Maximilian Forte: Research Interests

I am a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I received an Honours B.A., with a double major in Latin...

I am a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I received an Honours B.A., with a double major in Latin American & Caribbean Studies, and Spanish Language, Literature, and Linguistics (including Latin America) at York University, from which I graduated in 1990, summa cum laude. I then decided to move to Trinidad & Tobago, where I enrolled in the post-graduate diploma program at the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. After completing the one year program, I continued into the start of the M.Phil program, which I discontinued after two years. I was in Trinidad from 1990 until 1993. In 1994 I began a M.A. in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where I also continued and developed my interests in world-systems analysis, taking courses in other departments with Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi, and Anthony King. I also completed the first year of the Ph.D program there, but then moved to Australia, where from 1997 through 2001 I completed my Ph.D in Anthropology at the University of Adelaide. I then moved back again to Trinidad & Tobago, where I remained until 2003, and eventually achieved Permanent Resident status, the first step on the way to gaining Trinidadian nationality. In 2003 I took up my first tenure-track position in Anthropology, in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, at what was then called the University College of Cape Breton (the name changed to Cape Breton University in my final months there). In 2005 I accepted an offer for a second tenure-track position, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, where I received tenure and have since been promoted to full Professor. I remain attached to my interdisciplinary background, and most of my research has not fallen neatly within any one discipline. I continue to remain conversant with a great deal of work done by non-anthropologists.

In the past I have also lived in Italy, and spent extended periods in England, as well as French Polynesia. My first language was Italian, which I continue to speak, in addition to later learning Spanish, and I have a reading ability in French. I still consider Trinidad to be my real home, and my friends and in-laws remain there. I am both a Canadian and Italian/EU citizen.


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My current areas of research interest are:

(1) The anthropology of contemporary/recent imperialism. Can there be an anthropology of imperialism, and if so, what would it look like? What is the relationship between anthropology and imperialism, both historically and currently? What challenges does imperialism pose to the constitution of the social sciences as several, specialized disciplines? How does imperialism relate to fundamental matters of “the human condition”? Within this broad stream, I am looking at the contemporary culture and political economy of imperialism, down to everyday life, and in the form of what some have called the “New Victorianism”. This is meant to incorporate and build on my work on the “New Imperialism”. Additional areas of interest focus on globalization, (anti) free-trade, populism, and working-class issues.

With reference to neoliberal capitalism (and its downfall), I am interested in how neoliberalism permeates contemporary North American society down to “everyday life”. Alienation, bleakness, and the revitalization of self-determination, have been of especial concern to me, but what are also important are the practices of everyday life, with my interests ranging from the quest to own a home, mortgages/credit/personal debt, the nature of contemporary suburban and inner-city working-class life, and broader issues of democratization and local control. In connection with the New Imperialism, I have also focused on the role of politically-directed and mass mediated demonization of challengers to the dominant system. In connection with the New Victorianism, I maintain my interest in “humanitarian interventionism” and “protection” as neoliberal and neocolonial principles of abduction, as a globalization of residential schooling and a renewal of the civilizing mission, while advancing the interests of capital.

(2) The history of anthropology. I am particularly interested in the development of Canadian anthropology, and questions of cultural and specifically academic imperialism. This is also part of my broader interest in the political economy of knowledge production, with a focus on academia in Canada. I examine the contemporary North American university as an institution of power, and I am interested in the maintenance of the current institutional form, its management practices, and its discipline(s).

(3) The history of trade between the Canadian maritime provinces and the Caribbean, especially in the triangular trade of the plantation era. In particular, the focus will be on the role of rum, and how rum helped to “make” parts of maritime Canada, with special reference to Cape Breton. This is historical research, which is based on archival and published sources. The broader aims here are to further develop work in the fields of history of the Atlantic World, mercantilism and broader trade issues, globalization, settlement, the working-class in the Canadian Maritimes, the development of regional and national identities in Canada, and a broadening of what is commonly demarcated as “Caribbean history”. I thus expect to spend much more in time in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland over the coming years.

In summary then, my chief concerns are “globalization” (broadly understood) and the development of a Canadian perspective on global and local social problems.

Key words: imperialism, globalization, neoliberalism, cosmopolitanism, nationalism, nativism, revitalization, populism, New Victorianism, New Imperialism, working class, Canada, Maritimes, Caribbean, trade, history.

Past research: an overview

The following is a summary of the the dominant research questions, arguments, and findings at the core of my research and publication over the past decade, organized in the chronological order in which the research was published. What I consider to be my major or most representative publications in each area of my research are listed here as well.

In Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs: (Post) Colonial Representations of Aboriginality in Trinidad and Tobago (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2005), I questioned and challenged conventional social science for depicting the post-conquest cultural development of the Caribbean as one based on the erasure of the Indigenous. My main research questions in that work were:

1. Why does “Carib” still exist as a category and as an available identity in Trinidad?
2. What were, and what are, the conditions that make possible the reproduction of Carib as an identity and as a historical canon?
3. What value does Caribness hold, and to whom, when, and why?

One of the main purposes of writing that book was to bring attention to a field of Caribbean studies that had been severely neglected, that is, contemporary indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. In addition, another intention was to redress certain gaps in anthropological research on indigenous peoples by focusing on the political and economic processes that can serve to constitute and define what is indigenous, and I did so by locating the indigenous within wider global and historical contexts, and of course by examining largely ignored resurgent groups in a region that was long presumed to be lacking precisely such an indigenous presence. Within Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs, my research and writing also went into several related directions, involving a focus, for example, on: tradition, memory, and history; labels and the politics of representation; the role of state institutions and government acts in fostering a national identity that frames indigeneity; the role of the mass media and internet in bringing attention to, and circumscribing contemporary indigenous identities; and, the impact of globalization. In that work, I also began to develop what I called “the political economy of tradition” (with more published later in “The Political Economy of Tradition: Sponsoring and Incorporating the Caribs of Trinidad and Tobago,” Research in Economic Anthropology, 2006, 24, 329-358). The two main elements of this political economy of tradition were (1) the politics and economics of associating certain values with particular cultural representations pertaining to individuals marked as members of specific peoples; and (2) legislated recognition and rewards for groups engaged in often competitive and even conflicting cultural display. Also from within Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs, I began to do more work in the areas of globalization and cosmopolitanism. I first began by looking at how the Caribs of Trinidad reworked, reinterpreted, and represented their indigeneity both in and through a globalized network or organized representations of indigeneity (or aboriginality). I brought attention to the legitimating and value-adding impacts of the Caribs’ transnational connections, within the Trinidadian social context. I also examined the development of new ritual performances that embodied and enacted the Caribs transformation into internationally visible “First Nations”.

Given that a large part of my research on the Caribs in Trinidad was historical in addition to ethnographic, and involved over a year’s work in archives, I mounted a substantial analytical and empirical critique of received social science scholarship and previous colonial narratives that had dominated for centuries and stressed the extinction of Indigenous Peoples across the Caribbean, and even in Trinidad which is mere miles from the South American mainland. This research found expression in numerous forms, one of the first being a research paper produced for my Carib hosts, “How the Amerindians of Arima Lost Their Lands: Notes from Primary and Other Historical Sources, 1802-1880,” submitted in 2003. In addition, a pair of seminar papers, later published as proceedings and eventually placed online, were produced for two successive symposia on History in the Atlantic World at Harvard University: “Writing the Caribs Out: The Construction and Demystification of the ‘Deserted Island’ Thesis for Trinidad” (2004) and “Extinction: The Historical Trope of Anti-Indigeneity in the Caribbean” (2005). Related research was presented as, “The Carib Presence: Post-Colonial Re-encounters with Trinidad’s Indigenous Peoples,” at the American Society for Ethnohistory in 2004. Arguably the strongest piece of work to come out of this branch of my research was: “Extinction: Ideologies Against Indigeneity in the Caribbean” (The Southern Quarterly, 2006, 43(4), Summer, 46-69), which offered a systematic and detailed rebuttal of the discourses, narratives, and empirical data that had been advanced in support of extinctionist theses developed over centuries in the Caribbean and outside the region. My ethnohistoric research on the Caribs of Trinidad and the wider Caribbean region led to the invited publication of three encyclopedia entries on this subject as well as the field of Caribbean postcolonialism, each published in 2011 by ABC-CLIO: “Carib Slavery—Spanish Colonial Control over Caribbean Labor” in World History Encyclopedia, Era 6: The First Global Age, 1450–1770, “The Caribbean and Postcolonialism” in World History Encyclopedia, Era 9: Promises and Paradoxes, 1945-Present, and “Indigenous People of the Caribbean since 1945” in World History Encyclopedia, Era 9: Promises and Paradoxes, 1945-Present. Regionalizing research on Caribbean indigeneity was at the heart of my edited volume, Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean: Amerindian Survival and Revival (New York, NY: Peter Lang USA, 2006). The arguments presented in the volume hinged on an understanding that acknowledgment of the presence of the indigenous in Caribbean societies significantly challenges our understandings of the cultural complexity of the modern Caribbean. In addition, we revealed how some of the same political and economic processes that had the effect of marginalizing contemporary Indigenous Peoples could sometimes provoke if not enable their reproduction as indigenous entities. Until then, a volume dedicated to the contemporary Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean simply did not exist, and has yet to be rivaled.

In one of my chapters in Indigenous Resurgence (above) titled, “‘In This Place Where I Was Chief’: History and Ritual in the Maintenance and Retrieval of Traditions in the Santa Rosa Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad,” I asked the following questions:

1. To what extent do the Caribs of Trinidad speak of “survival”?
2. What do they mean by “revival,” does it differ from “survival”?
3. Is there a Carib perspective on tradition and history?

One of the main highlights in that chapter, pertaining to the concept of tradition, was a sequence of explanations of Carib concepts of cultural resurgence, ranging from survival to revival, maintenance, retrieval, reclamation, and interchange. In another of my chapters in that volume, “Searching for a Centre in the Digital Ether: Notes on the Indigenous Caribbean Resurgence on the Internet,” I joined the still nascent field of “cyber ethnography,” which I would later teach as a course, and which took my work into yet another direction. In that chapter I first outlined how select individuals were using the internet to document, verify, or give voice to their self-identification as Indigenous, to make themselves more visible, and in some cases going in search of a sense of “community”. Secondly, I examined how the internet served as another “membrane” for collecting stories and images of one’s tribe, transmitting them directly to others, and thus aiding in the reproduction of indigeneity by long-distance means, especially important for individuals separated from their places of birth due to out migration. Thirdly, I explored how the internet aided in the development of a transnational indigenous movement and how certain symbols, motifs, and narratives of indigeneity were not only shared, but shared unequally, so that certain representations of indigeneity dominated over others. In other sections of the chapter, I also tied the research to a body of existing literature on community and interaction in cyberspace, while connecting the work to my own online practice in developing the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink. Looking at both the constraining and enabling, creative and restrictive features of indigeneity practiced in cyberspace, as well as the representation of anthropological research and advocacy in cyberspace, and the ethical questions raised, my research resulted in further invited publications, such as “Amerindian@Caribbean: The Modes and Meanings of ‘Electronic Solidarity’ in the Revival of Carib and Taino Identities,” In Kyra Marie Landzelius’ unique volume, Native on the Net: Indigenous and Diasporic Peoples in the Virtual Age (Routledge, 2006); “Centering the Links: Understanding Cybernetic Patterns of Co-production, Circulation and Consumption,” in Christine Hine’s volume, Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet (Berg, 2005); and, “Co-Construction and Field Creation: Website Development as both an Instrument and Relationship in Action Research,” in Elizabeth Buchanan’s volume, Virtual Research Ethics: Issues and Controversies (Idea Group, 2004). There was also a related encyclopedia entry that I produced, “Website Development as Both an Instrument and Relationship in Action Research,” in The Encyclopedia of Developing Regional Communities with Information and Communication Technology (2005). The globalization/transnationalism line of research took a turn into the related area of cosmopolitanism and transculturation in my edited volume, Indigenous Cosmopolitans: Transnational and Transcultural Indigeneity in the Twenty-First Century (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010). I was motivated in part by a concern that any attempt to forge an opposition between indigeneity/indigenism and cosmopolitanism would be an effort contrived without basis in the historical, social, and cultural realities at the root of Indigenous ways of seeing and being in the world. However, I also recognized that this debate was not so much one that stemmed from Indigenous actors themselves, as much as it was a debate internal to anthropology, with consequences for how anthropologists seek to represent the worlds about which we claim to possess important comparative knowledge. The attempt here was to bring forth non-Eurocentric perspectives on cosmopolitanism in contrast with much of what constitutes received thinking on cosmopolitanism. Along with the contributors, I argued that Indigenous forms of cosmopolitanism not only unfold in the present, but they also predate formal European conceptualizations of what it means to be cosmopolitan. The dual understanding advanced here was that of Indigenous Peoples as both rooted yet also reproducing their ways of living and ways of thinking through various routes of transnational and transcultural experience. Four principal questions were explicitly raised in this research project:

1. What happens to Indigenous culture and identity when being in the “original place” is no longer possible?
2. Does displacement, in moving beyondone’s original place, mean that indigeneity diminishes or vanishes?
3. How are being and becoming Indigenous experienced and practiced along diverse transnational/translocal pathways?
4. How are new philosophies and politics of Indigenous identification constructed in new, translocal settings?

In one of my chapters in that volume, “A Carib Canoe, Circling in the Culture of the Open Sea: Submarine Currents Connecting Multiple Indigenous Shores,” I discussed cosmopolitanism as both rooted in and routed through specific settings, so that the “people of the sea” became more than just a metaphor but rather it indicated a context of local and regional cosmopolitan practice that extends centuries back in time and circulates around an actual sea. The project above hinted at the problems of trying to confine and categorize indigeneity, problems that were more directly confronted in another body of work that began to develop at roughly the same time. Here I am speaking of my work in three chapters of my edited volume, Who Is An Indian? Race, Place, and the Politics of Indigeneity in the Americas (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2013). The purpose of that project was to compare and theorize contemporary policies, ideologies, and technologies for regulating, certifying, and administering Indigenous identifications, and the alternatives for indigeneity beyond biologized determinants. There were three main aims, presented here in ascending order of importance. The first involved recognition of the need to move beyond the telling of local stories of calculations of indigenous identity, toward a more comprehensive analytical methodology embracing the Americas, thereby promising fertile ground for conceptualizations of what are often striking similarities coupled with theoretically fruitful analysis of differences. Thus one aim was to produce a transnational way of talking about race and indigeneity in the Americas. The second aim was the theoretical development of a unified, Americas-wide, problematic which can be termed the bio-politics of indigeneity, focused on race (phenotype), blood, and DNA analysis. The third aim involved theorizing the current practices and future possibilities of indigeneity beyond the restrictions of bodily markers. Rather than simply answer the question, “Who is an Indian?” I went about explaining why historically this has been both an influential question, and yet a terribly flawed one. Such a question implied power, history, taxonomy, ontology, positionality, and science—each of which were scrutinized in this volume, with remarkable findings of commonalities across the Americas. Specific research questions addressed in this project were the following:

1. Is the “real Indian” a construct that appears across the Americas, and if so, does it take different forms?
2. Do racial characterizations of Indigenous identity, especially in terms of phenotypical appearance, prevail in places where “Indigenous” has (not) been defined in state law?
3. Are there diverse conceptualizations of “race,” both in the dominant societies and among Indigenous persons, and how do these confront each other?
4. Is the concern with mapping identities a by-product of the resurgence Indigenous identification?
5. What issues of power and citizenship are tied up with ways of narrating Indigenous identity in terms of the body?
6. What are the historical contexts and political and economic frameworks that work to secure, reproduce, or transform these modes of identifying the Indigenous?
7. What options are there for new ways of being/becoming Indigenous under current regimes of certification, classification, and surveillance?
8. In the absence of a strong basis in visible racialized difference, how do some Indigenous persons go about articulating their own identities?
9. How are collective and individual claims to Indigenous identity similar and different?
10. How does the definition of Indigenous identity change when it is communicated to different audiences?

In one of my chapters for this volume, “Carib Identity, Racial Politics, and the Problem of Indigenous Recognition in Trinidad and Tobago,” the contents followed three basic lines of argument. First, that the political economy of the British colony dictated and cemented racializations of identity. Second, the process of ascribing Indigenous identities to individuals was governed by the economic rights attached to residents of missions, rights which were cut off from any miscegenated offspring. There were thus political and economic interests vested in the non-recognition of Caribs, and race provided the most convenient justification— a justification that took the form of a narrative of extinction. Third, over a century later, while racial notions of identity persist, current Carib self-identifications stress indigeneity as a cultural heritage, an attachment to place, a body of practices, and recognition of ancestral ties that often circumvent explicitly racial schemes of self-definition. State recognition of the Caribs occurs within this historical and cultural context, and therefore imposes limits and conditions that simultaneously create new forms of non-recognition. In another of my chapters in the same volume, “Seeing Beyond the State and Thinking beyond the State of Sight,” I outlined the four main axes by which social scientists, policy-makers, administrators, journalists, and (Indigenous) activists among others, have organized their political classifications or representations of Indigenous identities. I explained and summarized these as: anti-Indigenous anti-essentialism; anti-Indigenous essentialism; pro-Indigenous essentialism; and, pro-Indigenous anti-essentialism.

This last volume basically brought to a close (for the foreseeable future) of my series of book, chapter, and article publications on Caribbean indigeneity.

Given my accumulated research pertaining to broad issues involving colonialism, imperialism, warfare, and ethnography, from late 2007 my attention began to focus on recent developments concerning attempts to recruit social scientists, and especially anthropologists, in military-run counterinsurgency programs, the increased presence of military-funded research, and state intelligence agencies’ recruitment of academics in the UK and then Canada. This field of research entails numerous implications for research ethics, the reputation and safety of anthropologists, and the decolonization of social science. My engagement in this area found numerous expressions, ranging from the invited publication of my entry, “Ethnography” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed.; three conference presentations (“(Re)Imperializing Anthropology and Decolonizing Knowledge Production,” 2008; “‘Useless Anthropology’: Strategies for Dealing with the Militarization of the Academy,” 2009; and, “The Anthropology of Militarism/The Militarization of Anthropology,” 2011), one invited presentation, “The Anthropologist in Mined Fields,” at the Department of Anthropology, Université de Montréal, 2009; and three articles/chapters: “The Human Terrain System and Anthropology: A Review of Ongoing Public Debates,” published in the American Anthropologist (113[1], March, 2011, 149-153); “Anthropology against Empire: Demilitarizing the Discipline in North America,” published in Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad (2013), and an encyclopedia entry, “The Human Terrain System and Anthropological Critiques of the Uses of Cultural Knowledge in Counterinsurgency” in International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed. With reference to the Human Terrain System and the recruitment of anthropologists in counterinsurgency and other forms of military-directed research at the service of the national security state, I also published over 330 essays and short pieces on the websites of Zero Anthropology as well as Anthropologists for Justice and Peace.

In relation to the research efforts and public engagement above, in 2010 I founded Anthropologists for Justice and Peace, which later disbanded in 2013. This initially emerged out of conference roundtables that I organized at meetings of the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA), and publishing in CASCA’s newsletter: “Militarizing Anthropology, Researching for Empire, and the Implications for Canada” (Culture, 2[2], Fall, 2008, 6-10). As classified documents published by WikiLeaks became an important source of information in my “studying up” the Human Terrain System and related programs, my work branched off into analysis of issues of secrecy and the national security state. One of my first publications in this area was إعادة اختراع الويكيليكس المستمرة الإعلام والسلطة وتبديل شكل الاحتجاج ماﺁسيمليان فورت (“The Ongoing Reinvention of Wikileaks: Media, Power, and Shifting the Shape of Dissent”) in, WikiLeaks, Media and Politics: Between the Virtual and the Real (Beirut: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2012). “On Secrecy, Power, and the State: A Dialogue between WikiLeaks and Anthropology” was published in Force Multipliers (Alert Press, 2015). Work related to the latter chapter was also presented at the 2011 conference of the American Anthropological Association in a paper titled, “WikiLeaks and Anthropology: Secrecy, Power, and the State”. I also served as a discussant in another session at the same conference, on “Anthropologies of the Covert: From Spying and being Spied upon to Secret Military Ops and the CIA”. A much shorter commentary on secrecy and state power was invited by the World Policy Journal in 2013 and published as “Secret from Whom?”.

A significant development in my research began to take shape as early as 2009 and most definitely by the start of 2011, involving a critical historical, theoretical and documentary examination of the logic, the narratives, the methods, and the outcomes of militarized humanitarian interventions, sometimes under the heading of the “responsibility to protect”. In some important ways this represented a transformation and yet a continuation of the work that preceded this phase of my research. First, militarization and militarism needed to be contextualized and not treated as sui generis phenomena—I identified the context and proximate cause as being the fortification of state power and, in the western context, imperial dominance. Second, I recognized that this was a development in imperial rationales and techniques that emphasized humanitarianism, empathy, and winning hearts and minds, with determined efforts to appeal to public opinion by way of the media. In one key respect–the “humane” element–this work flowed very easily from my research on the use of social scientists in counterinsurgency and the stated justifications for their use. Third, this work tied into my past research on colonial civilizing missions conducted by European conquerors and settlers among Indigenous Peoples, in the Caribbean and elsewhere, which also brought me back to imperialism and the occasional employment of non-state bodies (such as church missions) to confine and resocialize captive Indigenous populations. The most significant outcome of this phase of my research was my book, Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012).

Continuing from this work, I began to fuse several lines of my past and current research by looking at “humanitarian intervention” as imperial abduction, and specifically as a globalization of a basic discursive and strategic template derived from residential schooling in Canada, and its counterparts in Australia and the US. This latter phase of my research found expression in two well-circulated, though self-published chapters in my edited volume, Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism (Montreal: Alert Press, 2014). Some of these lines of analysis can also be found in my encyclopedia chapter, “Imperialism and NATO’s War in Libya,” in the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism.

Finally, an auxiliary component of this research involved refocusing on the relationships between imperialism and anthropology, which joins significant new literature published in the area of sociology and empire. On the one hand, the “anthropology of imperialism” still barely exists as a discernible field of inquiry in North American and European anthropology, meaning that there is great room for further development. On the other hand, imperialism is too important to be left to any one discipline. Therefore much of my work focused on approaches that transcend disciplinary boundaries and that are open to any and all fields of knowledge production that can be useful in addressing certain fundamental research questions. Expressing a renewed critique of the colonial origins, current imperial collaborations, and the dilemmas of disciplinary and top-down research approaches, was my essay, “Anthropology: The Empire on which the Sun Never Sets” (Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, 24(2), 2014, 197-218). In addition, I have published several dozen essays in this area on Zero Anthropology.

About Maximilian Forte

Anthropologist focusing on imperialism, neoliberalism, militarization, "humanitarian intervention," decolonization, Indigenous movements, and other topics in Political Anthropology. In addition, he teaches courses on visual anthropology, media ethnographies, and cultural imperialism. He is a full Professor in the Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. Please direct comments and inquiries to