For West Papua and its people, the promise of sovereignty has never been realized, despite a long and fraught struggle for independence from Indonesia. In "Laughing at Leviathan", Danilyn Rutherford examines this struggle through a series of interlocking essays that drive at the core meaning of sovereignty itself - how it is fueled, formed, and even thwarted by pivotal but often overlooked players: those that make up an audience. Whether these players are citizens, missionaries, competing governmental powers, nongovernmental organizations, or the international community at large, Rutherford shows how a complex interplay of various observers is key to the establishment and understanding of the sovereign nation-state. Drawing on a wide array of sources, from YouTube videos to Dutch propaganda to her own fieldwork observations, Rutherford draws the history of Indonesia, empire, and postcolonial nation-building into a powerful examination of performance and power. Ultimately she revises Thomas Hobbes, painting a picture of the Leviathan not as a coherent body but a fragmented one distributed across a wide range of both real and imagined spectators.
In doing so, she offers an important new approach to the understanding of political struggle.
Danilyn Rutherford is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier.