Project Website: Deathscapes (2016-19)

Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States

Project Team: Professor Marianne Franklin (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK), Professor Jonathan X. Inda (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA), Professor Suvendrini Perera (Curtin University, Australia), and Professor Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University, Australia)

Project Manager: Dr Dean Chan

Project Overview

Understood within the framework of the settler colonialism, the states of Australia, Canada and the US are revealed as themselves agents of trafficking rather than helpless bystanders or enlightened enforcers of international law. Kwakwaka’wakw scholar Sarah Hunt invokes this logic when she asks, “If human trafficking is about forced movement, exploitation, and the misuse of power in controlling the bodies of marginalised people, who has control over the movement, labour and bodies of Indigenous girls and women in Canada?” The settler state’s “misuse of power in controlling the bodies of marginalised people” at the same time offers a framework for understanding the Australian government’s contemporary practices of forcibly moving refugee and asylum seeker children and families to offshore island prisons.

Attending to strategies of sovereign territoriality thus makes it possible to connect forms of violence directed against refugees and Indigenous groups in new ways, for example by tracking interrelations of historical and current practices of displacement and enforced mass movement, of transportation and deportation. Even as the project marks the historical differences that distinguish practices of displacement and enforced mass movement, it also traces the lines of connection that interlink these same practices.


[T]he iconographies of the Middle Passage find their return in today’s desperate and brutalizing voyages from African coasts. The separation of children from their parents in residential schools in Canada and missions in Australia find their echoes in the current US policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border; in the context of the latter, African American scholar Jelani Cobb reminded us in 2017 that “the separation of families has deep roots in the American past” and the separation and sale of children “was such a common feature of slavery”.

The relationality and connectivity between and across these histories and practices are key to the design of the Deathscapes website. The site documents selected case studies of where deaths and violations happen, as well as providing the social and critical tools to examine how these deaths are understood and responded to.

As a resource that is both archival and analytical, and for use by multiple publics, the website is aimed at addressing a challenge often faced by researchers studying shared circuits of knowledge and modes of governance: the difficulty of accessing information about state violence through a central resource. The transnational focus and methodology adopted by the Deathscapes project invites website visitors to identify key continuities that inscribe racialized deathscapes across diverse locations, and to connect the differential dimensions that might appear to be confined to an individual nation-state, beyond and across the individual stories.

For further reading, see:

Dean Chan, Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese, “‘Same story, different soil’: The Deathscapes project gets underway”, openDemocracy (2018, 4 November).

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Edited Journal Special Issue: Reimagining Australia (Coolabah, 2018)

Reimagining Australia, Special Double Issue, Coolabah, 24 & 25, 2018 

Guest Editors: Baden Offord, Thor Kerr, Rob Garbutt, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Elfie Shiosaki, Misty Farquhar and Dean Chan

This special double issue of Coolabah was developed from selected presentations at Reimagining Australia: Encounter, Recognition, Responsibility, the International Australian Studies Association (InASA) Conference 2016, hosted by the Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University, and held in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 7-9 December. This double issue addresses the urgent need for Australia to be reimagined as inclusive, conscious of its landscape and contexts, locale, history, myths and memory, amnesia, politics, cultures and futures; reimagined via intense conversations and inter-epistemic dialogue; reimagined through different ways of knowing, belonging and doing.

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