117. Eve Tuck and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández, “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity”

by breavman99

tuck and gaz first page.jpg

I decided to read “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity,” by Eve Tuck and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández, because I keep running across the term “settler futurity” and I wanted to get a clearer idea of what it means. It’s obviously a bad thing from the way it’s used, which makes me curious: Settlers have no future? How can that be? What does it mean to tell a group of people they have no future? It turns out that the term “futurity” isn’t synonymous with “future,” although how the two differ is still unclear to me.

The authors begins with James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels and their protagonist, Natty Bumppo, a child of European Settlers who is raised by an Indigenous nation, but who “grows to disdain both the Natives who raise him, whom he sees as barbaric and uncivilized, as well as the European settlers, whom he sees as incapable of surviving with nature” (72). “Natty Bumppo grows to be the true enlightened subject, who can learn from the ways of the primitive without becoming them, who remains civilized without succumbing to nature, and who can travers the boundaries that separate different groups with his cosmopolitan orientation,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández write. “In Natty Bumppo, the future of the settler is ensured through the absorption of those aspects of Indigenous knowledge that ensure survival, only to justify erasure and subsequent replacement” (72-73). Figures like Natty Bumppo, who are neither Indigenous nor Settler, who are both civilized and “one with nature,” saturate “the U.S. cultural imaginary” (73). “Natty Bumppo also resurfaces within the contentions over colonization and race that mar the politics of progressive fields such as curriculum studies,” the authors continue. “Here, the future of the settler is ensured by the absorption of any and all critiques that pose a challenge to white supremacy, and the replacement of anyone who dares to speak against ongoing colonization” (73).

“This article does the simultaneously blunt and delicate work of exhuming the ways in which curriculum and its history in the United States has invested in settler colonialism, and the permanence of the settler-colonial nation state,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández state. “In particular, we will describe the settler colonial curricular project of replacement, which aims to vanish Indigenous peoples and replace them with settlers, who see themselves as rightful claimants to land, and indeed, as Indigenous” (73). Of course, that project goes far beyond educational curricula, and the focus on education seems strange to me—but then again, I’m not really interested in educational research or scholarship, which is probably going to be a barrier for me in reading this essay. The authors will use the figure of Natty Bumppo “as an extended allegory to understand the ways in which the field of curriculum has continued to absorb, silence, and replace the non-white other, perpetuating white supremacy and settlerhood,” primarily through “a rhetorical move against identity politics” (73). “White curriculum scholars re-occupy the ‘spaces’ opened by responses to racism and colonization in the curriculum, such as multiculturalism and critical race theory, absorbing the knowledge, but once again displacing the bodies out to the margins” (73). The “various interventions” that have “tried to dislodge the aims of replacement, including multiculturalism, critical race theory, and browning . . . have been sidelined and reappropriated in ways that reinscribe settler colonialism and settler futurity” (73)

The idea of replacement comes through the work of Patrick Wolfe and his argument that settler colonialism operates through a logic of elimination; I’ve written about the article to which Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández refer here. The violence of invasion “is reasserted each day of occupation,” because as Wolfe argues, invasion is a structure, not an event (73). “Thus, when we write about settler colonialism in this article, we are writing about it as both an historical and contemporary matrix of relations and conditions that define life in the settler colonial nation-state,” the authors state (73-74). “In North America, settler colonialism operates through a triad of relationships, between the (white [but not always]) settlers, the Indigenous inhabitants, and the chattel slaves who are removed from their homelands to work stolen land,” they continue (74). (If their intention is to write about contemporary life in settler colonial nation-states, shouldn’t they concede that slavery has been abolished in North America?) “Several belief systems need to be in place to justify the destruction of Indigenous life and the enslavement of life from other lands, in particular the continent of Africa,” including “19th century ‘manifest destiny,’” “heteropaternalism—the assumption that heteropatriarchial nuclear domestic arrangements are the building block of the state and institutions,” and white supremacy (74). (I suppose “heteropaternalism” is included because Indigenous nations had other models of “domestic arrangements.”) “Settler colonialism requires the construction of non-white peoples as less than or not-quite civilized, an earlier expression of human civilization, and makes whiteness and white subjectivity both superior and normal,” they continue, suggesting that this makes both whiteness and “settler status” invisible, “only seen when threatened” (74). “Settler colonialism is typified by its practiced epistemological refusal to recognize the latent relations of the settler colonial triad; the covering of its tracks,” particularly through “the circulation of its creation story” (74). Such stories “conceal the teleology of violence and domination that characterize white settlement,” such as “the ‘Fort on Frontier’ as a signifier for the myth of civilization and modernity in the creation story of the Canadian nation-state,” they write, citing Dwayne Donald (74). In the U.S., the parallel signifier is “the ‘jeremiad’ of colonial Puritans who sought to establish a utopian society” (75). (Why that mythology is a “jeremiad” needs to be explained here; otherwise a word with a specific meaning simply turns into a term of abuse or opprobrium.)

Next, Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández turn to education and, in particular, curriculum. I’m going to summarize this section very quickly. “[S]chooling has served the purpose of promoting and imperialist view of the world that justifies colonization premised on European epistemological supremacy,” they write (75). Schooling “has been a white supremacist project” that is “premised . . . on maintaining symbolic logics through which to justify the theft and occupation of Indigenous land” (75). Education and “the field of curriculum studies” have always “played a significant role in the maintenance of settler colonialism” by seeing themselves “through logics of replacement in which the settler ultimately comes to replace the Native” (76). Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández trace this role from the seventeenth century onwards (76-77). They cite Lorenzo Veracini’s observation that “within settler colonialism, settlers and the settler-state must continuously disavow the existence and presence of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous accounts and histories of land,” since 

[f]or the settler, the recalcitrant continued presence of Indigenous peoples and the descendants of chattel slaves is disturbing, is disrupting. The settler-state is always already in a precarious position because Indigenous peoples and descendants fo chattel slaves won’t do what they are supposed to do, fade away into history by either disappearing or becoming more like the settler, the true description of the human. If they/we won’t fade away into history, then the whole ugly business of the founding of the settler-state can’t be surpassed, can’t be forgotten. (77) 

Settler colonialism therefore hides the evidence of its activities in order “to achieve the settler’s ultimate aim, which is to resolve the uncomfortable and precarious dis-location as usurper, and replace the Indigenous people as the natural, historical, rightful and righteous owners of the land” (77). (I need to read Veracini’s book, which is by all accounts an important account of settler colonialism.)

Here Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández return to Natty Bumppo, noting that the Leatherstocking novels tapped into “settlers’ imaginations of the vanishing Indian, the innovative Frontiersman, and the ill-fated Negro, the very cast of characters which animate settler colonialism, and much of American literature” (78). The Leatherstocking novels ignore the reality of the 1830 Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears (1831-1837) “while imagining the Indian as already vanished, as already dead” (78). For Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández, these stories, together constitute “an allegory for what we call the settler colonial curricular project of replacement, which is intent on relieving the inherent anxiety of settler dislocation from stolen land” (78). (Why limit that project to curriculum?) “The anchoring themes of hybridity, extinction, inheritance, and whiteness that is more Indian (i.e more deserving of the land) than Indians from Cooper’s tales are the vertebrae of the ideological justification for the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and Black and brown peoples: ignoring that they may have an a priori claim to land, or a claim derived from reparation,” they continue (78). (Wouldn’t land for reparations also be Indigenous land? Doesn’t that suggestion lead to a scenario where there would be competing claims to land? Wouldn’t that transfer of land from White ownership to Black people as reparations still be an example of settler colonialism?) According to Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández, “Natty Bumppo-as-curriculum” is an allegory that “highlights the distraction offered by the pursuit of replacement, away from settler complicity in the erasure of Indigenous people toward fantasies fo the extinct or becoming-extinct Indian as natural, foregone, inevitable, indeed, evolutionary” (78). They note that nineteenth- and early-twentiety-century writers on education believed in that evolutionary idea (78-79). “[S]ettler futurity is ensured through an understanding of Native-European relations as a thing of the past, and the inclusion of Native history [is] a past upon which a white future is ensured,” they continue (79). 

Moreover, “contemporary progressive and critical approaches to curriculum act through the same ‘Fort on Frontier’ mythology and the same ‘errand into the wilderness’ Puritan jeremiad that ensure replacement and settler futurity” (79). “[T]he contemporary field of curriculum studies has not escaped its preoccupation with replacement,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández write. “We see this manifested in how non-white, non-settler contributions to curriculum studies, along with the scholars that make those contributions, are frequently replaced, renewing settler interpretations as central to the field and the history of fantasies of replacement in its founding” (79). Scholars of colour “are sometimes dismissed as too focused on identity politics” by White scholars “who have moved on to a post-racial analysis,” and “[t]hose who challenge the appropriation of Brown, Black, and Indigenous ideas and the renewed installment of white bodies are dismissed as essentialists, as saying that race matters more than it really should, and are called the true racists” (79). (This argument would be stronger if the authors presented examples of such dismissals.) “Replacement is both a molar and molecular project,” they state, citing Deleuze and Guattari: 

The settler colonial curricular project of replacement seems to happen organically, without intent, even though Indigenous erasure is the arch aim of settler colonialism. It happens generally, through the commonplace tendency of appropriation and commercialization of Indigeneity, but also specifically, through the removal of Indigenous bodies and the occupation of tracts of land by settler bodies. (79)

White scholars who are identified as experts on “multiculturalism—now refracted as diversity” become “the expert ‘backwoodsman,’ the allegorical Natty Bumppo who has gained expertise from ‘diverse,’ ‘indigenous,’ decolonizing,’ or ‘brown’ others, not further replaced by the new ‘native,’ no longer accountable to those who have been historically underrepresented in the academy,” they continue (79-80)

Finally, Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández arrive at a brief (three paragraph) explanation of settler futurity: “The settler colonial curricular project of replacement is invested in settler futurity, or what Andrew Baldwin calls the ‘permanent virtuality’ of the settler on stolen land” (Baldwin, qtd. 80). (“Why “virtuality”? I don’t understand.) “When we locate the present of settler colonialism as only the production of the past, we overlook how settler colonialism is configured in relation to a different temporal horizon: the future,” they continue:

To say that something is invested in something else’s futurity is not the same as saying it is invested in something’s future, though the replacement is invested in both settler future and futurity. Futurity refers to the ways in which, “the future is rendered knowable through specific practices (i.e. calculation, imagination, and performance) and, in turn, intervenes upon the present through three anticipatory logics (i.e. pre-caution, pre-emption and preparedness).” (Baldwin, qtd. 80)

Maybe I’m just stupid, but I’m not sure I follow the distinction being made here between future and futurity. They seem entangled in such a way that they cannot be separated. I could read Baldwin’s essay—I’ve located a copy—but why does the definition of settler futurity provided here have to be unclear? Without a clear definition, that term risks being taken as meaningless—and I’ve seen it used in so many texts on settler colonialism that it must mean something. Given the importance of the term and its omnipresence in this essay, it needs a better explanation. “[R]eplacement is entirely concerned with settler futurity, which always indivisibly means the continued and complete eradication of the original inhabitants of contested land,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández continue. “Anything that seeks to recuperate and not interrupt settler colonialism, to reform the settlement and incorporate Indigenous peoples into the settler colonial nation state is fettered to settler futurity” (80). “To be clear, our commitments are to what might be called an Indigenous futurity, which does not foreclose the inhabitation of Indigenous land by non-Indigenous peoples, but does foreclose settler colonialism and settler epistemologies,” they write. “That is to say that Indigenous futurity does not require the erasure of now-settlers in the ways that settler futurity requires of Indigenous peoples” (80). So Settlers can remain on the land but without settler colonialism or settler epistemologies? Is that even possible? If so, how?

At this point, Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández turn to three attempts at intervening “upon the settler colonial curricular project of replacement”—“multiculturalism, critical race theory, and browning”—along with “another emergent attempt, rematriation” (80). Replacement, they contend, is “a function of whiteness and white ideology, because the interventions have been constructed as responses to structural racism; however, we maintain that white supremacy is supported and enacted through settler colonialism” (80). “[T]he settler colonial curricular project of replacement is relentless in its recuperation and absorption of such critiques—effectively replacing those who offered the critiques with (now) more informed white bodies,” they state (81). 

First, “[m]ulticulturalism is perhaps the most widespread response to white supremacy in the curriculum, and it has many manifestations and critiques, including how it operates to promote the narratives and the claims of descendants of slaves and setttlers of color at the expense of Indigenous people” (81). Multicultural curriculum is about inclusion; it grew out of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, which framed “inequity in relation to institutionalized racism and oppression,” and insisted “on the strengths and contributions of communities and families” (81). “As ‘tourist’ and other superficial approaches proliferated”—what do the authors mean by “tourist” in this context?—“educators of color grew disillusioned with multiculturalism” (81). Indigenous educators like Sandy Grande state that multiculturalism ignores “the significance of Indigenous (struggles for) sovereignty” and that inclusion “prevents Indigenous peoples from achieving decolonizing aims” (81). “When being inclusive, whitestream curriculum begins to absorb and contain, consuming and erasing the other, by always-already positioning the accumulated knowledge as other to, less refined, more subjective and less reliable than the whitestream,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández write:

The story is just a better story when there are more white people in it. Once the story is properly populated and the subaltern knowledge is absorbed, actual participation by Othered bodies is not necessary. Like Natty Bumppo, the whitestream can integrate what it needs—once the white settler learns to dance like the other, learns to eat like the other, learns to dress like the other, and to consume and even to make objects like the other, the other is no longer needed, discarded, replaced. (82)

“This is followed by a move away from the initial language of multiculturalism, to a language of diversity, which can more fully be reoccupied by white subjects,” they continues. “Under the banner of ‘we are all the same because we are different,’ the language of diversity completes the replacement, positioning white people as the tru diverse subjects, the new natives, and protectors of the value of human difference” (82).

Second, critical race theory, which “invites an analysis of how racism produces its own categories and institutional operations, such as the granting of citizenship and other legal rights,” “points to how forms of knowledge like literacy and numeracy are constituted as white property (property goes undetected as a settler construct), and the material benefits that this grants to those constituted as ‘white’” (82). (Is literacy really white property? How so?) “This analysis has led to an examination of how white supremacy produces an exalted category of whiteness, how certain groups vie for whiteness and gain ascendancy in the racial hierarchy on which colonization is premised,” the authors continue (82). This has led to the academic field of whiteness studies, which looks at white domination across society (82). However, “there has been a proliferation of far less considered approaches to whiteness studies, which do not address issues of privilege and power, often devolving into apologist accounts of the plight of white subjects” (82). Such accounts “serve only to bring whiteness to the center, giving space for white people to air their experiences of racialization, attempting to rescue themselves from the damages of racial thinking, and appropriating the language of critical race theory” (82-83). “In some circles, these white scholars are celebrated for their performances of critical reflexivity, but little else changes, and the cumulative effect is that white experience of the world resumes its place as the rightful and natural perspective,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández write. “Our allegorical Natty Bumppo carries on, fully vested in the glow of his own pride for having revealed that, after all, he is not quite white either and therefore not responsible—innocence retrieved” (83). (So white people should just shut up?) At the same time, scholars in curriculum studies “have waged complaints against the critical analysis of race, crying foul against the scholars of color who are cast as dupes for the mere act of invoking race itself” (83). (Again, this argument would be more persuasive if it provided examples.) “In the context of the academy’s competitive individualism, in which there is only one expert in a subject on a faculty”—that might be true in small faculties or institutions, but is it true in in larger ones?—“or only one chapter about a subject is needed in a volume or conference session, the bodies and works by scholars of color are frequently replaced by bodies and works of white scholars, reflecting a retrenchment of prior efforts to diversity, anemic as those efforts may have been” (83).

Finally, “browning” refers to deliberate efforts “to uncover and highlight the myriad of complicated ways in which white supremacy and colonization constantly manifest themselves in curriculum scholarship” (83). It critiques praise of “the ‘fathers’ of curriculum history without acknowledging their racist views” and the racism of citation practices that attribute ideas to white scholars (83). For instance, why do curriculum scholars “engaging with psychoanalysis know so little about Frantz Fanon and his analysis of subjecthood?” (83). (Again, examples please.) Browning, they write, interrupts “the dominant narrative by rudely inserting itself, reclaiming academic space, and calling the names of those who have been replaced and forgotten” (83). Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández suggest that browning the curriculum means 

to make it messy, to show how it is already dirty and stained, to refuse romanticized creation stories and fort pedagogies. Like pan-searing, browning brings out the flavor through charring. It can be experienced as an irreverent burn that dislodges the handle from the hand, it deliberately seeks to anger, to force the hidden hand of the racism that lurks at every turn of the curriculum studies discourse. Browning highlights the present absences and invokes the ghosts of curriculum’s past and futures, unsettling settler futurity. (83-84)

Some (presumably White) scholars have responded to browning’s disruption “by being positively unflappable” and by dismissing it “as a sideline—perhaps even a distraction, not central to the concerns of the field,” while others have responded with a “public cathexis of white guilt” which results in “a turn away from the relentlessness of browning toward the more flattering framing of diversity” (84). (The example given of the latter response is a rather inside baseball account of a town hall session at a conference.) 

Finally, Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández turn to “rematriation,” a term that “refers to the work of community members and scholars in curriculum studies who directly address the complicity of curriculum in the maintenance of settler colonialism” (84). Rematriation is not yet fully theorized, they acknowledge, but it intends “to undercut and undermine the legacy of settler colonialism in the curriculum” by not denying difference, seeking “to understand mutual implication,” putting “Indigenous epistemologies at the forefront,” and requiring “a more public form of memory” (84). Rematriation, they continue, “involves rethinking the aims of research in curriculum studies so that Indigenous communities and other over-researched but invisibilized communities can reject narratives and theories that have been used against us, and re-story knowledge and research to forward our own sovereignty and wellbeing” (85). Rematriation is premised on “the insistence that the academy does not need to know everything. Not everything, or even most things uncovered in a community-based inquiry processes need to be reported in academic journals or settings. There are some stories that the academy has not proved itself to be worthy of knowing” (85). The examples Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández provide show that rematriation is focused on Indigenous peoples: it is “a curricular project to be engaged by Indigenous peoples in participatory processes, the results of which may never feed back to the academy. It intends to break the loop of academic appropriation of Indigenous knowledge, and in doing so, challenges many of the assumptions about the inherent beneficence of the academic gaze” (85). “Though sometimes Indigenous scholars carefully articulate their frameworks so that they cannot be interpreted as separatist, there are no safeguards in place against this interpretation,” they write (85). (Are there any safeguards against misinterpretation anywhere?) However, rematriation therefore cannot “intervene upon the curricular project of replacement” (85). “As a framework invested in Indigenous futurity, and not in settler futurity, rematriation offers little in terms of lifeboats,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández write (85). (Why “lifeboats”? What ship is sinking? Settler futurity? How so? I don’t understand the metaphor.) “Instead, it insists that there are forms of knowledge that persist outside of the colonial territory, and says, no, you can’t have them,” they continue.Rematriation performs as a refusal in relation to the larger curriculum field” (85).

In their conclusion, entitled “Refusal,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández state,

One of the core reasons that each of the interventions we have described above has failed to interrupt settler colonialism and settler colonial replacement is that each has tried to make powerful shifts without alienating white settlers. In part, this is because of complaints by white settlers, such as “well, now what am I supposed to do?” and “how will I fit into this?” The expectation is that any viable alternative frame will account for the needs of the settler, address their anxieties, and assure them that nothing is going to require them to change or disrupt their lives. (85-86)

Does that conclusion follow from the examples of questions they present? Couldn’t “what am I supposed to do?” be a question about how Settlers need to change or “disrupt their lives”? How ought Settlers—or White people (the terms, as Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández acknowledge, are not synonymous) change? Isn’t that a relevant question? “Insofar as these and other interventions try to accommodate the affect of the settler, they cannot succeed in reshaping or reimagining curriculum studies” (86)—or any broader issues, I would suspect. “What is needed is a discourse of refusal, refusing to require that new works in curriculum studies soothe settler anxieties,” they continue:

There must be work inside curriculum studies that dis-invests in settler futurity, that refuses to intervene, that observes a writ of “do not resuscitate.” This refusal is not just a no, it is what is needed to generate work that is useful to us. But it is also not an invitation, it is an exaction. We exact expropriation; to speak without explication; to claim without settler colonial justification; to refuse any response or allegation. (86)

I’m not sure what it means to “exact expropriation,” but does “to refuse any response or allegation” mean refusing responses like this one, an honest attempt at understanding an essay, or does it mean to refuse to respond to questions? I don’t understand.

“Meanwhile, settlers in curriculum studies must hold one another accountable when they invade emergent work by requiring it to comfort their dis-ease,” Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández conclude. “That is as far we will go to provide instructions. There isn’t an easy ending. We anticipate that even with all of these refusals and exactions, this article is just as likely as any other to be incorporated and absorbed—our lines quoted, APA style, to either agree or dismiss, in some dusty footnote at the end of some argument about the proper way to do curriculum studies” (86). “The most cynical view,” they continue, “is that refusals will always be replaced as long as the vestiges of settler colonialism in curriculum studies go unobserved. Refusers will be erased, subtly written off the page as remnants of the past in a settler colonial future” (86).

That is the most cynical view, and I wonder whether some small sense of the limitations of any form of academic research in creating social change might not avoid the self-destructiveness of that cynicism. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that as far as an explanation of settler futurity goes, this essay was not that helpful. Nor do I see any opening here for ways in which Settlers and Indigenous people or former enslaved people might be able to live together. I suppose that to search for that would be to miss the point, to replace their refusals with incorporation or absorption. That’s how such a statement would likely be taken by Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández. But that’s not how it’s meant. The project of replacement has failed, even as Settler society tries new ways to enact it; meanwhile, Settlers (and their descendants) aren’t going anywhere. Most of us have nowhere else to go. So we will have to find some way of sharing this place. I know that goes against Tuck’s definition of decolonization as the return of all Indigenous land, even though in this paper she and Gaztambide-Fernández acknowledge that Indigenous futurity has a space for Settlers in it, but to acknowledge that fact seems necessary. In any case, I’m still confused by the term “settler futurity” and will have to look elsewhere for a clearer explanation of what it means. Perhaps in Veracini? Perhaps in Baldwin? Although his essay is about Whiteness and futurity, perhaps his explanation is clearer? Or is there some other place from which both Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández on one hand, and Baldwin on the other, have taken this term? Given the ubiquity of the term “settler futurity,” that’s probably the case. But what’s the source? Does anyone reading this know?

Works Cited

Baldwin, Andrew. “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 36, no. 6, 2012, pp. 172-87.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.

Tuck, Eve, and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández. “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, vol. 29, no. 1, 2013, pp. 72-89.

Veracini, Lorenzo. Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 8, no. 4, 2006, pp. 387-409. DOI:10.1080/14623520601056240.