Possessing Polynesians

The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai`i and Oceania

Possessing Polynesians
Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 19 illustrations Published: November 2019

Author: Arvin, Maile

Critical Ethnic Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Native and Indigenous Studies

From their earliest encounters with indigenous Pacific Islanders, white Europeans and Americans asserted an identification with the racial origins of Polynesians, declaring them to be, racially, almost white and speculating that they were of Mediterranean or Aryan descent. In Possessing Polynesians Maile Arvin analyzes this racializing history within the context of settler colonialism across Polynesia, especially in Hawai‘i. Arvin argues that a logic of possession through whiteness animates settler colonialism, through which both Polynesia (the place) and Polynesians (the people) become exotic, feminized belongings of whiteness. Seeing whiteness as indigenous to Polynesia 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 outstanding book, Maile Arvin brings fresh light and new depth to the scholarship on racial discourse, eugenics, and colonialism through a study of how they operated in Hawai‘i. This intriguing new work brings science studies together with the analysis of visual culture and unites cultural history with contemporary political engagements. She pairs sophisticated readings of colonialist racial discourse with close attention to the political and artistic production of Native Hawaiians who have resisted that discourse. The result is an engaging and important book, and all who are concerned with race, empire, colonialism, and Hawaiian studies will find much to consider in it.” — David A. Chang, author of The World and All the Things upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration

“This engaging, provocative, and insightful book accomplishes that rare feat of taking the reader down a familiar pathway of social science debates around the ‘Polynesian race’ while recasting them through a new lens of gendered and racialized settler colonial logics of possession. Elegantly disentangling the knot of indigeneity, race, and gender in the Pacific, Maile Arvin has produced a clear genealogy of science in the history of Indigenous dispossession.” — Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, coeditor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maile Arvin is Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0633-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0502-5
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