Understanding the City as a Settler Colonial Structure

Much of the scholarship within American urban sociology has concerned itself with the various forms of inequality that have developed in and around US cities throughout its history. The various schools of critical urban sociology have various developed ways of understanding cities as raced (Lai 2012), classed (Reardon and Bischoff 2011), and gendered (Popkin, Leventhal, and Weismann 2010) spaces where broader social hierarchies and system are reinforced and acted upon. Collectively these works argues for a broad understanding of the city as a both a reflection of broad American social values as well as a space that can have great influence over the development of these same values.
Absent from most of discussions within urban sociology is the history and narrative of Native Americans and the history of settler colonialism in the United States. This erasure is analogous to the general erasure of indigenous people and their experiences within most social scientific discourses (Dei 2000; Habashi 2005; Quah 1993). There has been movement in recent years to reverse this erasure. Andrea Smith (2008) while exploring the intertwined logics of slavery, genocide, and orientalism within white supremacy highlighted the current incompatibilities between narratives of indigenous scholars, which mistakenly equating African American “settlers” with white settlers, and African American/anti-racist which scholarship ignoring the existence of settler colonialism and indigenous peoples. Smith called for an integration of these various logics arguing that without doing so we become complacent in reifying these oppressive logics. Similarly, Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2015) discussed on a macro level how the dynamics of settler colonialism in the United States affected the racial formation of various oppressed communities. She concluded with the hope that by bringing together the insights of different inequality frameworks, including settler colonialism, scholars can “work toward a higher level theoretical model that can be widely used by social scientists both in the United States and internationally.”

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​Understanding Eurocentrism as a Structural Problem of Undone Science

Introduction

       One sense in which we can conceptualize the idea of “decolonizing the university” is in the decolonization of the curriculums of instruction that are employed in the classrooms and seminars of said university. As a basic unit of the university itself, the classroom is I argue one of the key places that the colonial nature of universities, especially in metropoles and settler colonies, manifest itself. Work such as “The Death of White Sociology” (Ladner 1973) and “White Logic, White Methods” (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008) have highlighted how the “imperial unconscious” of these curriculums shapes how undergraduates, graduate students, and academics understand and study the world (Go 2013). This is one of the reasons why curriculums have become a popular target of marginalized students and academics seeking to decolonize the university.

The task of decolonizing the curriculum, at least in the social sciences, has taken the form of epistemological critiques of who produces knowledge and what knowledge those people produce. Decoloniality, postcolonialism, and other bodies of scholarship have all dissected the ways in which the ideas of the Enlightenment have structured how we think about the modern, the human, and legitimate knowledge of the social world (Quijano & Ennis 2000; Bhambra 2007). Although challenging Eurocentric epistemologies in text is an important component of decolonizing knowledge systems, there is less attention given to how structural and physical factors of the colonial world that help create and maintain the same epistemology that scholars are currently struggling to decolonize. Using the framework of undone science, I argue that the struggle to decolonize university knowledge systems is intimately intertwined with addressing forms of physical and economic colonial violence. These forms of violence including genocide, interpersonal racism in academia, and global structures of academic knowledge transmission, serve to ensure that the configurations of people, resources, and space that allow for new decolonial knowledges to emerge never come to exist. Considering these forces, I argue that to effect real decolonization of our knowledge systems that we have to consider how marginalized communities and decolonial scholars need to not only intervene in epistemic debates but also politically intervene in the physical spaces these debates often take place in.

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