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From the 'Stranger King' to the 'Stranger Constitution': Domesticating Sovereignty in Kenya

Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2012), pp. 248-266

SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-001

20 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2012 Last revised: 11 Dec 2012

Mateo Taussig-Rubbo

SUNY Buffalo Law School

Date Written: December 10, 2012

Abstract

Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has asserted the near-universality of the notion that sovereignty in pre-modern polities is conceived of as foreign or alien. In his telling, sovereignty comes from abroad, from over the horizon, very often in the mythical form of the ‘stranger king’ or an immigrant prince. But, he argues, this alterity is complemented by equally widespread techniques of domestication; through sacrifice and marriage the stranger king becomes bound to the local people. Sahlins deployed this structure in his interpretation of the Hawaiian reception, killing, and deification of Captain James Cook in the late 1700s. This Article applies Sahlins’ construct to postcolonial governance, with a particular focus on Kenya and its new constitution of 2010. While the U.S. tradition may envisage constitutions as bottom-up expressions of the popular sovereign, in many postcolonial contexts constitutions are also imported products, often drafted by foreign experts. Despite such constitutions’ focus on ‘the people,’ the constitution itself might be said to be something of a stranger. The notion of the stranger king, as this Article demonstrates through its case study of Kenya, fruitfully expands the vocabulary of political and constitutional theory by pointing towards ethnographically grounded ways of understanding authority and law that come from beyond the boundaries of a political order.

Keywords: constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, comparative constitutional culture, Kenya, postcolonial constitutions, stranger king, sovereignty, postcolonial sovereignty, anthropology, legal anthropology

Suggested Citation

Taussig-Rubbo, Mateo, From the 'Stranger King' to the 'Stranger Constitution': Domesticating Sovereignty in Kenya (December 10, 2012). Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2012), pp. 248-266; SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2120100

Mateo Taussig-Rubbo (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
425 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716 645-5992 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.buffalo.edu

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