Melissa Demian , ‘On the Repugnance of Customary Law’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 56, 2 (2014).

The Constitution of Papua New Guinea (PNG) features a peculiar artifact of colonial-era law known as a repugnancy clause. This type of clause, used elsewhere as a neutral mechanism to identify conflicts between legal provisions, has in PNG become a tool for the moral-aesthetic evaluation of “customary law.” In this article, I follow the history of the PNG repugnancy clause from its colonial origins and through the relevant case law since the country’s independence in order to ask both how the clause acquired its non-legal meaning through legal usage, and why it has been retained in its original form in PNG when so many postcolonial legal regimes have discarded it. Comparative material from Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa, and especially Australia is used to contextualize the durability of the PNG repugnancy clause, and theoretical material on the affect of disgust and shame is brought to bear in order to understand the use of repugnancy in its moral-aesthetic sense. The article concludes with a meditation on the way the repugnancy clause has enabled the judiciary of PNG to distance the law of the country not simply from an uneducated or inadequately Christian general populace, but also from a history in which all Papua New Guineans were regarded as a contaminating threat to the European colonizers whose legal system the country has inherited.

Richard O Clemmer, ‘Anthropology, the indigenous and human rights: Which billiard balls matter most?’, Anthropological Theory 14, 1 (2014).

Anthropology is uniquely positioned to open a new dimension of critical human rights discourse based on engaging indigenous rights. Moving toward a critical anthropology of human rights begins from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The charge that this document reifies ‘indigenous’ and ‘rights’ is examined in light of reifications such as ‘primitive’ and ‘tribe’, referencing Eric Wolf’s assertion that cultures, societies and nations should not be treated as if they were bounded ‘billiard balls’. In reframing rights, Marx’s (1844) and others’ insights on human collectivity are useful. This reframing perforce questions the ipso facto legitimacy of nation-statism.

Stephen Winter, Transitional Justice in Established Democracies: A Political Theory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Truth commissions, official apologies and reparations are just some of the transitional justice mechanisms embraced by established democracies. This groundbreaking work of political theory explains how these forms of state redress repair the damage state wrongdoing inflicts upon political legitimacy. Richly illustrated with real-life examples, the book’s ‘legitimating theory’ explains the connections, and the conflicts, between the transitional practice of administrative, corrective and restorative justice. The book shows how political responses to state wrongdoing are part of a larger transitional history of the post-War ‘rights revolution’ in the settler democracies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. The result is an incisive theoretical exploration that not only explains the rectificatory work of established democracies but also provides new ways to think about the broader field of transitional justice.

Forum Indigeneity’s Difference: Methodology and the Structures of Sovereignty, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 2, 1 (2014).

Jodi A. Byrd, ‘Introduction’.

Frederick E. Hoxie, ‘Sovereignty’s Challenge to Native American (and United States) History’.

Manu Vimalassery, ‘Counter-sovereignty’.

Alyosha Goldstein, ‘Colonialism, Constituent Power, and Popular Sovereignty’.

Norbert Finzsch, ‘Settler Colonialism, Settler Imperialism, Settler Communities, Settler Sovereignty: Neue Konzepte der Sozialgeschichtsschreibung’, H-Net Reviews (2014).

Die Begriffe “Settler Colonialism” und “Settler Imperialism” sind neu im Arsenal der Geschichtswissenschaft; ebenso neu wie die 2011 gegründete Zeitschrift „Settler Colonial Studies”, die namhafte Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus den Gebieten der Genocide Studies, der postkolonialen Schule und der Geschichte der Imperialismen zu verbinden trachtet. 

Sarah Maddison & Laura J. Shepherd, ‘Peacebuilding and the postcolonial politics of transitional justice’, Peacebuilding (2014 iFirst).

The literature on transitional justice tends to conceive of transition as a bounded process that takes place immediately following a conflict, rather than envision the process as part of building peace. Significantly, this literature tends to separate historical conflict and contemporary transition. While the similarities between historical and recent conflict are often acknowledged, the remedies available under the transitional justice framework are rarely applied to the violence and historical injustice that are inherent to settler colonialism. This omission creates some troubling silences in the transitional justice literature, which this article seeks to address through drawing on critical peacebuilding scholarship. This article considers what might be learned about the processes and challenges of transition by expanding the temporal frame in which transitional justice is placed. The article suggests that transition may in fact be a far lengthier, more complex, and more challenging process than the literature generally concedes. More significantly, by focusing on colonial violence, the conventional conceptualisations of both ‘transition’ and ‘justice’ can be challenged.

Now the settler-colonial societies are particularly interesting in this regard because you have a conflict within them. Settler-colonial societies are different than most forms of imperialism; in traditional imperialism, say the British in India, the British kind of ran the place: They sent the bureaucrats, the administrators, the officer corps, and so on, but the place was run by Indians. Settler-colonial societies are different; they eliminate the indigenous population. Read, say, George Washington, a leading figure in the settler-colonial society we live in. His view was – his words – was that we have to “extirpate” the Iroquois; they’re in our way. They were an advanced civilization; in fact, they provided some of the basis for the American constitutional system, but they were in the way, so we have to extirpate them. Thomas Jefferson, another great figure, he said, well, we have no choice but to exterminate the indigenous population, the Native Americans; the reason is they’re attacking us. Why are they attacking us? Because we’re taking everything away from them. But since we’re taking their land and resources away and they defend themselves, we have to exterminate them.


[T]he settler-colonial societies are a striking illustration of, first of all, the massive destructive power of European imperialism, which of course includes us and Australia, and so on. And also the – I don’t know if you’d call it irony, but the strange phenomenon of the most so-called “advanced,” educated, richest segments of global society trying to destroy all of us, and the so-called “backward” people, the pre-technological people, who remain on the periphery, trying to restrain the race to disaster. If some extraterrestrial observer were watching this, they’d think the species was insane. And, in fact, it is. But the insanity goes back to the basic institutional structure of RECD. That’s the way it works. It’s built into the institutions. It’s one of the reasons it’s going to be very hard to change.

Noam Chomsky with Javier Sethness for TruthOut (hat tip, Alex Y).

Property Rights, Land and Territory in the European Overseas Empires

Lisbon, 26-27 June 2014

The occupation of territories, the rule over land and the definition of property rights, either de jure or de facto, were major concerns in the making and long-term development of almost every European overseas empire. They were also deeply interrelated with other key aspects of the empire-building process, including sovereignty claims, territorial expansion, settlement, taxation, power relations, social mobility, economic development, and the relationship with indigenous peoples. Therefore, those issues were of interest to all parts involved in the colonial venture – imperial governments, colonial authorities, first and later generations of settlers, native peoples and their elites – who dealt with them through complex and dynamic processes of negotiation and conflict. The solutions adopted to regulate property rights and other territorial and land-related issues had their roots in legal norms, political concepts, institutions, ideologies and social practices transposed from each European metropole, then reframed and accommodated to each colonial context. Developing from different backgrounds in Europe, these theories and practices combined in a variety of ways with different conditions in the colonies, producing both contrasting and similar outcomes across time and space. The research on these topics has already achieved a huge body of results, but, for the most part, it has been pursued in a piecemeal fashion, either by disciplinary fields, empires or regions of the world, thus overlooking their interconnections. How can we compare the way issues of land, territory and property rights were dealt with across a variety of empires (e.g. Portuguese, Spanish, British, Dutch, French) and their different geographies? What can different branches of scholarship (from legal, economic, political, social and cultural history) offer each other? This conference aims to provide answers to these questions, by bringing these previously separate studies together into a common forum and setting them in comparative perspective. Deadline for proposals submission: 20 April 2014.


Marjo Lindroth & Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen, ‘Adapt or Die? The Biopolitics of Indigeneity—From the Civilising Mission to the Need for Adaptation’, Global Society 28, 2 (2014).

Indigenous peoples and indigenous lives have historically been the targets of colonial practices. In current politics, the brutal actions these entailed have changed into more subtle forms of governing. Drawing on the context of international politics (the Arctic Council and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), we argue that the demand/need for adaptation is one of the rationalities by which power is exercised over indigenous peoples and indigeneity today. We view this as a form of biopower that fosters and steers indigenous life. The paper highlights three concurrent and overlapping strands of the vocabulary of adaptation: a call for agency, a sustaining of authenticity and a politics of placation. Together, these signal what the adaptive indigenous subject should be like, an unceasing demand for adaptation that is subtler but no less colonial than exercises of power past.


Heather Sykes, ‘Un-settling sex: researcher self-reflexivity, queer theory and settler colonial studies’, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health (2014).

This paper uses self-reflexive personal narratives to examine how queer research about sexuality in sport studies is implicated in both historical and ongoing processes of settler colonialism. Like feminist research, queer research has to be critically self-reflexive about how genders and sexualities are formed through transnational flows across global and local contexts, and within geopolitical relations of power. I start with a critique of research about gays and lesbians ‘coming out’ in sport that continues to be aligned with the rationality of Western Enlightenment and the politics of US exceptionalism. Feminist-queer-trans poststructural research into sexuality and gender categories is gradually exposing the scientific racism and Western theoretical imperialism underpinning the very categories ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’. It is within this context that my own research has shifted to examine ‘whiteness’ in terms of my specific colonial locations and histories. I include self-reflexive narratives about doing research as a critical white queer settler in Canada, coming out of my ‘colonial closet’ and my anti-colonial research relationships in Amman and Sochi. My purpose is to ‘un-settle’ assumptions about theories and methodologies used to research sexuality, gender and sex in sport studies.
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