Indicative Topics

  • Waning Sovereignty – Situating sovereignty in the context of globalization.
  • Sovereignty as 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.
  • The city as a challenge to 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.



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%) 



Indicative Texts

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 [1947]).
  • 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).



Last updated: 4 July 2019