Maile Arvin, "Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai‘i and Oceania" (Duke UP, 2020)


From their earliest encounters with Indigenous Pacific Islanders, white Europeans and Americans saw Polynesians as almost racially white, and speculated that they were of Mediterranean or Aryan descent. In Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai‘i and Oceania (Duke University Press, 2020) Maile Arvin argues that a logic of possession through whiteness animates settler colonialism in which Polynesians become exotic, feminized belongings of whiteness.

This provided white settlers with the justification needed to claim Polynesian lands and resources. Understood as possessions, Polynesians were and continue to be denied the privileges of whiteness. Yet Polynesians have long contested these classifications, claims, and cultural representations, and Arvin shows how their resistance to and refusal of white settler logic have regenerated Indigenous forms of recognition.

In this episode of the podcast Maile talks to host Alex Golub about her book and its implications. She describes what 'possessing Polynesians' entails and how it plays out in anthropology. The discussion then shifts to ways in which Hawaiians are 'possessed' by this racial logic and use it in their own self-understanding and legal and political struggles. Finally, Maile discusses the concept of 'regenerative refusal' and how this strategy is being used by Hawaiians today.

Maile Arvin is an assistant professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and studies historical and contemporary issues of race, indigeneity and science.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is the author of the article "Welcoming the New Amateurs: A future (and past) for non-academic anthropologists" as well as other books and articles.

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Alex Golub

Alex Golub is associate professor of anthropology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

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