Reconsidering Theory: Power, the Learning Body, and Cultural Change during Early American Colonization

in Journal of Early American History
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Abstract

This essay participates in recent calls for more direct engagement with theory in research and teaching within History and Early American Studies. Over the last decade voices have gathered for a reconsideration of fundamental theoretical concepts in the historiography of culture. This essay reconsiders theory on semiotics, learning, and the body to reopen a conceptual problem in early American cultural historiography: the relationships between organized power and individual agency. I suggest an approach to power and agency specifically tuned to the conditions of early America colonization, which was more intimate and diverse while possessing fewer institutions and less communications-saturation than a focus on myth, ideology, or discursive formations might assume. Reconsidering semiotics as embodied allows a conception of the body as a learning entity creatively mediating discourses and social constructions and thereby generating new historical identities and relations of power. The argument draws on studies on gender/sexuality, Native Americans, and the enslaved and takes cues from the work of Gyatri Spivak, Ann Laura Stoler, Michel Foucault, Lev Vygotsky, and Charles Sanders Peirce.

Reconsidering Theory: Power, the Learning Body, and Cultural Change during Early American Colonization

in Journal of Early American History

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