been very absent. And I think that’s a pity and I think that this concept of hybridity has a lot of value to economic historians, but also I have some degree of skepticism about the capacity of this concept to be generalised too much, as it were. That is, I’m a bit worried about over-generalisation of this concept, I think there’s a bit of a danger of that. So the first part of the paper says a little bit about over-generalisation and its dangers. Of course economic historians and economists and alike discourses are very prone to over-generalisation, in fact disastrously so, in my opinion. This hooks onto another point Jon was making about overuse of statistical data: there’s been quite a debate about the failings of econometrical reasoning in economic history, and of course economics, the global financial crisis has really brought that to the fore. I think there’s a necessity for quantification but the problem with this kind of discourse, which hooks into other sorts of political programs is that it’s a mask for the failure to do real research. And by real research I mean actually going and doing fieldwork, actually examining cases, actually examining archival sources and so on rather than simply relying upon official data sources.

Part of this argument, I think, has to be an argument about the importance to social science of description. Now description has been much used in anthropological discourse, but very little, I think in the social sciences outside of that. To some extent in history too, of course, but there I think it’s an underdeveloped concept. In the paper I have a little exemplification of how important description is from the work of WG Runciman. Runciman made a great deal about description in his three-volume Treatise on Social Theory, which I actually think is the most important work in the social sciences, perhaps, since Max Weber, there’s a big call.

Let me read you a little quote from Runciman about description and then the importance of it. He’s got a big argument about how descriptions are generated and framed and essentially via the formula and use of ideal typical concepts whose meaning is fixed by being:

… intelligible by reference both to what their [that is, the subjects being described] experience is like to themselves and to the analogous experience of others to which it is being likened. It can however, equally well be done from either end. It can be formulated either as a hypothetical set of circumstances, or form of behaviour, or mode of attitude or of feeling from which an adjectival concept is then derived, or as an adjectival concept implying an extreme instantiation, which could be applicable if, and only if, a hypothetical state of affairs, etc. were to be observed.

The descriptive ideal type must be such then that while ideal must contain nothing impossible, in the sense of being simply an explanatory abstraction but rather be a general limit case of what could actually be possible. Hybridity as a concept could be used in such a manner, as a descriptive generalisation that aids in describing and understanding the nature or characteristics of a particular real social form. An explanatory abstraction that’s an explanatory abstraction, not descriptive abstraction, on the other hand, such as production regime, is a concept that is used to explain the causal processes of particular cases. So I make a distinction between descriptive concepts and explanatory concepts and how we need both of them.

In the paper I go on to make a discussion about the general meaning of the concept of hybridity and how it has developed over time and how it’s come actually into the social sciences from biological science with some costs and benefits from that foundation. But the fundamental difference between biological and social hybridity is that biological hybridity is of two very similar species whereas social hybridity has the strong idea of very different context or very different situations, very different societies forming some kind of hybrid relationship. This difference is a crucial part of the concept.

Articulations and fusions of closely related social forms do not usually result in hybridity but simply fusions or mergers. Hybridity often has the connotation of partial overlap for specific purposes between very different social forms, while much of the parent formations, apart from the hybridised area of activity, and the distinct contributions by the parents can be identified, at least while it remains a hybrid activity. That of course raises a key issue of stability and persistence of hybrids. Are they relatively stable structures or dynamic and perhaps unstable, transitional forms?

The key implicit or explicit ideas in all these areas that claim to be dealing with hybridity are about adaptation, viability, emergence and even dialectic. Hybridity is taken to be a state or outcome of mixing and blending of hitherto distinct and often very different entities and structures. Viability is essential if that kind of blending from these very distinct things is going to actually work. So these are sort of issues I think that are raised by this powerful, but I think problematic concept. And there’s more discussion about it in the written form of the paper.

But then I go on to say that our hybridity depends for its usefulness on its interconnection with a set of other concepts, especially concepts about conquest, articulation, fusion, survival, and agency. We cannot I think use the concept hybridity unless it’s in this context of cluster of concepts that are essential to the meaning. Hybridisation - it can be argued then, if it’s in this context of concepts - may be a universal consequence of societal evolution, because the long-run evolutionary process of societalisation has always resulted in hybridisation through the conquest or merger of societies. What can perhaps collectively be described as social collisions.

Unlike the evolution of species, which is a one-way process of separation that cannot be reversed once the process has resulted in new species, the evolution of societies through both the evolutionary drift and societalisation is always reversible. Moreover, societies can merge, often through conquest that is forced merger, to form new societies that incorporate features and components of the previous separate formations.

So merged forms, often described as hybridisations, may in fact not really be hybridisations. In the paper I have an attempt to map this step of concepts about how they interconnect with each other as a kind of a movement from left to right here [shows diagram]. So the idea is that these collisions between societies can result in various kinds of outcomes, fusions, hybridisations, marginalisations and so on, also creolisations which are not hybrid outcomes. Leading to the question at the end and the bottom question mark should be up there after ‘hybrid persistence.’ These issues, of course, are open ended.

Let me come now to settler societies. These are a special set of societies that have special characteristics that have set them apart over the last couple of centuries. A fundamental characteristic has been and is still the settler-Indigenous relationship, which is quite different from other inter-cultural and interracial relationships in other forms of colonial and post-colonial society of the modern European imperial age. This characteristic, the settler-Indigenous characteristic, which resulted from the dispossession of Indigenous people and the expropriation of most of their lands, has been the foundation of a distinct capitalist production system within the capitalist world economy.

So settler societies have produced a distinct production system. And this production system we can call a production regime, which I think is a useful concept that refers to the complex formation of a whole society’s economic and regulatory structure and processes, particularly its labor control management and technological sub-systems.

A production regime has several levels of complexity and integration including various economic sectors. And this complexity and integration, of course includes in settler societies, an Indigenous component. But the question within these formations about the possibilities of non-capitalist and non-globalising forms and zones, becoming increasingly closed off and increasingly impossible during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries raises a fundamental issue about the possibilities in the present and future. The space for Indigenous and other local economy, has certainly been narrowed and closed to a large degree. It seems there are only three possibilities left for most peoples by the mid-twentieth century. Complete absorption into the dominant society and culture, albeit in an impoverished and marginal way, some form of creolisation in marginal areas and hybridisation. And certainly all these forms can still be found within settler societies around the world today.

That brings me to a section on the paper, very quickly, about Australian cases of hybridity. Here I have a brief discussion of James Boyce’s book Van Diemen’s Land. This is a fascinating book in many ways but he hasn’t used any kind of theoretical framework, not much conceptualisation. So I think we can ask whether we can re-describe Boyce’s account of what went on in Van Diemen’s Land in the period between about 1808 and the mid-1820s as a case of hybridisation.

And quite clearly when we do that, I think that we can see quite clearly that it was. And this is the sort of diagram that we can construct of being inspired by Jon’s kind of diagrams, here we have a four sector case I think [shows diagram]. The difference is the bushrangers sector. Now the bushrangers were real bushrangers and or convicts who lived in grassland areas beyond the control of the state, but articulated strongly with the state, selling commodities to the state. And in particular the two commodities that developed in this case were kangaroo meat or kangaroo products and interestingly, dogs. There were of course no dingoes in Tasmania, and the hunting of large numbers of kangaroos required dogs. Firearms were so bad at this time that they were almost useless.

The Aboriginal people very quickly developed the capacity, according to Boyce of breeding dogs and using dogs, and began to sell dogs to the settler society. So a very interesting four part, I think, production regime developed in the Van Diemen’s Land case. But of course it didn’t last very long because the state decided that the land resource was so valuable that they decided to essentially expand the settler society through conquest and simply drove off and exterminated the Indigenous people. So this case of hybridity collapsed very quickly and wasn’t resurrected.

In the sorts of cases that Jon’s been talking about, and one that he’s discussed a lot, the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, is a very interesting case where we can also ask the question about its long-run viability. And Jon himself in his work about this case and others have very much raised this question. In his talk today I was very interested to see that he’s now discussing also in much more detail the possibility of viability of hybridity in association with the mining sector.

But I think that in all of these cases we have to be fully cognisant of a fundamental fact that about all modern societies generally, and especially settler societies, which is that these are very dynamic and fluid, rapidly evolving capitalist societies with powerful impetus to proletarianisation on the one hand and economic development on the one hand, but also of exclusion of certain aspects of their societies on the other hand. The roles of traditional and local, not just Indigenous socio-economic structures was essentially non-existent within the settler domain. And I think in these cases, we have to ask about the future.

That brings me to conclusion, and that is to express some pessimism about these possibilities of hybridisation and whether in fact these possibilities will exist into the future, although, of course, I’m very encouraged by Jon’s arguments about this. The dialectics of the global system that we now all live within, with its massive interconnectedness, its powerful systems and hierarchies of self understanding, education and knowledge, and its growing devolution and even collapse of agency downwards from an interstate system, are such that transformations and supercessions become increasingly a process of individual and collective agency and design. In this context, the meaning of Indigeneity changes, probably, and new alliances between groups can be constructed on the basis of creation of new local institutions and new local practices. That they will be hybrids of the old customary based kind seems doubtful, but the future is always unknown. Thank you. [applause]

MAN IN AUDIENCE: As I was listening to your theorisation on hybrids, it struck me that we might be moving into a theoretical area of cultural change with specific applications and economies, and you used the term creolisation but didn’t define that. I was just wondering whether you could try to distinguish between creole and hybrid, is that OK?

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: I think the fundamental point about hybridity is that it’s a domain of overlapping between quite distinct realms, very different from each other and the hybridity aspect is only a part of the larger context; whereas in creolisation, I take this concept to mean a merger in which a new synthetic form - so culture, society, economy, whatever - emerges in which there is unification in a sense but of a different kind. But this unification is influenced by the background that came together. So Creole societies are not hybrid societies in that sense, they are new fused societies with their own structures and dynamics and so on, but this fusion came from very different backgrounds. This is a term that’s been used widely in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America to show forms of Creole society and culture, and I believe it’s quite different from a hybrid context.

MAN IN AUDIENCE: So it is in this sense [inaudible].

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: Yes, creolisation is used very much in cultural studies, but not very much in economic studies, but I think it has a valuable use there. I think in Australia we can make an argument that in certain places perhaps Creole forms of social relations and economic systems have actually developed but I think only as transitory forms. In the Boyce case of Van Diemen’s Land, it could be argued that a form of creolisation did occur in some places, perhaps in a limited kind of way but was very transitory.

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: Di Austin Broos. This is a comment, Christopher, rather than a question and it’s actually to congratulate you on your emphasis on and advocacy of description in social science history in that as an anthropologist and from the descriptive discipline I think that a different type of contribution that could be made to the type of situation that Jon described in his talk is for anthropology along with history to produce many more detailed ethno-historical accounts of regions focusing on dimensions of economy amongst others. Because I think simply building that knowledge base is an immensely important part of the larger politics of the current scene.

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: Yes, thank you, and I think that some of your work has very much contributed to that. Goetz also had an interesting argument about description, which I didn’t say anything about in the paper, but I have in some other works of mine, that I think these kind of approaches, these ethnographic descriptive sorts of inquiry are absolutely fundamentally in all kinds of social science, economics included, because economics is the biggest culprit in avoiding description. I have a reference in the paper, and I think it’s on the first page, to this powerful critique by Ziliac and McClosky about the use of econometrics in economics coming from two economists it’s very encouraging, but I’m pretty pessimistic about them having much impact on the discipline actually. [applause]

Date published: 26 July 2010