Living to Die, Living as the Dead: On Labor Power and Race in Hokkaido’s Settler Colonialism



My talk advances consideration of the relations between the settler-colonial logic of elimination and the capitalist logic of exploitation through the prism of racism. The settler-colonial studies paradigm has convincingly established that its distinct mode of domination is the structure of elimination, not exploitation, and racism plays a decisive role in this eliminatory politics. But it rarely explores the way in which racism not only mediates but also shapes the relations between elimination and exploitation in the formation of capitalist society. This talk is an attempt to address this under-theorized terrain by taking the Ainu – indigenous people of present-day Hokkaidō, Sakhalin, and Kuril Islands – and their systematic dispossession by Meiji-era imperial Japan as a focal point of analysis.


Katsuya Hirano teaches history at UCLA. He is the author of The Politics of Dialogic Imagination: Power and Popular Culture in Early Modern Japan (U of Chicago Press). He has published numerous articles and book chapters on cultural and intellectual history of Japan, Fukushima nuclear disaster, settler colonialism, and critical theory, including “Thanatopolitics in the Making of Japan’s Hokkaido: Settler Colonialism and Primitive Accumulation” (Critical Historical Studies). His current book project examines the relation between racism and capitalism in the making of the imperial Japanese nation with a focus on the settler-colonization of the lands that once belonged to the indigenous Ainu.