Settler colonialism and migrant letters

Settler colonialism and migrant letters 

A slow publication process (perhaps akin to slow food?) provides an author with opportunity for reflection on what they have written. This has been the case with the publication alluded to in the title of this blog, an article which is concerned with the Forbes family and the letter-writing and has been published in The History of the Family (click to read or download). It’s part of a special issue on migrant letters in relation to history of the family matters and has been available in an ‘online first’ version in advance of the special issue appearing. While looking forward to reading the rest of the contributions, re-reading my own has been both pleasing and also induced some regret about the things I could have included but didn’t, although there were good reasons for this at the point of writing.

I was pleased to have considered one huge collection of family letter-writing as an entirety, and also to have done this in a number of ways, both cross-sectionally and also longitudinally in respect of a range of different family members’ letter-writing over time (and here see the downloadable Liz Stanley 2015 Forbes letters, decade by decade). And in the context of this, I was also pleased to have investigated whether and to what extent various of the Forbes letters can be seen in the rather specific terms that migrant letters have been conceived or whether there are better ways of thinking about them.

So what about the absences that I now, if not lament the absence of, then at least wish there had been space to consider?

The Forbes epistolary and economic exchanges were closely intertwined. They also spanned continents, generations and some very different ways of life, as well as the multiple concerns and involvements – both epistolary and economic – of some members. As well as raising important considerations concerning what to call this unit of analysis (for it is not just family, not just household, not just extended kinship, not just a farm, not just businesses), two other important matters are also raised. One has already been referred to and concerns what is, and what is not, a ‘migrant letter’. The other, connecting both of the other points, is that it also raises issues in pinning down some important categories for the sociological literature on migration and terms such as migrant, settler, sojourner and so on. These imply fixity to experiences of living. But as the thousands of Forbes letters show, in real life these things can be considerably more fluid, wherein what is intended by these terms melds into the others as people live them out  as they move about different parts of the world.  As a consequence, these aren’t states, but instead small elements of a complicated living changing experience. The letters and discussion in the article do in fact allude to this, but only briefly and in passing. It is of course extremely relevant to thinking about to present-day migrations, and thus the small regret on this score.

Last updated: 24 March 2016


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