Settler-colonial violence and the 'wounded Aboriginal child': reading Alexis Wright with Irene Watson (and Giorgio Agamben)

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Drawing on Alexis Wright’s novel The Swan Book and Irene Watson’s expansive critique of Australian law, this article locates within the settler–Australian imaginary the figure of the ‘wounded Aboriginal child’ as a site of contest between two rival sovereign logics: First Nations sovereignty (grounded in a spiritual connection to the land over tens of millennia) and settler sovereignty (imposed on Indigenous peoples by physical, legal and existential violence for 230 years). Through the conceptual landscape afforded by these writers, the article explores how the arenas of juvenile justice and child protection stage an occlusion of First Nations sovereignty, as a disappearing of the ‘Aboriginality’ of Aboriginal children under Australian settler law. Giorgio Agamben’s concept of potentiality is also drawn on to analyse this sovereign difference through the figures of Terra Nullius and ‘the child’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-60
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • sovereignty
  • Aboriginality
  • colonisation
  • children
  • Alexis Wright
  • Irene Watson


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