Unset­tling the Com­mons: So­cial Move­ments Within, Against, and Be­yond Set­tler Colo­nial­ism

Craig Fortier, 125 pgs, ARP Books, arp­books.org, $14.95

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

In keep­ing with pre­vi­ous en­tries to ARP Books’ Semaphor Series, Craig Fortier’s new­est pub­li­ca­tion is more of a po­si­tion-piece or ex­tended es­say on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Western “com­mons” tra­di­tion and its coun­ter­part in many In­dige­nous North Amer­i­can ways of see­ing. Hav­ing con­ducted 51 in­ter­views in 2013 and 2014, Fortier uses many ac­tivist voices to call into ques­tion the set­tler ac­tivist’s call to “re­claim” the land. Western so­cial jus­tice move­ments of all stripes have had long, com­pli­cated, and of­ten hos­tile re­la­tion­ships with In­dige­nous sovereignty strug­gles, and Fortier’s text aims to re-cen­tre so­cial jus­tice at large around a re­la­tion­ship with de­col­o­niza­tion and In­dige­nous lead­er­ship. “The fo­cus should be on move­ments that leave open pos­si­bil­i­ties for in­ter­con­nec­tions,” he para­phrases Cleve Hig­gins, “be­tween pri­son abo­li­tion, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ism, gen­der lib­er­a­tion, dis­abil­ity jus­tice, mi­grant jus­tice, and a num­ber of other strug­gles, all of which should ac­knowl­edge the cen­tral­ity of In­dige­nous de­col­o­niza­tion.”

Even this brief sum­mary, though, starts to iden­tify some of Unset­tling the Com­mons’s short­com­ings. Clock­ing in at 108 small pages sans-ci­ta­tions, the main thrust of Fortier’s ar­gu­ment re­ally bites off more than it can chew. Is it enough to sim­ply men­tion pri­son abo­li­tion, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ism, gen­der lib­er­a­tion, dis­abil­ity jus­tice, and mi­grant jus­tice strug­gles off­hand, and to sim­ply con­clude — with­out de­vel­op­ment of these is­sues and their re­la­tion­ship to col­o­niza­tion — that all should ac­knowl­edge the cen­tral­ity of de­col­o­niza­tion? I ap­pre­ci­ate the power of Fortier’s re­search and rhetoric, but strug­gle to see how this style of ar­gu­ment can’t be turned on its head, so the de­col­o­niza­tion ac­tivist is then asked to rec­og­nize the cen­tral­ity of the pri­son lib­er­a­tion, etc., strug­gle. Fortier, so well-aware of the dis­as­trous ef­fects of so­cial jus­tice in-fight­ing seems to have been forced by lim­ited space into dis­mis­sive ma­neu­vers that might en­cour­age it. An ex­cel­lent, well-re­searched ar­gu­ment — but I worry it is some­times un­sym­pa­thetic to its au­di­ence. (Joel W. Vaughan)

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