Law Text Culture


Penny Pether often focused her considerable energy and talents on marginalised, invisibilised and absent bodies and subjects. Her work also sometimes focussed on texts of national imaginaries, what she called, drawing on Robert Cover, Constitutional Epics, narratives that provide the necessary supplement to the rules of law (Cover 1983: 4-5; Pether 2009: 110-111). One of her current, unfinished, projects was a book titled ‘Perverts’, ‘Terrorists’, and Business as Usual: Comparative Indefinite Detention before and after 9/11,1 which brings together both of these concerns. Her book proposal and first chapter maps a genealogy of indefinite detention through colonial India and Ireland, US chattel slavery and Jim Crow era convict leasing, twentieth century Australian detention camps for Aboriginal people, sexually violent predator laws targeted at homosexual men post WWII that provided for the indefinite detention of ‘sex psychopaths’, the current mass incarceration of black men under life sentences without parole in the US, detention at Guantanamo Bay and immigration and asylum seeker detention. Her focus was on governmental imperatives, the shapes and boundaries of the nation, and constitutional epics of the indefinite detention of marginal subjects. Pether’s interdisciplinary expertise across constitutional and criminal law, law and literature, critical legal studies, analyses of race and gender, colonial and postcolonial studies, and political economy, among other areas, a range matched by few scholars, is evident in even this brief sketch of her proposed book.