Visiting Doctoral Seminar
State Responsibility for Rebels in the Venezuela Arbitrations: Reading Joseph Conrad’s 'Nostromo'

The use of the literature of Joseph Conrad as a source of insight about international law is not without a certain pedigree. However, while Heart of Darkness is Conrad’s best known and most often cited work, here Kathryn looked at the novel that has been called Conrad’s ‘masterpiece’ and compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace: his epic Nostromo. In this seminar, she used Nostromo – with its key themes of imperialism and revolution – to explore the question of state responsibility for injuries to aliens by rebels in the arbitrations which followed the 1902-1903 blockade of Venezuela by Britain, Germany and Italy.
 
Reading Nostromo both as a critique of economic imperialism and as a work deeply rooted in imperialist ideas about the inherent chaos and violence of Latin American society and culture, which were used to justify multiple Western interventions – of which the Venezuela blockade was one of the most notorious – in the region during the period in which the novel is set, Kathryn demonstrated how the doctrine of state responsibility for rebels was forged in the postcolonial encounter between the West and Latin America. It served to manage the decolonisation process so as to protect Western trade and investment in Latin America. At stake in the battle over the international legalisation of ‘aliens versus rebels’ was the transition from formal colonialism to a new type of imperialism, anticipating the struggles of the decolonisation of the post-war period.

Kathryn Greenman is a final year doctoral candidate and junior researcher at the Amsterdam Center for International Law at the University of Amsterdam and a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Doctoral Fellow with the Laureate Program in International Law at Melbourne Law School. She has an LLM in Public International Law from the University of Kent and a BA in Jurisprudence from Oxford University. Kathryn’s PhD addresses international responsibility and rebels, and her research interests include the relationship between international law and imperialism, critical international legal history, and feminist and postcolonial approaches to international law.