Master of Arts
Theory and Criticism
This thesis investigates the role of settlers in maintaining settlement in Canada. I problematize settler bodies to deliberate on their potential for performing decolonization. My discussion seeks to complicate theoretical approaches that position the onto-epistemological stance of the settler as their impediment to decolonizing action. Drawing from the fields of phenomenology and affect theory, I discuss habit formation in bodies. I use case studies that discuss settler-Indigenous land relations to ground these theories of habit. I look to Indigenous leaders, artists and scholars, who offer valuable insights into the habituations of settlement as an institutionalized arrangement and a mode of behaviour. I argue that settlement is a structure that emerges through settler bodies by way of their everyday being in the world. Performing settlement is therefore a habitual tendency for the settler who knows themselves in the world. A program for decolonization must address these habitual faculties beyond inducing an epistemological shift. I examine and confront settlers’ habitual tendencies to consider how they can shift their bodily habits and why they might want to take up the task of decolonization. I conclude with an initial framework for bringing settlers to the difficult work of confronting the legacy of colonialism and forging respectful treaty relations with Canada’s Indigenous sovereign partners.
Summary for Lay Audience
Contemporary settlement in Canada is not an equitable arrangement that sufficiently recognizes and respects the sovereignties and treaty rights of Indigenous groups. Many settler Canadians remain unaware that the land they live on and the national economy they participate in is bound up with colonialism. Contrary to what has been implied in our national discourses of apology and multiculturalism, colonialism in Canada is not a past event. Treaties that were signed at the inception of the Canadian state were agreements meant to forge fair use of lands. Over the course of Canada’s history, those agreements were not upheld by the settler state. The current system of settlement was built upon these inequitable relations, which means contemporary settlers continue to benefit from a structure that has never sufficiently been re-structured.
The question of how we can bring about more equitable relations is often difficult for settlers to confront. In addition to the financial implications of steps like land repatriation, how settlers feel about returning lands to Indigenous groups often deters them from action. While some have argued that settlers need to be more open-minded, I argue that settlement is in the bodily habits of settlers. These habits come in the form of work, play, and general day-to-day activities that bring us success within the social an economic structure that is settlement. It is through these activities that settlers feel settlement, such as the sense of pride, security or insecurity, and/or the anticipation of future happiness. This thesis looks to the sensing and emotional faculties of settlers to understand the ways that their habits of settlement can be re-directed towards creating new habits of decolonization. I draw from the fields of phenomenology and affect theory to discuss habit formation in bodies. I look to specific case studies that discuss settler-Indigenous land relations to ground these theories of habit. I also look to Indigenous leaders, artists and scholars, who offer valuable insights into the habituations of settlement as a structure and a mode of behaviour. I conclude by offering a basic framework for bringing settlers to the difficult work of decolonization.
Aubert, Deanna L., "The Habits of Settlement: A Critical Phenomenology of Settlerness" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7363.
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