Archipelagic American Studies

Archipelagic American Studies

by Brian Russell Roberts (Editor)

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Departing from conventional narratives of the United States and the Americas as fundamentally continental spaces, the contributors to Archipelagic American Studies theorize America as constituted by and accountable to an assemblage of interconnected islands, archipelagoes, shorelines, continents, seas, and oceans. They trace these planet-spanning archipelagic connections in essays on topics ranging from Indigenous sovereignty to the work of Édouard Glissant, from Philippine call centers to US militarization in the Caribbean, and from the great Pacific garbage patch to enduring overlaps between US imperialism and a colonial Mexican archipelago. Shaking loose the straitjacket of continental exceptionalism that hinders and permeates Americanist scholarship, Archipelagic American Studies asserts a more relevant and dynamic approach for thinking about the geographic, cultural, and political claims of the United States within broader notions of America.

Birte Blascheck, J. Michael Dash, Paul Giles, Susan Gillman, Matthew Pratt Guterl, Hsinya Huang, Allan Punzalan Isaac, Joseph Keith, Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, Brandy Nālani McDougall, Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, Craig Santos Perez, Brian Russell Roberts, John Carlos Rowe, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Ramón E. Soto-Crespo, Michelle Ann Stephens, Elaine Stratford, Etsuko Taketani, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Teresia Teaiwa, Lanny Thompson, Nicole A. Waligora-Davis

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822363460
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/16/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Brian Russell Roberts is Associate Professor of English at Brigham Young University.
Michelle Ann Stephens is Professor of English and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

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Archipelagic American Studies

By Brian Russell Roberts, Michelle Ann Stephens

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-6346-0




Lanny Thompson

THIS CHAPTER WILL EXAMINE the heuristics of various geographical metaphors that shape theoretical and empirical analyses, especially in the social sciences and humanities. I understand a heuristic to be a practical method that attempts the solution of theoretical, empirical, or interpretative problems, while geographical metaphors are ways of seeing and of framing these problems. Some of the most important geographical metaphors have been territories (as delimited by states), regions (cultural or political areas), islands (sometimes grouped as archipelagoes), and the world. I suggest that a careful rethinking of the concept of archipelago might be a way of tracing complex relationships that transverse, crisscross, and entangle the supposedly unitary territories of states, areas, and islands and that make up the globalized world. In short, I propose to critically engage the leading territorial metaphors, to identify their heuristic geographies, and to elucidate the particular spatial heuristic of archipelagic thinking.


Since their institutionalization in the nineteenth century, the social sciences have been premised upon notions of a spatially bounded unit: the sovereign territory, that is, the land and inhabitants belonging to or under the jurisdiction of a body politic, or state, conceived of as a country or nation. In all of these disciplines, the notion of the "social sphere" was enclosed by the political boundaries of states or their jurisdictions, such as towns, cities, provinces, territories, or colonies. The political predominance of the international state system, along with the expansion of national statistics in the nineteenth century, went hand in hand with the measurement and control of the territory and its corresponding subject populations. Modern states were consolidated through the deployment of "political technologies" and "governmental rationalities." The first term refers to those theories and practices, in legal doctrine and cartography, that resulted in the demarcation of national territories and their internal geographic and cadastral surveys. The second term refers to the management of populations by means of policies informed by censuses and other statistical apparatuses. The principal disciplines of the social sciences — sociology, economics, political science, geography, and demography — contributed to this effort. In particular, the social sciences were directed toward increasing social welfare, promoting economic growth, establishing stable political systems, and managing demographic and geographical resources. In the humanities, the premise of the state has also led to the demarcation of national differences in terms of tradition and identity, culture and history, language and literature. The heuristic orientation of all of these disciplines was directed at the problems of national unity, governance, and governmentality.


The national state was not the only unit of interest. Emerging principally in the United States, "area studies" was institutionalized in the late 1940s, although its foundations had been laid down earlier. Area studies sought to define and delimit regions and apply interdisciplinary approaches to research problems. The underlying logic was that a region formed a complex whole that was unique, bounded, and could be distinguished from other regions by its sociocultural particularities. Julian Steward, perhaps the leading methodologist of area studies, wrote, "Area phenomena are interrelated in the context of a structured whole. The characteristics of the whole — the patterns of economic, social, religious, political, esthetic, and other special aspects of behavior — are determined by cultural heritage, but they are interrelated within the framework of particular societies. The unit of area study therefore must be a sociocultural whole."

In his 1949 survey of area studies in the United States, Robert Hall found the following areas already defined and functioning in universities: Latin America, the Far East, the United States, and Russia. Area studies sought to promote "complete world coverage" based upon "universal social science laws." In contrast to Oriental studies, which was based in the humanities, area studies was rooted institutionally in the pragmatic, instrumental, and issue-oriented social sciences. The various disciplines — sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, geography, and so on — were expected to cooperate and produce interdisciplinary knowledge. Area studies promoted a concept of a differentiated whole: all the areas that constituted the world were divided into uniform, discrete, and contiguous regions. "Area" was understood, in ascending order of importance, as a natural landscape, a sociocultural homogeneity, and a structural-functional unit. Broadly speaking, area studies promoted modernization projects of economic development and state formation in the context of the Cold War struggle for influence in the "Third World." The area studies paradigm sought to divide the world into knowable, controllable chunks; from its inception its heuristic was interdisciplinary, instrumental, and hegemonic.


From its inception, then, the perspective of area studies was that of the whole world, not as a single unit but rather as discrete cultural configurations. However, the increasing mobility and connectedness of people, capital, commerce, technology, media, and ideology crosscut, superseded, and complicated the hermetic unity of national territories and the supposed sociocultural homogeneity of regions. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, advances in telecommunications and transportation increased the speed and scale of virtual and physical interconnectedness, which led to a compression of space and time. This spatial flatness and accelerated openness led in turn to deterritorialization as an inevitable, long-term process. Many of the conceptual referents were derived from theories of modernity, now rethought on a global scale. Studies of globalization revolved around questions of whether globalization signaled a transition to a "universalized modernity" and whether this suggested that the world is becoming a single space with a systemic, ordered unity. Global capitalism had extended the calculative rationality of territorial control to the population of the entire world. The idea of globalization posited the world as one big, all-inclusive economic, ideological, and cultural unit.

According to Arjun Appadurai, "modernity," for decades understood as a national process, was now "at large," a much wider and more complex process that could not be contained by individual states. This "postnational" complexity arose from the global "disjunctures": overlapping, relatively independent flows of diasporas (people), cultures (media and ideologies), and economies (technology and money). Appadurai deployed the suffix "-scapes" in order to analyze these fluid, irregular movements: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes, technoscapes, and financescapes, respectively. By means of his central metaphor, he suggested that social actors "navigated" these "scapes" by means of social practices, including the "work of the imagination" in cultural spheres, on an intensely interactive global scale. Appadurai appealed to the open, boundless, and expansive metaphor of landscapes to describe these movements across global space. In sum, the heuristic of global studies encompasses transnational projects of universal modernization.


In contrast to these large territorial units (states, regions, and the world), "island studies" began to explicitly conceptualize the complexity and uniqueness of small, delimited geographic spaces. Writing in the newly launched (2006) Island Studies Journal, Godfrey Baldacchino suggested that islands were distinctive locations: small, remote, and marked by a relatively closed compactness that made them natural laboratories for any number of disciplines, from anthropology to evolutionary biology. Indeed, he suggested that inter-disciplinary area studies might be a possible model for island studies.

Despite the newness of the notion of "island studies," the island trope has a long history in European imagination and thought and is associated especially with exploration, conquest, and colonization. In European thought and colonial practice, islands were understood as naturally bounded properties that could become the sites of experimentation and innovation; they were synchronous and utopian, repeating and repeatable. Indeed, Europeans produced many innovations in the context of colonized islands. These innovations were wide-ranging: economics ("Plantations" and the Atlantic economy), anthropology (Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and Sahlins), biology (Darwin and Wallace on evolutionary theory), philosophy (Rousseau's noble savage and More's Utopia), and literary production (Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and their countless derivatives), etc. Michelle Stephens has argued that the island trope, in this colonial context, frequently incorporated the pejorative notions of singularity and isolation, dependency and marginality, backwardness and provinciality.

One of the most influential island tropes is the "repeating island," elaborated by Antonio Benítez-Rojo. In his study of Caribbean culture and literature, he argued that the Caribbean is constituted through a repeating plantation economy — the "Plantation"— and the consequent collision of races and cultures originating in the "subsoil" of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This collision produces polyrhythms, in both a literal and metaphorical sense, and a "certain kind" of performance: its poetics encompass a supersyncretic, improvisatory, carnivalesque aesthetic of pleasure. The Caribbean is "chaotic," that is, its "processes, dynamics, and rhythms ... show themselves within the marginal, the regional, the incoherent, the heterogeneous, or, if you like, the unpredictable that coexists with us in our everyday world." These dynamic states repeat themselves, although paradoxically: no repetition is exactly the same but rather always "entails a difference." Finally, Benítez-Rojo argued that these repeating islands form a "meta-archipelago" that far transcend the Caribbean to become a global phenomenon.

Benítez-Rojo's notion of the "repeating island" is an enthusiastic endorsement of Caribbean performance and its worldwide diaspora. For him, the island is not isolated; it is a metaphor for Caribbean culture that arises from multiple influences and, in turn, disperses its cultural style globally. What repeats and why is its influence worldwide? What repeats is an exploitative economic structure (the Plantation) that produces unequal interactions among different cultures, which finally leads (in chaotic, indeterminate ways) to the paradoxical cultural expressions in the Caribbean. Benítez-Rojo writes, "The Caribbean poem and novel are not only projects for ironizing a set of values taken as universal; they are, also, projects that communicate their own turbulence, their own clash, and their own void, the swirling black hole of social violence produced by the encomienda and the plantation, that is, their otherness, their peripheral asymmetry with regard to the West."

In this argument, the repeating islands of the meta-archipelago are not related synchronically in space; rather they are analogous reiterations of the same conditions of peripherality and otherness. They do not change historically; rather they repeat. They do not form connections; rather they are comparable manifestations of the same dynamic. Even though each manifestation is unpredictably different, the underlying process is the same. This dynamic originated in the Caribbean but it is no longer confined to this region due to the worldwide expansion of plantation-like exploitation and the diaspora of Caribbean peoples. In a flurry of disconnected references, Benítez-Rojo mentions Bombay, Gambia, Canton, Bali, Bristol, Bordeaux, Zuiderzee, Manhattan, and Portugal as all part of the meta-archipelago.

In sum, the trope of the island is bound up historically with exploration, conquest, and colonization, in short, with empires. Even so, these very empires are both ever-present and yet undertheorized in island studies. Instead, recent appreciations of islands stress a heuristic of creative experimentation, discovery, innovation, and creation in natural, bounded, delimited, and controlled spaces that both repeat and are repeatable worldwide. Paradoxically, the trope of islands confounds and confuses the idea of the relational spaces of archipelagoes. The notion of unique, bounded spaces — repeatable or not — shuts off a detailed consideration of places constituted through connections with other islands, both near and far, and with continental territories, both national and imperial. In this vein, several authors have suggested that we move from the island, the classic metaphor of a closed system, to the archipelago, understood as an open system of relationships among islands, often in relation to continents. They argue that the metaphor of island is flawed precisely because it closes off conceptually the wider relationships among islands. Let us now turn to the idea of archipelago not as repeating islands but rather as configurations of connected places.


These four geographical metaphors — territory, region, world, and island — suggest units that are demarcated and bounded, circumscribed and contained. In contrast to these metaphors, based on the premise of a unified geographic totality, the notion of archipelago suggests a way of focusing upon connections or networks dispersed throughout geographical spaces. Now, what is an archipelago? At the most basic empirical level in common parlance, an archipelago is simply a group of proximal islands considered as areas (such as the Caribbean) or states (such as Indonesia and the Philippines). Regarding the latter, Jay Batongbacal wrote that "archipelagic studies" has taken up the "issues concerning the impact of the archipelagic nature of the country [Philippines] and the neglect of the oceans as a subject of governance on the prevailing problems in environmental protection, the management of the economy, the preservation of national sovereignty, and the maintenance of national unity." In this conception, the archipelago is simply another kind of unit: a national territory spread out over islands and the sea. Indeed, due in part to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), the world's oceans and seas have been remapped and territorialized as the "exclusive economic zones" of states, whether continental, insular, or archipelagic.


Excerpted from Archipelagic American Studies by Brian Russell Roberts, Michelle Ann Stephens. Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Editors' Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. Archipelagic American Studies: Decontinentalizing the Study of American Culture / Brian Russell Roberts and Michelle Ann Stephens  1
Part I. Theories and Methods for an Archipelagic American Studies
1. Heurestic Geographies: Territories and Areas, Islands and Archipelagoes / Lanny Thompson  57
2. Imagining the Archipelago / Elaine Stratford  74
Part II. Archipelagic Mappings and Meta-Geographies
3. Guam and Archipelagic Black Global Imaginary / Craig Santos Perez / 97
4. The Archipelagic Black Global Imaginary: Walter White's Pacific Island Hopping / Etsuko Taketani  113
5. It Takes an Archipelago to Compare Otherwise / Susan Gillman  133
Part III. Empires and Archipelagoes
6. Colonial and Mexican Archipelagoes: Remiagining Colonial Caribbean Studies / Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel  155
7. Invisible Islands: Remapping the Transpacific Archipelago of US Empire in Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart / Joseph Keith  174
8. "Myth of the Continents": American Vulnerabilities and "Rum and Colca-Cola" / Nicole A. Waligora-Davis  191
Part IV. Islands of Resistance
9. "Shades of Paradise": Craig Santos Perez's Transpacific Voyages / John Carlos Rowe  213
10. Insubordinate Islands and Coastal Chaos: Pauline Hopkins's Literary Land/Seascapes / Cherene Serrard-Johnson  232
11. "We Are Not Americans": Competing Rhetorical Archipelagoes in Hawai'i / Brandy Nālani McDougall 259
Part V. Ecologies of Relation
12. Performing Archipelagic Identities in Bill Reid, Robert Sullivan, and Syaman Rapongan / Hsinya Huang  281
13. Archipelagic Trash: Despised Forms in the Cultural History of the Americas / Ramón E. Soto-Crespo  302
14. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch as Metaphor: The (American) Pacific You Can't See / Alice Te Punga Somerville  320
Part VI. Insular Imaginaries
15. The Tropics of Josephine: Space, Time, and Hybrid Movements / Matthew Pratt Guterl  341
16. The Stranger by the Shore: The Archipelization of Caliban in Antillean Theatre / J. Michael Dash  356
Part VII. Migrating Identities, Moving Borders
17. The Governors-General: Caribbean Canadian and Pacific New Zealand Success Stories / Birte Blascheck and Teresia Teaiwa  373
18. Living the West Indian Dream: Archipelagic Cosmopolitanism and Triangulated Economies of Desire in Jamaican Popular Culture / Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo  390
19. Offshore Identities: Ruptures in the 300-Second Average Handling Time / Allan Punzalan Isaac  411
Afterword. The Archipelagic Accretion / Paul Giles
Selected Bibliography  437
Contributors  453

What People are Saying About This

Island World: A History of Hawaìi and the United States - Gary Y. Okihiro

"Archipelagic American Studies offers an expansive, liberating vision of archipelagic, island, and American studies as well as the discourses and material relations that implicate US imperialism and the locations and articulations of power."

Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee - Shelley Fisher Fishkin

"Brilliant, transformative, and a model of engaging scholarship, Archipelagic American Studies offers a bracing challenge to reevaluate and reimagine the ways in which we structure knowledge in American studies. A conceptually innovative and highly imaginative work."

Anthony Bogues

"With some of the best essays collected on the subject. this volume opens up new spaces for the fields of Caribbean and of American studies. This is a pathbreaking edited volume."

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