Idealised race: the function of idealised indigeneity in German imperialist discourses
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This study examines the functions of the idealisation of Indigenous peoples around the world. It has its focus on imperial discourses (the 1850s-1945) in the German-speaking world. The research places the German-language discourses within transnational contexts of imperial image production and argues that racial idealisation served the construction of white hegemony in different political settings and ideological systems. Identifying a perceptible increase in idealised images of Indigeneity after the loss of the German colonies in 1918/19, the study explains the reasons for idealisation not as abstract expressions of European escapism within the tradition of the ‘Noble Savage’ discourse but as vested political reactions to colonial politics. Focussing on a period of heightened imperial image production from the 1850s to Nazism, the thesis outlines that images of Indigeneity derived their conceptual origin from transnational and transhistorical primitivism that became appropriated by different political currents, including colonial revisionism and Nazism. This study argues that racial idealisation and stigmatisation were both part of racist discourses of white dominance and knowledge regimes. Idealisation, the present research shows, is not an epiphenomenon or exception of racial domination in imperial discourse but a central mechanism of construing racial hierarchy. Ultimately, the study argues that Indigeneity should be considered a category similar to sexuality, gender and class that informed the construction of race. Racialised Indigeneity was a flexible construct that allowed the formation of idealisation and stigmatisation according to political necessities without altering racial hierarchies. The theoretical discussion suggests that Indigeneity in imperial discourse helped to establish such hierarchies.