Colonial Legal Imaginaries | Southern Literary Futures

Date & time
6–8pm Wednesday 7 September 2022


Debolina Dutta
Christopher Gevers
Luis Gómez Romero
Honni van Rijswijk
Desmond Manderson

Presented by ANU Centre for Law, Arts and the Humanities

Virtual Seminar Series
Image credit: Unknown artist, cover art for WEB Du Bois, Dark Princess (1928)

Featuring Dr Debolina Dutta, Jindal Global Law School; Christopher Gevers, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Dr Luis Gómez Romero, University of Wollongong; and Dr Honni van Rijswijk, University of Technology Sydney.

Literary imaginaries have been deeply implicated in European colonialism since Thomas More first conceived that ‘prototype of the settler colony’, Utopia (1516). Yet speculative fiction, centred on the rendering of an ‘unknown world’ or terra nullius, has a far longer history than that. Think of Pythagoras’ theory of geographical balance (BC 500), or Ptolemy’s idea of a ‘terra incognita’ (AD 2). Or Macrobius’ commentaries on the existence of an ‘antipodes’ (AD 400), which by the time of the Liber Floridus (AD 1100) had become the home of literally backward people (‘anti-podeans’).

The long tradition in the North of imagining the South cannot be disentangled from the imperial projects that continue to colonise Southern lives. But there is also a vibrant critical tradition of writing back, from Black Utopianisms to Indigenous Futurisms. For authors such as Ambelin Kwaymullina, speculative fictions, written from the standpoints of Indigenous peoples, have the potential to ‘open the way to futures free of the colonial project; a world that can only be imagined because it does not (yet) exist’. The same has been true for Pan-Africanist writers and for writers across the Americas and Asia. The utopic act of negating a given place and projecting onto it a ‘better’, future-perfect one, is the colonial move; but it can also be anti-colonial, and in a very real sense, post-colonial.

This event is part of Futurity Now? – an international seminar series taking place in the first week of September 2022. The series is curated by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Legal Studies at University of Lucerne and the Centre for Law, Arts and Humanities, Australian National University; in collaboration with a global partnership network including the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures (University of Virginia), Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research (University of Witwatersrand), and the universities of Adelaide, Helsinki and Roma Tre.

Image credit: Unknown artist, cover art for WEB Du Bois, Dark Princess (1928)


  • Debolina Dutta »

    Dr. Debolina Dutta completed a PhD from Melbourne Law School. Debolina’s research is located at the intersections of jurisprudence, postcolonial theory, law and the humanities, sexuality studies, socio-legal studies, and feminist ethics. Her doctoral thesis develops the everyday practice of adda as a scholarly, empirical method to write a historical account of feminist jurisprudence that is co-produced by sex worker activists and legal academics in post-colonial India. The fieldwork for her thesis was funded by multiple competitive research grants, including the Emerging Scholars International Research Fellowship from the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS). One of the chapters from her thesis titled “Of Sex Workers, Festivals and Rights: A Story of an Affirmative Sabotage” was awarded the Audrey Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights in 2017. She is currently working on turning her PhD thesis into a book.

    As a feminist lawyer, researcher and activist Debolina has had a long-standing relationship with the sex workers’ movement in India. She has worked as a sexual rights advocate both nationally and internationally, including at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Prior to starting her doctoral work she was advocacy and research officer at CREA, New Delhi. Her writings have appeared in the Australian Feminist Law Journal, Childhood, Feminist Studies, Routledge Handbook on the Politics of Global Health, Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development, among others. Her co-directed documentary film We Are Foot Soldiers, on the collectivization of children of sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata, received the 3rd prize at Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Competition in 2012.

    Her current projects include: co-editing a special issue of the journal Global Public Health; completing a collaborative, illustrated book project titled The Rule of Laughter, which portrays how sex workers use fun and laughter in the everyday business of sex to challenge the criminalization of their lives and livelihood in India; and co-convening an Indo-German scholar’s workshop on Feminist Pedagogies. 

  • Christopher Gevers »

    Christopher teaches international law, Jurisprudence/legal theory and Foundations of Law in the School of Law. His research focusses on Pan-Africanism, International law & ‘decolonisation’, Third World Approaches to International Law, Critical Race Theory, and Law & Literature. Since 2015 he has been a faculty member of the Institute for Global Law & Policy at Harvard Law School, and has held visiting Fellowships at the University of Oxford and Harvard Law School. At present he is co-convening an interdisciplinary project on ‘Literature & International Law At the Edge’, with Prof. Joseph R. Slaughter (Columbia University), Prof. Vasuki Nesiah (New York University) and Prof. Gerry Simpson (London School of Economics & Political Science). His more recent publications appear in the Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law (2020), the London Review of International Law and Alternation.

  • Luis Gómez Romero »

    Luis practiced law in Mexico, where he achieved several years of experience in litigation, consultancy and legal and policy research. He was a high level policy advisor to Mexican President Vicente Fox’s transitional government.

    Luis pursued his Ph. D. in Human Rights in Spain, at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He has taught in the areas of jurisprudence, constitutional law, international law, legal research and human rights in several universities in Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Canada and Australia. His main research interests are Human Rights; Political Theory; Cultural Legal Studies; Third World Approaches to International Law; Utopianism; Law and Literature; Law and Popular Culture; Critical Legal Theory; Feminist Jurisprudence; Latin American History and Politics and European History and Politics.

  • Honni van Rijswijk »

    Dr Honni van Rijswijk is a graduate of Sydney Law School and received her PhD from the University of Washington, where she was a Fellow in the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Her research is interdisciplinary, and she writes primarily at the intersections of law, literature and critical theory. She has published on feminist theories of harm, formulations of responsibility in law and literature, the role of history in the common law, and on questions of justice relating to the Stolen Generations. Honni also has a wider background in the law of obligations, both through her LL.M. work at Trinity College Dublin, and through her work in private practice. Honni has taught at a number of universities in Australia and the United States and currently teaches Torts, International Commercial Transactions, and Law and Literature.



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