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Professor Stewart Motha

  • Overview



    Stewart Motha was Executive Dean of Birkbeck Law School, 2016-22; and Managing Editor of Law & Critique, 2015-2020. He has published widely on issues of sovereignty, memory, history, and decolonisation with a particular focus on the Indian Ocean region. In 2023 he held the John Hinkley Visiting Professorship at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He has also held visiting fellowships at Sydney Law School, Melbourne Law School, and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).  

    Stewart’s current major project explores the multiple forms and sources of legal norms, breaking down the historical separation between law and nature. This research is linked to questions of climate justice and legal responses to ecological crises. It investigates the relationship between 'matter' (materiality) and norms. 

    Prior to joining Birkbeck in 2012, Stewart taught at Kent Law School. He has also taught Law in Australia, and was an Associate to the Hon. Justice Margaret Beazley - Judge of the Federal Court of Australia; Case Manager of the Native Title Unit, Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Inc., South Australia; and a Consultant to the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action.

    Stewart's most recent book, Archiving Sovereignty: Law, History, Violence (Michigan University Press) was published in 2018. 

    In 2020, he launched a podcast series called COUNTERSIGN. Stewart and guests discuss books, films, and other materials from across disciplines to consider new perspectives on law, difference, and being in common.

    Stewart lectures on Constitutional and Administrative Law; Law, History, and Political Violence; Foundations of Property; Law, Nature, and Planetary Justice.



    Office hours

    Mondays 4-5pm


    • PhD, University of London, 2005
    • BA LLB (Hons), Macquarie University, 1993
    • LLM, Osgoode Hall Law School, 1996

    Web profiles

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Chair of Birkbeck College Ethics Committee
  • Research


    Research interests

    • Sovereignty
    • Postcolonial law and theory
    • Constitutionalism
    • Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment
    • Law and aesthetics
    • Indian Ocean studies
    • South Asian studies
    • Australian legal studies
    • Transformative justice
    • Problems of law, time and justice
    • Environmental Law and Theory
    • Anthropocene and new materialism
    • Legal Philosophy

    Research overview

    Stewart's book, Archiving Sovereignty: Law, History, Violence (Michigan University Press), arose out of research into how law functions as an archive of sovereign violence. The book also offers an elaboration of the ‘as if’ (the consciously false, or fiction) at the heart of modern law. Reworking the notion of the ‘archive’, the book addresses the sovereign event in Australia, South Africa, and the Indian Ocean region as a problem of law’s capacity to retain and disavow sovereign violence at the same time. This memorial function of law is elaborated through juridical case studies, and literary and other artistic works.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who are interested in undertaking research in any of my areas of research interest.

    If you are interested in pursuing research in any of these areas, you should first read our advice on how to apply for MPhil/PhD research before submitting an application.

    Current doctoral researchers


    Doctoral alumni since 2013-14



    Teaching modules

    • Constitutional and Administrative Law (LADD033S4)
    • Constitutional and Administrative Law (LADD033S4)
    • Constitutional & Administrative Law (Senior Status) (LADD060S6)
    • Law, History, and Political Violence (LALA135H6)
    • Law, History, and Political Violence (LALA135H6)
    • Law, Nature, and Planetary Justice (LALW081S7)
    • Law, Nature, and Planetary Justice (LALW081S7)
    • Foundations of Property (LALW095H5)
    • Foundations of Property (LALW095H5)
    • Foundations of Property (Senior Status) (LALW098H7)
    • Foundations of Property (Senior Status) (LALW098H7)
    • Land Law (Senior Status) (LALW099H7)
    • Public Law (GDL) (LALW113H6)
    • Public Law (GDL) (LALW113H6)
  • Publications




    Book Section