The Value of Native Bodies: Settler Capitalism and the Logic of Elimination in Oaxaca


ACLS Fellowship Program




This book manuscript engages settler colonial theory, critical race theory, and studies of Indigenous autonomy to explain the development of settler colonialism in Oaxaca, the state with the largest number of autonomous Indigenous pueblos (communities) in Mexico. After the US-Mexico War (1846-1848), the Mexican state entered a new phase of settler colonial statecraft that involved investments in both Native physical elimination (genocide) in the northern borderlands and the development of customary law in places like Oaxaca, where Indigenous populations lived in permanent settlements, were patriarchal, and paid their taxes consistently. Drawing on a broad range of archival materials, it examines the interplay between settler colonial efforts to eliminate Native bodies and the drive to create a capitalist economy that relied on Native dispossession and exploitation. Although mestizaje (racial mixing) has figured prominently in discussions of Indigenous assimilation and the crafting of a Mexican national identity, the project demonstrates that it was the development of customary law as a hybrid legal regime that undergirded and made possible the construction of Mexico as a mestizo settler colonial state.