“No Farther West”: the Mobilization of Collective Ethnic Violence against Indigenous Peoples in California, ca. 1850-1865
- Author(s): Owens, Peter Brouhard
- Advisor(s): Snow, David A
- et al.
This dissertation uses theories of ethno-racial competition, boundary work, and collective action to explain the variable mobilization of collective ethnic violence against indigenous peoples in early American California, ca. 1850-1865. To do so, the dissertation proceeds through three chapters. The first chapter, “American Settler Colonialism, Racial Formation, and Competition Theory,” provides a theoretical framework that supports the empirical inquiries in the subsequent two chapters. To develop this framework, I draw from the American settler colonialism, collective action, ethnic competition, and mass violence and atrocities literatures to suggest new directions for the study of settler-colonial (i.e. inter-polity) intergroup competition and conflict. The second chapter provides a regional analysis of the dynamics of collective ethnic violence against indigenous peoples in central and northern California, ca. 1850-1865. This chapter focuses on the role of frame disputes as a mediating mechanism in intergroup conflicts. The central theoretical claim, which finds strong support, is that frame disputes among settlers in different California regions influenced the dynamics of collective violence by attributing different levels of collective out-group “threats” to proximate indigenous groups. As in contemporary cases, this ethno-racial polarization and subsequent violence was produced by the explicit attempts of local political actors to durably politicize ethno-racial group membership. The third empirical chapter looks more closely at the mechanisms supporting varying annual levels of collective ethnic violence against indigenous peoples in the Humboldt Bay region of California, ca. 1853-1865. This chapter continues my emphasis on framing and boundary work mechanisms as mediators of collective conflicts, while focusing my theoretical attention more squarely on issues of threat assessment, or the ways in which group-based threats are collectively appraised by nominal power-holding group members. Drawing from theories of mediated competition, I demonstrate the specific necessity of organizational resources for extremist mobilization, and that elite framing and boundary work were required to link aggrieved individuals with these mobilizing resources. These findings confirm the role of framing and associated boundary work mechanisms in the politics of collective threat assessment. To conclude, I discuss the implications of these threat assessment issues for future historical and contemporary study of reactive mobilization.