American Imaginaries and Aboriginality in Early Modern Political Thought

  • Author / Creator
    Martens, Stephanie B.
  • This dissertation proposes an original reading of two important texts in early modern social contract theory: Hobbes’ Leviathan and Locke’s Treatises of Government. It analyzes the references to the Americas made in these texts to show how their illustrative use in depictions of the state of nature is articulating a particular, long-lasting, and highly consequential conception of otherness, one coined “Aboriginality.” Two goals are pursued through this investigation of the role of the Americas in social contract theory. First, it is shown that by applying Michel Foucault’s critical methods to canonical texts, we can uncover new paradoxes and propose new interpretations of “old” texts. Through the analytical lens of “Aboriginality,” social contract theory is not as much the modern affirmation of natural rights as a theoretical funnel, channelling “American imaginaries” into a rigidified conception of the state of nature, initiating what would become our modern understanding of civilization, subjectivity, and citizenship. The historical context, the post-1492 apparition of the “Americas,” literally as a New Continent and figuratively as a new trope in literature and in the European mind, is analyzed as a “social imaginary,” and the impact of the travel literature on philosophical and legal discourse assessed. Particular attention is devoted to the Spanish Scholastics’ view on the “nature of the Indians”—showing how the Americas and its Indigenous inhabitants posed a theoretical and anthropological challenge for Western legal and political theorists of the time. The Scholastic approach can then be contrasted to that of Hobbes and Locke, whose association between state of nature and Indigenous America contributes to the development of modern “civilizational thinking”—this theoretical shift would be fairly harmless if it were not necessarily associated with the exclusion of “Aboriginality,” and with it, of those deemed natural and uncivilized. This interpretation sheds new light on the distinction biopower/sovereign power established by Foucault, stressing the importance of contract theory and of the “juridico-political” discourse in genealogies of the modern subject.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Political Science
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Nichols, Robert (Political Science)
    • Davidson, Judy (Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Carmichael, Don (Political Science)
    • Arneil, Barbara (Political Science, University of British Columbia)