Bonnie Cherry

Queering Sovereignty: Conflict and Human Rights in the Tohono O’Odham Nation

This project seeks to study how and if the Tohono O’Odham Nation (a sovereign tribal nation bifurcated by the US Mexico border and the site of increased irregular migration due to border militarization) can maintain political and cultural sovereignty in the face of the dynamics of violence, capitalist markets, US border imperialism, and the humanitarian asylum crisis which resulted from the confluence of these forces. It will also address racial profiling in Border Patrol activity, and what Jasbir Puar calls persecution of and violence against “terrorist look-alike bodies”: the conflation by the state of indigenous, migrant, and “Middle Eastern” subjects. This project will apply the work of both Foucault and Agamben to the concept of borders and border security as productive performance as well as the more mundane ways in which refugee and migrant bodies are counted, controlled, and utilized in the production of a normalization of exclusion and detention as a response to a perceived threat. The critical feminist theory of Jacqui Alexander, Inderpal Grewal, Judith Butler, Leti Volpp, Andi Smith, and Maria Lugones will also be used to develop the concept of subjectivity as well as the coloniality of power which is inextricably embedded in the construction of race, gender, and self-determination as it applies to the indigenous subject: something neither Foucault nor Agamben quite get around to doing in their work.

I will employ an interdisciplinary feminist research methodology in approaching this project. This methodology is crucial because it not only calls into question relations of power between the researcher and the “subject of knowledge”, but also between nongovernmental organizations, governmental/security organizations, Tohono O’Odham tribal members and US citizens, and the undocumented asylee/migrant. Because the focus of this project is primarily institutions and juridical tools used by those institutions to regulate the movement of subjects, I will focus my interviews and fieldwork primarily on representatives of those institutions as well as nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations which seek to promote human rights and security but often come into conflict with one another. Finally, a feminist, non state-centric approach to critical security studies will help me to fully interrogate the “third space of sovereignty” so important to this project: the space where indigenous and refugee subjects both subvert and depend upon regimes of governmentality in order to survive.