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The Shapeshifting Crown

Book description

The Crown stands at the heart of the New Zealand, British, Australian and Canadian constitutions as the ultimate source of legal authority and embodiment of state power. A familiar icon of the Westminster model of government, it is also an enigma. Even constitutional experts struggle to define its attributes and boundaries: who or what is the Crown and how is it embodied? Is it the Queen, the state, the government, a corporation sole or aggregate, a relic of feudal England, a metaphor, or a mask for the operation of executive power? How are its powers exercised? How have the Crowns of different Commonwealth countries developed? The Shapeshifting Crown combines legal and anthropological perspectives to provide novel insights into the Crown's changing nature and its multiple, ambiguous and contradictory meanings. It sheds new light onto the development of the state in postcolonial societies and constitutional monarchy as a cultural system.


'The Shapeshifting Crown is a careful, multilayered study of one the most important, but often neglected, institutions in Westminster states. Bringing together legal, political, and anthropological perspectives, this volume offers a rich understanding of the roles the Crown plays in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, while also bringing a critical view to bear of the history and future of Westminster monarchies. This work is essential reading for those seeking to appreciate the meanings and functions of the Crown today.'

Philippe Lagassé - William and Jeanie Barton Chair at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa

‘Just as the Crown, as a physical object, displays different bejewelled faces depending on the perspective of the viewer, so too the Crown in its symbolic and governmental form displays many facets. This new book, edited by New Zealand's Cris Shore and David V. Williams, expertly locates and analyses each of these facets - from the sacred relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples, to its history, rituals and embodiment within the patriotic myth and spirit of different Commonwealth Realms. The book also looks to the future, addressing the likely impact of the death of the Queen, the effectiveness of republican movements and efforts to rein in the prerogative powers of the Crown. This book is unique, as it traverses across the fields of history, politics, law, anthropology and sociology in its examination of the Crown in the Realms. It makes a sophisticated and enlightening contribution to scholarship on the Crown.’

Anne Twomey - Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

'The efficiently coordinated multiple authors of this intriguing book adopt a classic anthropological move in an unusual context: they examine an eccentric symbol of centralized  power (the British Crown) from the variously and productively marginalizing distance of indigenous and settler experiences in three Commonwealth countries (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada). Shunning facile assumptions, they explore the entailment of all parties in the Crown’s kaleidoscopic ontology. The result is a stunning, multi-faceted empirical analysis of that ever-present institution, the state, as a peculiar - and, yes, shapeshifting - form of polity. This book deserves a wide audience.'

Michael Herzfeld - Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University, Massachusetts

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