Reflections on Colonial Formations

Adam J. Barker shares his thoughts on the first Colonial and Settler Studies Network conference, Colonial Formations: Connections and Collisions, held at the University of Wollongong in November 2016. You can follow Adam on Twitter: @adamoutside.


What is a ‘colonial formation’ and why should such a thing matter? The answers, it turns out, are ‘many different things’ and ‘because without understanding colonial formations, we cannot understand the shape of contemporary life’.

That lesson was brought home to me during the conference titled ‘Colonial Formations: Connections and Collisions’, hosted by the University of Wollongong in Australia, in November 2016. This conference was a intended as an opportunity to explore the intersections and divergences between a variety of state polices, individual actions, and community developments that can be described as ‘colonial’. More than that, the conference cast a wide net, crossing all continents and encompassing several centuries, and considering concepts such as slavery and indentured labour, carcerality and prison colonies, identity and place-relationships, the role of landscape in either inscribing or resisting colonial power, and – of course – the internecine conflicts between scholars over the meanings of any and all of these terms. While that may sound like an unlikely mix of interests, approaches, and personal entanglements, what emerged was an exceptionally rich intellectual discourse that also made us laugh and cry, and intense interpersonal interactions that were as enlightening as any course of study could be.

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