Symposium 2-3 August 2022, Western Tower Room University of Sydney
In conjunction with the visit of Professor Sven Beckert to the University of Sydney
The exploitation of land as resource is a central theme in all settler colonial histories. In Australia, three themes animate debates over land: 1) the struggle to reclaim Indigenous sovereignty over land in the context of ongoing settler colonial invasion 2) Australian environmental history and its critique of human-centered narratives of the past 3) the history of racialised labour in Australia which saw the logics of capitalism and racism entwine in particular ways to serve settler colonial interests.
This symposium seeks to entangle these three historiographical trends, especially dominant in Australian history, into the global debates over history of capitalism. It also draws attention to an emerging trend in Australian history writing which complicates past approaches to land, race and capital; new approaches to agency.
In a new slant on old debates about structure and agency, First Nations scholars and others have sought to stress changing, adaptive patterns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, community, and ceremony. This work extends to other communities faced with racism, including Pacific islanders, Chinese and more recent migrant groups. Such work shows labour exploited under capitalism to be sure, but it also embodies political possibilities embedded in ‘work’, to preserve land, culture and country, which could act as inspiration for new visions of economy, environment and society. This offers new possibilities to labour history more broadly; long a cornerstone of Australian historiography, and suggests fresh ways to think about global capitalism and Australian land.
In this symposium we seek to re-entangle these three ‘materialisms’ – posthumanism, post-Marxism and historical materialism – into an Antipodean history of capitalism. It is a timely intervention, we argue. Political urgency around racial discrimination, First Nations deaths in custody, climate and just transitions converge around these historiographical categories.
We welcome proposals for papers that link histories of environment, race, settler colonialism and labour to the history of capitalism.