Archiving Sovereignty: Law, History, Violence. By Stewart Motha. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Book Reviews
Archiving Sovereignty: Law, History, Violence. By Stewart Motha.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.
Reviewed by Christopher Tomlins, Berkeley Law, University of
Archiving Sovereignty has been maturing in Stewart Motha’s mind
for more than a decade. The book is the culmination of 20 years
of research—virtually his entire academic career, to date—but
took form primarily after a return visit in 2009 to Colombo, Sri
Lanka, where Motha was born and where he spent his childhood
before moving to Australia in 1984. The Sovereignty of the title is
the violent occidental sovereignty of British colonial dominion
(and of its postcolonial successors) over Australia, South Africa, Sri
Lanka, and the Chagos Islands—all spaces for Motha’s own life
and studies; the Archive is law—the incessant flux of case histories,
legal fictions, and metaphors, old and new, from which the “fact”
of sovereignty is constructed and by which it is sustained. The site
of the archive, its material substrate, is the Indian Ocean, the
locale of travel and traverse, willing and unwilling, that binds
islands and beaches, great and small, into one realm of research.
If all this is read to imply a peculiarly intimate connection
between the book and its author, that reading is entirely correct.
Archiving Sovereignty is built from the places, the impressions, and
the legalities experienced during the course of a life—Motha’s
own. Consider the following: “My early experience of the sea as a
site of playful freedom has transmogrified into a sense of the
Indian Ocean—its islands, continents, and contiguous zones—as
the space of sovereign violence and cruelty. This juxtaposition of
the freedom of the sea I experienced as a child growing up on an
island, and the fate of thousands either transported to island-
prisons or expelled from their island-homes is what Walter Benja-
min would have called a dialectical image. Constructing such
‘images’ is a central technique deployed in this book. The archive
of sovereign violence gathered here is informed by Benjamin’s
account of how the seemingly archaic past ‘juts into the pre-
sent’” (xi)
Jennifer Balint, Editor
Law & Society Review, Volume 53, Number 2 (2019): 611–634
©2019 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT