van der Elsen, Melanie (2019):
"The Paradox of Liminality: American Samoa’s Attenuated Sovereignty in the Twenty-First-Century American Empire." Eds. Er, Öykü Dilara; Gerlach, Laura; Hussey, Ben; Navin, Margaret; Puccio, Daniele; Schubert, Stefan; Spieler, Sophie; Vogelsberg, Anne; Vossen, Hannah. aspeers 12: 37-56.
Journal Article

American Samoa, an unincorporated, unorganized US insular territory in the Pacific, is faced with a ‘paradox of liminality.’ On the one hand, the US unincorporation doctrine denies American Samoans basic rights, such as the right to vote in federal elections, fair representation in government, and American citizenship, in effect subjecting them to what Lea Ypi regards as the primary wrong of colonialism: the refusal of “equality and reciprocity in decision making.” On the other hand, American Samoa’s liminal status as unincorporated, unorganized territory protects indigenous Samoan culture (Fa‘a Sāmoa) and the traditional system of governance (Fa‘amatai) in ways that full legal integration would not. This paradox of liminality creates clear tensions between conditions of subjugation and protection. How do the argument of moral wrongs and the protection of indigenous culture relate to one another? This paper addresses this complexity by tracing the discursive practices and historical roots that comprise the foundation for US rule over American Samoa. By analyzing American Samoa’s idiosyncrasies, this paper shows how its peculiar status problematizes decolonization processes informed by either/or thinking. Ultimately, I call for a rethinking of the process and progress of the dissolution of American empire by encouraging both/and approaches.