Ethnic Studies Review

Ethnic Studies Review

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Ethnic Studies Review





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Mark Rifkin's second monograph. When Did Indians Become Straight, is an intellectually rigorous and theoretically dense work that explores the relationship between Indigenous political formations and heteronormativity by presenting a literary history of sexuality that spans the last two centuries. Rifkin argues that the settler state's investment in, and enforcement of, heterosexuality as the basic organizing structure of society is a response to the fact that "Indigeneity puts the state in crisis by raising fundamental questions about the legitimacy of its (continued) existence" (37). As a result, Indigenous geopolitical alliances that exceed liberal state logics of what counts as "proper governance" are interpellated as "aberrant or anomalous modes of (failed) domesticity" in an political economy of privatization, where heterosexual coupling is portrayed as a natural expression of "the family" (37). Rifkin demonstrates that "heteroconjugality" is the condition of possibility for political intelligibility within United States institutions for Native people. On the one hand, United States discourses of sexuality, work to selectively recognize Native social forms that align with liberal settler frameworks, and on the other they mark Indigenous difference as a threat to the national order. Therefore Indigenous political subjectivity, defined by affective networks of kinship relations, not only falls outside the scope of settler political reality, but it actively challenges the state's continued legitimacy by insisting on the preexistence of polities external to the state.


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