By reconsidering how race operates at the intersection of the human-animal divide, this essay looks back on the paths that have been opened by the special section “Nonhuman Empires.” Rather than interrogating the literary entanglement of animality and race, the argument considers the disciplinary and conceptual genealogies that stretch over these two alternative modes of differentiation. Starting with phrenology and comparative anatomy and moving toward anthropology and psychology, Sivasundaram argues that after ca. 1800, race and animality have had overlapping lives. This overlap was productive for Western empires, who were concerned with arbitrating the human in programs of war as much as settlement. The second part of the essay focuses on notions of descent from animals in South Asia with respect to how colonists studied alleged feral children, as much as the placement of accounts of animal descent in nationalist vocabularies. Transgressing and policing the human-nonhuman divide, Sivasundaram contends, was central to the project of empire; exposing empire’s power requires a widening of critical attention so that nonhumans are worthy of serious postcolonial critique.
Research Article|May 01 2015