February 5, 2021 | Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930: A Conversation with Judith Surkis '92

January 5, 2021

Join the Pembroke Center at 4 p.m. on Friday, February 5, 2021 for a virtual panel discussing the book “Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830–1930,” by Judith Surkis ’92, Professor of History at Rutgers University. 

Register here.

In her book, which won the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies 2020 book prize, Surkis traces how colonial authorities constructed Muslim legal difference and used it to deny Algerian Muslims full citizenship.

During more than a century of colonial rule over Algeria, the French state shaped and reshaped the meaning and practice of Muslim law by regulating it and circumscribing it to the domain of family law, while applying the French Civil Code to appropriate the property of Algerians.

Surkis argues that powerful affective attachments to the intimate life of the family and fantasies about Algerian women and the sexual prerogatives of Muslim men, supposedly codified in the practices of polygamy and child marriage, shaped French theories and regulatory practices of Muslim law in fundamental and lasting ways. Women’s legal status in particular came to represent the dense relationship between sex and sovereignty in the colony. This book also highlights the ways in which Algerians interacted with and responded to colonial law. Ultimately, this sweeping legal genealogy of French Algeria elucidates how “the Muslim question” in France became—and remains—a question of sex.

Register here.

About the author:

Judith Surkis ’92 is Professor of History at Rutgers University is the author of works including “Sexing the Citizen: Morality and Masculinity in France, 1870-1920” (Cornell, 2006), and is currently working on a project, “The Intimate Life of International Law: Childhood, Development, and Decolonization.” She was the Nancy L. Buc '65 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pembroke Center for the 2003-04 academic year, and is a member of the Pembroke Center Advisory Council.


Nadje S Al-Ali, the Robert Family Professor of International Studies, Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies, and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University




Jennifer Johnson, Associate Professor of History at Brown University 





Emily A. Owens, the David and Michelle Ebersman Assistant Professor of History at Brown University





Joan Wallach Scott, the founding director of the Pembroke Center and Professor Emerita at the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study





Moderated by Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Director of the Pembroke Center and Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies




Sponsored by the Pembroke Center, the Brown Center for Middle East Studies, and the Association for Middle East Women's Studies (AMEWS).