Colonial Ecological Violence in the San Francisco Empire

Zeke Baker, Sonoma State University

This paper presents analysis from an ongoing project regarding the networked nature of colonial exploitation in the Bering Sea region of Alaska and the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The account in this paper focuses on the period from the 1860s until 1900 to trace the formation and activities of the Alaska Commercial Company. Drawing from ongoing archival research and fieldwork, this paper situates the Alaska Commercial Company as institutionally representative of San Francisco as an empire. As such, the Company participated in making legible, subduing, exploiting, and centralizing the resources of it's hinterlands in primary service of a political and economic elite. The paper contributes to the historical sociology of colonization and empire by emphasizing the relationship between colonial subjugation of people and of non-human nature. In this case, the focus is on parallel subjugation of Native Alaskan and Native American peoples, along with commercially lucrative seals and other resources, that permitted and advanced the accumulation of capital in California. Colonial ecological violence in this case, and more broadly, operates through a logic of expendability, whereby people and resources are on the one hand incorporated into exploitative relationships to serve economic and political ends, but on the other hand discursively erased and presumed to disappear. The paper calls for historical investigations into expendability in these terms as a means to more deeply understand the colonization process, while also contributing to literature in critical environmental justice studies that analyzes the 'expendability' problem in contemporary social and political-ecological circumstances.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 168. Colonialism and Empire