The purpose of this work is to examine and elaborate on the relationship between the people of Native North America and the material and ideological content of developmentalism as examined within the fields of anthropology and Native American or Indigenous studies. I observe that Indigenous North American peoples are frequently excluded from discussions of economic development within anthropology. I try to reconcile this situation and reinsert native peoples into the anthropology of development by demonstrating the historical and political continuities between United States Indian Policy with the exported ‘development apparatus’. In doing so, I follow Neveling (2017) and others in pushing back against postdevelopment’s dematerialization of development and its emphasis on development as discourse. Instead, I argue that a historical materialist or political economic approach (Rose 2015, 2017, 2018) that conceptualizes development in the terms of Neveling’s (2017) “political economy machinery” better explains the situation of Indigenous North American peoples and the processes that make and unmake their lives.
The overall point here is that in order to properly understand the political economic basis and ideological dimensions to the Post-War developmentalism project it is necessary to understand and examine the history of those political economic models and the history of those ideological dimensions. While there likely were developmentalist antecedents in the policies of the European empires, a major distinctive feature of post-war developmentalism is that it was rooted in the political economy and hegemonic position of the United States. As such, it is crucial to understand the local antecedents for American developmentalist policies, which necessarily brings us to Indigenous peoples as they were the early laboratories of these policies and political economic models.
On the global level, the sub-discipline of the anthropology of development has flourished in the last half century, along with the interdisciplinary field of development studies. In that time, prominent anthropological works have been produced within the sub-discipline that have had a broad impact within anthropology and influence beyond their own regional and disciplinary scope. Some of these classics include the works of Arturo Escobar (1995), James Ferguson (1990), Akhil Gupta (1998), David Mosse (2005), and Tania Murray Li (2007). These works describe the transformative effects of ‘development’, especially on the role of state policies, on the regions formerly grouped together as the “Third World” (i.e. Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Latin America), which are now more conventionally referred to as the global South. The field of the anthropology of development, along with the interdisciplinary field of development studies, has remained almost exclusively “Third World” focused. Chibber (2013) observes that this isolation in the form of the lack of thorough comparative engagement between capitalist development in Western Europe and capitalist development in the Third World has led to an inaccurate and romanticized portrayal of each in postcolonial studies of Third World development. While I generally agree with Chibber’s critique, I wish to move into a different context. The anthropological literature on development in the global South is also disconnected from the anthropological literature on what would otherwise be called ‘development’ in what was at one time called the “Fourth World” (i.e. stateless nations), especially in regard to Indigenous peoples in North America. This disconnect actually goes both ways. Jessica Cattelino’s (2008) book is likely the most popular anthropological work on Indigenous economic development in Native North America in the last several decades. Even though her ethnography on (capitalist) economic development within the Seminole Nation of Florida was published after the texts of those aforementioned prominent anthropology of development authors, and deals with many similar issues around development such as the intricacies and problematics of sovereignty, governmentality, and possible alternative modernities, she does not utilize them or the other work from this subfield. Furthermore, Tania Murray Li’s (2010) comparative discussion of the relationship between capitalism and dispossession in different regions does not include Native North America despite the lengthy and ongoing history of dispossession of Indigenous peoples in North America in relation to both colonial policies of the past as well as contemporary processes of neoliberal capitalism and state (re)formation in the United States and Canada. Instead of including Native North America as another case study alongside Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, she mentions Indigenous people in the Anglo settler states (i.e. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States) or CANZUS countries (Cornell 2015) only once and in passing, and does so with the effect of driving a further wedge between them by saying that the processes of class differentiation were different among Indigenous peoples in those locations. Similarly, David Mosse’s (2013) summary article on the state of the subfield is telling of its geographic orientation as there is no mention of Indigenous North America at all and only a passing mention of development in Europe. The point is that these works are not drawing from and are not in dialogue with each other. There is a disconnect between anthropological studies of development in the global South with those on the economics and development of Indigenous people in the Anglo settler states even though (as I will argue) they share certain commonalities and histories.
Developmentalism and Native North America
The general scholarly consensus is that the modern ‘development apparatus’ and the pseudo-utopian vision that is the modernist-developmentalist paradigm began with the Truman administration after the Second World War, the emergence of the United States as a superpower, and actions taken within the context of the Cold War in needing to make capitalism more appealing for the (newly) former colonies in comparison to the political economic model of the Soviet Union and then later China (Ferguson 1990; Escobar 1995; Cowen and Shenton 1996; Rist 2008; Kiely 2007). As Escobar (1995: 3-4) states:
The Truman doctrine initiated a new era in the understanding and management of world affairs, particularly those concerning the less economically accomplished countries of the world. The intent was quite ambitious: to bring about the conditions necessary to replicating the world over the features that characterized the “advanced” societies of the time—high levels of industrialization and urbanization, technicalization of agriculture, rapid growth of material production and living standards, and the widespread adoption of modern education and cultural values.
The disconnect between the subfields is especially problematic here because while the Truman administration does mark a shift in global development policy, scholars of Native North America would observe that the Truman administration also constituted a dramatic (and infamous) shift in United States Indian Policy. These two phenomena are not disconnected. When the Truman administration began exporting this pseudo-utopian vision of the glories of capitalism, technology, and Western modernity to the world, United States Indian Policy shifted away from similar policies of bureaucratization, technicalization, and industrialization for tribal governments. These policies were based around the creation and support of local/Indigenous bureaucratic institutions that would in essence aid internally in the development of Native American societies toward a form of collectively managed capitalism, which was intended to bring them as societies into the modern world. Although it had antecedents in United States Indian Policy in the nineteenth century (Miner 1989) stretching back even to the Jefferson administration’s ‘civilization’ program, this type of internal developmentalism began in a comprehensive manner with the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in the early 1930s and crystallized around the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (Jorgensen 1978). The Act, as the product of the political economy of the United States of the period, was therefore in accordance with the interests of the American bourgeoisie (Littlefield 1991), and brought about the transformation of Native American societies by formally institutionalizing capitalism within bureaucratic tribal governments. In many locations, it had the effect of solidifying political power over Indigenous communities by the emergent Indigenous bourgeoisie (Schröder 2003; Nagata 1987; Ruffing 1979; Rose 2014).
The Truman administration marked the shift in Indian Policy away from Reorganization and towards Termination (Duthu 2008; Fixico 1986). The Termination period involved a series of policies that sought to formally complete the integration or incorporation of Indigenous peoples into the American mainstream political economy by means of subjecting them to the authority of the States, physically relocating them off reservations and to urban areas, and ending—or terminating—the political and legal standing of Indigenous governments in the eyes of the United States (Duthu 2008). In short, the Termination era represents a shift in the orientation of developmentalism for native peoples: from one where their own local bureaucratic institutions were fostered as the means to bring native people into capitalist modernity, to one where these same institutions were viewed as the impediments to their achievement of modernity. It represents a shift from the policies of internal developmentalism to an external developmentalism.
The internal developmentalist policies of Indian Reorganization bear a resemblance to the modernist-developmentalism that the United States exported to the world during the Truman administration. It is my contention that the development apparatus and the modernist-developmentalist paradigm are direct successors to the long history of United States Indian Policy and these efforts. The Truman administration’s shift to a policy of global scope meant that they were to export what is in essence the same civilizing project except they did so in the language of development and modernity. However, by the 1970s, Indian Policy would shift back toward internal developmentalism in the periphery except this time under the label of self-determination (Duthu 2008). This represents an oscillation of developmentalism in the center and in the periphery corresponding to periods of expansion and contraction of American political economy (Friedman 1994). For native peoples, internal developmentalism marks a period of peripheralization as the center contracts, while termination and assimilation mark a period of external developmentalism and reincorporation into the center as it expands.
Similarly, the geographic contexts must be comparatively examined to draw out these historical parallels to better understand the historical and contemporary dimensions of capitalist development. For example, at around the same time that James Ferguson (1990) was famously discussing the “anti-politics machine” and how development (even ‘failed’ development) is linked not simply to an expansion of capitalism but to the expansion of state power, Marxist anthropologist Alice Littlefield (1991: 219) was writing that
Studies and critiques of these major policy shifts [in US Indian Policy] have frequently noted that the assimilation policies often failed to assimilate, and that self-determination policies often failed to provide for meaningful self-determination. Looking beyond the discourse of the reformers who claimed credit for these policy shifts, it can be observed that material interests of various sectors of American capital were often well-served by the workings of particular policies.
While I recognize and agree with Neveling’s (2017) critiques of the theoretical and empirical dimensions of Ferguson’s work in his overemphasis on discourse to the exclusion of political economic context, the crucial point here for me is to understand that the underlying processes being described are not dissimilar. These two works are describing a singular process or a singular political economic machinery, except that it is occurring at different times and in different places. Ferguson is describing “development” in Lesotho in the middle to late twentieth century, while Littlefield is describing “civilization”, “assimilation”, and “self-determination” in the United States as applied to Native Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
We do not have the space here to delve into a detailed examination of each of the finer points. Rather, my purpose with this piece was to try to begin to connect these disparate areas and fields of study and put them into dialogue with each other. Further comparative study would better elucidate the parallels and lines of divergence in the operation of capitalist development and the experiences of peoples within this machinery. This would lead to a greater understanding and greater insights into the history and operation of capitalist development as a global project and singular machinery.
Samuel W. Rose is an independent scholar based in Schenectady, NY. He received his PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2017. His dissertation was entitled Mohawk Histories and Futures: Traditionalism, Community Development, and Heritage in the Mohawk Valley. His research has focused on the indigenous populations of eastern North America, community and economic development, political economy, and issues of race, identity, and the politics of history. His work has appeared in journals such as Anthropological Theory, Dialectical Anthropology, Critique of Anthropology, and the Journal of Historical Sociology.
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Cite as: Rose, Samuel W. “Disconnected Development Studies: Indigenous North America and the Anthropology of Development.” Focaal Blog, 17 November 2020. http://www.focaalblog.com/2020/11/17/samuel-w-rose:-disconnected-development-studies:-indigenous-north-america-and-the-anthropology-of-development/