Domestic Subversions: Domesticity and Affective Labor in Cross-Cultural Colonial Histories

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:10 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1C (Colorado Convention Center)
Victoria Haskins, University of Newcastle, Australia
This paper will focus on Indigenous domestic labor in settler colonial societies, as a way of exploring the utility of the concept of domesticity to the historian of colonization. Across a diverse range of historical colonial contexts, Indigenous men, women, and children were quickly incorporated into the colonial project as household workers, often under conditions of slavery. In the twentieth century, in some nations (though not all) that were founded in settler colonialism, like Australia and the United States, the domestic arena became the site for sustained government intervention into Indigenous lives, challenging the privileged seclusion of the middle-class home.

These histories raise questions about the connections between colonial control and governance, and domesticity, and between citizenship and domesticity; they also raise questions about the role of the domestic in the construction of the colonial economy and the significance of reproductive and affective labor relations.

The paradoxical nature of Indigenous cross-cultural relationships within the settler colonial domestic sphere bears many similarities with relationships in other domestic service arrangements, including those between working-class servants and middle-class mistresses in nineteenth century England and Europe, between Black American domestic workers and white employers in the US South, and between colonizer masters and mistresses and their servants (both Indigenous and imported) in the context of extractive colonialism, such as in India. The key difference seems to be the determination of the modernizing state to manipulate the site of domestic labor to monitor such relations and to attempt to generate perfected relations of domesticity. The state’s willingness to do so betrays an anxiety around cross-cultural domestic labor relationships as being potentially destabilizing and subversive to the success of the modern settler colonial state.