In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Settler Colonialism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Postcolonialism
  • Global Indigenous Perspectives

Literary and Critical Theory Settler Colonialism
Alicia Cox
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0029


Settler colonialism is an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures. Essentially hegemonic in scope, settler colonialism normalizes the continuous settler occupation, exploiting lands and resources to which indigenous peoples have genealogical relationships. Settler colonialism includes interlocking forms of oppression, including racism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. This is because settler colonizers are Eurocentric and assume that European values with respect to ethnic, and therefore moral, superiority are inevitable and natural. However, these intersecting dimensions of settler colonialism coalesce around the dispossession of indigenous peoples’ lands, resources, and cultures. The evolving field of settler colonialism studies arose from scholarship in Native American and indigenous studies that engages with postcolonial studies and critiques the post- in “postcolonial” as inappropriate for understanding ongoing systems of domination in such places as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, where colonialism is not a thing of the past because the settlers have come to stay, displacing the indigenous peoples and perpetuating systems that continue to erase native lives, cultures, and histories. Foundational theories in settler colonialism studies distinguish settler colonialism from classical colonialism through work that demonstrates that settler colonizers destroy indigenous peoples and cultures in order to replace them and establish themselves as the new rightful inhabitants. In other words, settler colonizers do not merely exploit indigenous peoples and lands for labor and economic interests; they displace them through settlements. In his groundbreaking theory of the “logic of elimination,” Patrick Wolfe shows that settler colonialism is a system, not a historical event, and that as such it perpetuates the erasure of native peoples as a precondition for settler expropriation of lands and resources, providing the necessary conditions for establishing the present-day ideology of multicultural neoliberalism.

General Overviews

Wolfe 1998, Wolfe 2006, and Veracini 2011 distinguish settler colonialism studies as an academic field by defining settler colonialism’s differences from classical colonialism. Veracini 2010 fills a gap in national and imperial historiographies by addressing the global and transnational nature of settler colonialism. Wolfe 2006 articulates the organizing “logic of elimination” that structures settler colonialism as a perpetual system of indigenous erasure rather than a historical event.

  • Veracini, Lorenzo. Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230299191

    Suggests that interpretative categories developed in colonial and postcolonial studies are inadequate for appraising settler colonialism. Argues that “settler colonialism should be seen as structurally distinct from both” colonialism and migration because although “the permanent movement and reproduction of communities and the dominance of an exogenous agency over an indigenous one are necessarily involved . . . not all migrations are settler migrations and not all colonialisms are settler colonial” (p. 3).

  • Veracini, Lorenzo. “Introducing Settler Colonial Studies.” In Special Issue: A Global Phenomenon. Settler Colonial Studies 1.1 (2011): 1–12.

    DOI: 10.1080/2201473X.2011.10648799

    A key text in the formation of settler colonialism studies as a field. Distinguishes settler colonialism from classical colonialism. Asserts that “[c]olonisers and settler colonisers want essentially different things” (p. 1). Whereas colonizers use a logic of commodification to demand that indigenous peoples “work for” them, settler colonizers use a logic of evacuation to demand that indigenous peoples “go away,” clearing the land for agriculture and resource extraction by imported laborers.

  • Wolfe, Patrick. Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. Writing Past Colonialism. London: Cassell, 1998.

    Seminal work of settler colonialism studies.

  • Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8.4 (2006): 387–409.

    DOI: 10.1080/14623520601056240

    Articulates influential theory of the “logic of elimination,” which constitutes settler colonialism as an ongoing structure of power that systematically erases indigenous peoples from the land (through genocide, assimilation, and other means) and replaces them with settlers from around the world. Distinguishes the nuances of and interrelationships between settler colonialism and genocide.

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