History, Department of


Date of this Version



Ben Taleb, B. “On the Difficulty of Reckoning with Settler Colonialisms: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives.” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Vol. 21, No. 1, (Spring 2020).


© 2020 Baligh Ben Taleb and The Johns Hopkins University Press


Review essay on:

Settler Colonialism and (Re)Conciliation: Frontier Violence, Affective Performances, and Imaginative Refoundings By Penelope Edmonds. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land, and Settler Decolonization By Eva Mackey. Halifax; Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2016.

The Limits of Settler Colonial Reconciliation: Non-Indigenous People and the Responsibility to Engage Edited by Sarah Maddison, Tom Clark and Ravi de Costa. New York: Springer, 2016.

In settler societies, coming to grips with historical wrongs continues to pose an enduring dilemma. Powerful scripts and events of redress, forgiveness and reconciliation are used to petition for and engage with narratives of the “post” settler nation state. The scope, substance, and politics of reckoning with settler colonial wrongs have garnered an intense controversy, and by turns, precipitated vibrant and creative scholarship. In Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada, and to a lesser extent, the United States, scholars have recognized the distinctive roles of reconciliatory efforts in settler societies, and attempted to untangle the repertoire of “moving on” and beyond the historical continuity of settler colonialism. They look at what it means to be “post” colonial and decolonized in nations that still lack a clear decolonizing moment. This essay engages with these competing perspectives as explored in the work of three recent volumes: Penelope Edmonds’ Settler Colonialism and (Re)conciliation, Eva Mackey’s Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, and Sarah Maddison et al., The Limits of Settler Colonial Reconciliation. Taking specific case studies across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, these comprehensive and transnational comparative studies offer rigorous evaluation of the ideas and symbolic practices of reconciliation and their interlocking relationships with © 2020 Baligh Ben Taleb and The Johns Hopkins University Press settler colonial histories. Without treating the processes of “decolonization” and “reconciliation” as self-contained, isolated, or discrete units of meaningful change, these scholars address the ways in which the practices of these concepts attempt to reanimate and mobilize the past for a “post” settler condition and emancipatory moral order. The prefix “post,” as Jean Francois Lyotard has articulated, conjures the conviction “that it is both possible and necessary to break with tradition and institute absolutely new ways of living and thinking.”2 But in settler societies, the “post” may not mean a clearly defined moment or a “rupture” with the colonial past; instead, it may well repeat it and reinforce its diurnal residues. In different ways, these volumes interrogate these “new” realities and their chameleon-like abilities, by offering multifaceted approaches to deter what seems to be an alarming reproduction of coloniality and normative authority of the settler state. They use different and understudied analytical lenses and frameworks such as performance, ethnography of conflicts about land rights, and structural and attitudinal engagement to explore the complex and difficult conundrums and aporias of decolonization in settler societies.

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