• Waning Sovereignty? – Introductory session that situates sovereignty in the context of globalization.
  • Richard II – Shakespeare’s history play helps us understand the changing nature of early-modern sovereignty from kingship to statehood.
  • Leviathan – An analysis of Thomas Hobbes’s seminal text on sovereignty, with a particular focus on the famous frontispiece to the book.
  • From sovereign power to bio-power – Michel Foucault’s account of the changing nature of power in modernity helps us understand alternative forms of ordering than that achieved through sovereignty.
  • 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.
  • Contemporary challenges to sovereignty I – 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.
  • Contemporary challenges to sovereignty II – 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.



Learning Outcomes

  • 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:

  1. Oral presentation and class participation (20%) ­
  2. A short mid-semester essay (30%) 
  3. A longer final essay (50%) 





Jan 16                    Waning sovereignty?
Required reading:
Wendy Brown, Walled Sates, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books, 2014), 7-42.
Martin Loughlin, “The Erosion of Sovereignty” Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy (2017) 2016(2), 57-81 [abridged].

Suggested further reading:
Martin Loughlin and Stephen Tierney, “The Shibboleth of Sovereignty” Modern Law Review (2018) 81(6), 989-1016.
Bob Jessop, The State: Past, Present, Future (London: Polity, 2016), 1-52.
Saskia Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in the Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
Neil McCormick, “Beyond the Sovereign State” Modern Law Review (1993) 56(1), 1-18. 



Jan 23                   Richard II – The Sovereign’s Two Bodies I
Required reading:
William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Richard II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Jan 30                    Richard II – The Sovereign’s Two Bodies II
Required reading:
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 [1947]), 3-41.

Suggested further reading:
Paul Raffield, “Reflections on the Art of Kingship: Richard II  and the Subject of Law” in Shakespeare’s Imaginary Constitution: Late Elizabethan Politics and the Theatre of Law (Oxford: Hart, 2010), 82-116.
Fredric Maitland, “The Crown as Corporation” Law Quarterly Review (1901) 17(2), 131-146.
David Norbrook, “The Emperor’s New Body: Richard II, Ernst Kantorowicz and the Politics of Shakespeare Criticism” Textual Practice (1996) 10(2), 329-357.

Feb  5-11             LUNAR NEW YEAR: NO CLASS THIS WEEK.

Feb 13                  LeviathanI
Required reading:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 82-89; 106-122 (chapters 13, 14 [extracted], 16, 17 & 18). 
Quentin Skinner, “Hobbes on Representation” European Journal of Philosophy (2005) 13(2), 155-184. 

Suggested further reading:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), chapters 19, 21, 26, 29-31.
A.P. d’Entreves, Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1964), 54-61.
Duncan, Stewart, "Thomas Hobbes", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Available online:
Martin Loughlin, Sword and Scales: An Examination of the Relationship Between Law and Politics (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000), 125-140.
Quentin Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Feb 20                 LeviathanII
Required reading:
Giorgio Agamben, “Leviathan and Behemoth” from Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 19-54.

Suggested further reading:
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.
Janice Richardson, “Hobbes’ Frontispiece: Authorship, Subordination and Contract” Law and Critique (2016) 27(1), 63-81.
Jason Frank, “The Living Image of the People” Theory & Event (2015) 18(1).

Feb 27                 From Sovereign Power to Bio-Power
Required reading:
Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality Volume I (London: Penguin, 1998), 135-145.
Thomas Lemke, “The government of living beings: Michel Foucault” from Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 33-52.

Suggested further reading:
Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2003), 1-29.
Catherine Mills, Biopolitics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018).
Paul Rainbow and Nikolas Rose, “Biopower today” BioSocities (2006) 1, 195-217.
Adam Sitze and Timothy Campbell, “Biopolitics: An encounter” from Biopolitics: A Reader (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013), 1-40.

Mar  4-9                 READING WEEK: NO CLASS THIS WEEK.

Mar 13                   The State of Exception
Required reading:
Carl Schmitt, “Definition of Sovereignty” in Political Theology (Boston MA: MIT Press, 1985)
Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005), pp. 1-31.       

Suggested further reading:
Bob Jessop, The State: Past, Present, Future (London: Polity, 2016), 211-237.
Alex Murray, Giorgio Agamben (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), pp. 56-77.
Stephen Humphreys, “Legalizing Lawlessness: On Giorgio Agamben’s State of ExceptionEuropean Journal of International Law (2006) 17(3), pp. 677-687.
Marc Falkoff (ed.), Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2007).
Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2016), pp. 33-62.          



Mar 20                     The City I – Re-thinking the Political
Required reading:
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), 111-124.
Ash Amin & Nigel Thrift, Seeing Like a City (London: Polity, 2016), 9-31.

Suggested further reading:
Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life” American Journal of Sociology (1938) 44(1), 1-24.
Georg Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) in Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, eds. The Blackwell City Reader (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).
Benjamin R Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations and Rising Cities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 3-24.
Benjamin R. Barber, Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
The Global Parliament of Mayors. See:

Mar 27                 The City II – Re-thinking the Legal
Required reading:
Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopolous, Spatial Justice: Body, Lawscape, Atmosphere (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), 94-106. 
Henri Lefebvre, “The Right to the City” in Lefebvre: Writing on Cities (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
Chris Butler, Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City (Abingdon: Routlegde, 2012), 143-159.

Suggested further reading:
Nicholas Blomley, Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010).
Mariana Valverde, Everyday Law on the Street: City Governance in an Age of Diversity (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2012).
David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2013).

Apr 3                      The City III – The City and the City
Required reading:
China Mieville, City and the City (London: Pan, 2011).
Alison Young, “Cities in the City: Street Art, Enchantment, and the Urban Commons” Law and Literature (2014) 26(2), 145- 161. 

Suggested further reading:
Peter Marks, “Monitoring the Unvisible: Seeing and Unseeing in China Mieville’s The City and the CitySurveillance & Society (2013) 11(3), 222-236.
Daniel Hourigan, “Breach! Law’s Jouissance in China Mieville’s the City and the CityLaw, Culture and the Humanities (2013) 9(1), 156-168.  



Apr 10                  The Anthropocene 
Required reading:
Will Steffen et al, “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2011) 369, 842-867. 
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.

Suggested further reading:
Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg, “The Geology of Mankind? A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative” The Anthropocene Review (2014) 1(1), 62-69.
Simon Dalby, “Framing the Anthropocene: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” The Anthropocene Review (2015) 3(1), 33-51.
Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil and Francois Gemenne (eds.), The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Re-thinking Modernity in a new Epoch (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).
Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (London: Polity, 2017).

Apr 17                   Facing Gaia
Required reading:
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), 220-292 [extracted].

Suggested further reading:
Bruce Clarke, “Re-thinking Gaia: Stengers, Latour, Margulis” Theory, Culture & Society (2017) 34(4), 3-26.
Isabelle Stengers, Living in Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism (New York: Open Humanities Press, 2015).
Kyle McGee, Heathen Earth: Trumpism and Political Ecology (New York: Puntum Press, 2017).
Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (London: Verso, 2017), 3-49.  

Apr 24                   Plenary Session: Student Presentations 



Last updated: 10 January 2019