In this latest episode of In Theory, Disha Karnad Jani interviews Judith Surkis, Professor of History at Rutgers University, about her book Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930 (Cornell University Press, 2019). 

Surkis’s book interrogates how the French colonial state used its construction of Muslim law to reconfigure property and sovereignty in Algeria. Through fantasies of Algerian men’s sexual practices, a re-arrangement of Algerian women’s legal status, and a re-location of Muslim law from the realm of property rights to the realm of sex, the French colonial state used its notion of legal difference to expropriate Algerian land. Surkis shows how this took place in the spaces of law, intimacy, and fantasy. This book puts into practice the deep theoretical and methodological relationship between legal history, gender and sexuality studies, and the history of ideas, showing the consequential stakes of carrying out such a study for contemporary French and international politics. 

Disha Karnad Jani is a postdoctoral researcher in the Research Training Group on World Politics at Bielefeld University, Germany. She received her Ph.D from the Department of History at Princeton University in April 2022. Her dissertation is an intellectual history of the League Against Imperialism (1927-1937), and her research interests include global intellectual histories of mass movements, political economy, and state-making. 

Edited by: Kristin Engelhardt

Featured Image: 1877 map of the three French departments of Alger, Oran and Constantine, by Alexandre Vuillemin. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.