On the Edge of Empire: Agency and Imperialist Practices in the U.S. Territory of American Samoa

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American Samoa’s peculiar status as unincorporated, unorganized territory of a formal American empire creates tensions between conditions of protection and subjugation of American Samoans, which have motivated Samoan agency in ways that both undermine and uphold the imperial status quo between the federal government who holds plenary power over the territory and the Samoan people. Agency in face of legal, political, and cultural disenfranchisement within the American empire is the main focal point of this thesis, as it addresses the research question: how have American Samoans exercised agency distinct from the dominant power within the American imperial state, and what have been the effects of the way they exercised that agency? My analysis of three key aspects of the American empire—territory, exceptionalism, and cultural violence—shows how the agency of Samoans has been driven to the interstices of power and can be located in practices of everyday life. I show how agency, which is by nature heterogeneous and multidirectional, has operated as a double-edged sword, particularly in practices of daily life, as it both undermines the hegemonic power and keeps in place the unequal status quo. Exposing the (unintended) consequences of the way Samoans have exercised agency is integral to efforts for transformative political, legal, and social change within the American imperial state.
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