Settler-Colonial Violence and the ‘Wounded Aboriginal Child’: Reading Alexis Wright with Irene Watson (and Giorgio Agamben)


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’.

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Published: 2020-11-26
Pages:45 to 60
Section:Special Issue: State Violence - Practices and Responses
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How to Cite
Faulkner, J. (2020) “Settler-Colonial Violence and the ‘Wounded Aboriginal Child’: Reading Alexis Wright with Irene Watson (and Giorgio Agamben)”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 9(4), pp. 45-60. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.1689.

Author Biography

Macquarie University

Joanne Faulkner is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. Her research examines the cultural significances of childhood, particulary in settler-coloniser societies such as Australia. She is the author of Young and Free: [Post]colonial Ontologies of Childhood, Memory and History in Australia (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016) and The Importance of Being Innocent: Why We Worry About Children (Cambridge UP, 2011). She is currently writing a monograph the working title of which is Representing Aboriginal Childhood: The Politics of Memory and Forgetting in Australia.