Sovereignty in Law, Theory and Culture

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.

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Hobbes, Leviathan (1651). Frontispiece.

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 it related to the history of the state? How is our understanding of sovereignty changing in the context of contemporary challenges like globalization, climate change and international terrorism? And what would law and politics looks like without sovereignty? The course takes a broad historical sweep, from early-modern conceptions to the present day. 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’ sovereignty. Throughout the course, we supplement theoretical and legal debates with insights from literature and the visual arts. The plays of William Shakespeare; poetry written by inmates within the Guantanamo detention centres; 17th century emblems and images; and an early-twentieth century novel will all help us understand the meaning of sovereignty and explore possibilities for its critique.

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Richard II of England (mid 1390s)

The course will be of particular interest to students who have enjoyed classes in legal 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. The course will provide participants with valuable cross-disciplinary reading, rhetorical and evaluative skills.

 

 

 

 

 

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US-Mexico Border in Arizona, 2017.