Sovereignty is a centrally important concept for both law and politics, to which recent debates in Hong Kong testify. In this course we will assess the meaning and significance of sovereignty by drawing on resources from across the arts, humanities and social sciences. We will read and discuss materials from law, political theory, philosophy, urban studies, literature and the visual arts in order to answer the following questions:
- What is sovereignty and how is this concept related to the history of the modern state?
- Who are some of the key theorists of sovereignty and how do they offer contrasting accounts of the concept?
- How is our understanding of sovereignty changing in the context of contemporary challenges like globalization, climate change and international terrorism?
- What would law and politics looks like without or beyond modern conceptualizations of sovereignty?
The course takes a broad historical sweep, from early-modern approaches to sovereignty to contemporary commentators. We will look at key theorists of sovereignty like (the authoritarian) Thomas Hobbes, (the Nazi-sympathizing) Carl Schmitt and (the anarchist philosopher) Giorgio Agamben as well as explore thinkers who are trying to imagine law and politics ‘without’ or ‘beyond’ modern, orthodox understandings of sovereignty. Throughout the course, we supplement theoretical and legal debates with insights from literature and the visual arts. The plays of William Shakespeare; artworks depicting the confrontations associated with the assertion of colonial sovereignty; 17th century emblems and images; and a twenty-first century novel can all help us understand the meaning of sovereignty and explore possibilities for its critique.
The course will be of particular interest to students who have enjoyed classes in legal, literary, political or critical theory; law and literature; law and film; or constitutional law. But the course is open to all who are excited to explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary scholarship and want to find out more about the elusive but crucially important notion of sovereignty. This course hopes to broaden the scholarly horizons of students by bringing students together from different disciplinary backgrounds and will provide participants with valuable cross-disciplinary reading, rhetorical and evaluative skills.
- Sovereignty as Leviathan – An analysis of Thomas Hobbes’s seminal text on sovereignty, with a particular focus on the famous frontispiece to the book.
- Colonial sovereignty – An assessment of how colonial powers used the privileges and immunities associated with sovereignty to justify the subjugation of peoples beyond their borders, with a focus on artworks that depict this confrontation.
- From sovereign power to bio-power – An assessment of Michel Foucault’s seminal account of power has changed form in modernity, weakening the significance of sovereignty
- Waning Sovereignty – Situating sovereignty in the context of globalization.
- The state of exception – Through Carl Schmitt and Gorgio Agamben we will analyze one of the most widely debated aspects of sovereignty in the context of global terrorism: the moment when the law is suspended in times of war, terror or extreme danger.
- The city and sovereignty – Drawing on scholarly debates in urban studies, legal and political theory, and China Mieville’s novel The City and the City (2011), we assess how the political might be re-imagined through a reading of contemporary urbanity.
- Climate change and sovereignty – Drawing on recent work on the Anthropocene thesis in political and critical theory, we explore how the challenges associated with climate change are impacting on the meaning (and usefulness) of sovereignty in the context of the new climatic regime in which we live.
This course has three objectives. Firstly, to introduce students to some key theoretical approaches to sovereignty and how the concept relates to law, politics and the state. Secondly, to examine some of the key debates concerning both the exercise of sovereign power and the limits of sovereignty in the context in contemporary legal and political issues. Thirdly, to develop students’ interdisciplinary research and writing skills by putting legal and political concerns into conversation with philosophical and literary texts. By the end of the course students should be able to draw on a range of materials (literary, legal, political and philosophical) in order to critically evaluate sovereignty.
- Explain and critically evaluate the meaning of sovereignty and its significance for law and politics.
- Understand and evaluate some of the key theoretical approaches to sovereignty.
- Demonstrate an understanding of different disciplinary perspectives in addressing issues raised in the course.
- Evaluate the literary and other artistic texts discussed in the course in light of relevant theoretical material.
We will meet for three hours every week. The course is designed as a seminar. Students should therefore come to classes having read the “required reading” texts and be ready to discuss the issues.
There are three components to the assessment for this course:
- Oral presentation and class participation (20%)
- A short mid-semester essay (30%)
- A longer final essay (50%)
The exact course content is subject to change every semester. The following indicates some of the resources that we might consider in the course. This aims to give an indication of the range of literature that we will discuss:
- Wendy Brown, Walled Sates, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books, 2014).
- Martin Loughlin, “The Erosion of Sovereignty” Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy (2017) 2016(2), 57-81
- Neil McCormick, “Beyond the Sovereign State” Modern Law Review (1993) 56(1), 1-18.
- William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Richard II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997 ).
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
- Quentin Skinner, “Hobbes on Representation” European Journal of Philosophy (2005) 13(2), 155-184.
- Peter Goodrich, Legal Emblems and the Art of Law: Obiter Dipicta as the Vision of Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); see especially: 89-124.
- Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality Volume I (London: Penguin, 1998), 135-145.
- Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2003), 1-29.
- Carl Schmitt, “Definition of Sovereignty” in Political Theology (Boston MA: MIT Press, 1985)
- Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005).
- Gerald Frug, “The City as a Legal Concept” Harvard Law Review (1980) 93(6), 1080-1119.
- Warren Magnusson, The Politics of Urbanism: Seeing Like a City (London: Routledge, 2011),
- Henri Lefebvre, “The Right to the City” in Lefebvre: Writing on Cities (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
- China Mieville, City and the City (London: Pan, 2011).
- Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (London: Polity, 2017), 1-35.
- Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” Critical Inquiry (2009) 35(2), 197-222.
- Bruno Latour, “On a possible Triangulation of some present Political Positions” Critical Inquiry (2018) 44(Winter), 213-226.
- Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (London: Polity, 2017).