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Sovereignty: Stages and Frontiers Conference

May 3, 2013 - May 4, 2013

May 3 & 4, 2013 | Conference on Sovereignty

Co-sponsored by NYU’s Global Research Institute, the Remarque Institute, and the Jordan Center for the Study of Russian Culture.

In recent years, sovereignty has emerged anew as a major concept across the humanities and social sciences. Inflecting questions of authority, power, human rights, religious and popular foundations of leadership, and self-sovereignty as a particular kind of human subjectivity, new perspectives on conceptions and practices of sovereignty have acquired a powerful place in academic but also in broader popular discussions. The spread of the concept has been fuelled yet also overshadowed by models and problems dominant within particular fields: notably, empire and human rights in recent historiography and anthropology; biopolitics (as proposed by philosophers Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben) in political theory and comparative literature and beyond; political theology, in religious studies and continental-thought-influenced political and philosophical thought. Such models have established as exemplary a highly particular Western tradition and a certain image of politics and state, but have understated possible approaches to the problem, especially in that they have underestimated the wealth and interest of non- or not exclusively Western forms and even of attempts within Europe, to seek, craft or impose new forms or to sustain old ones (e.g. monarchy). With the decline of a model (exemplified perhaps in the work of Ernst Kantorowicz and Frances Yates) for the study of the regalia and mystical claims of sovereignty, and with the overcoming of psychoanalytic approaches, the chances of comparative interdisciplinary work that would begins with sovereignty “itself” is again wide open. We aim to consider the often very different schemes on which sovereignty has been based and through which it has been modified or renewed, the stages and scaffolds on which it is erected, the imagined and conceptual bases that particular moments of sovereignty rely on.

In this conference we propose to use global intellectual history as bridge between disciplines, between periods, and between areas, in order to fill precisely this gap: to use some of the best current interdisciplinary work and allow for a systematic understanding of the term and its intellectual promise. Of particular concern to us are three things—and these are what we plan to focus on in this conference. First, the formulations of new kinds of sovereignty—practices and spectacles announcing new sovereigns or new forms of sovereignty, and their dependence and transformation of earlier motifs. Second, the ways in which non-European traditions have articulated figures akin to that of “sovereignty” in the modern European tradition, the cross-cultural borrowings and impositions that have developed, the instants or instances where such sovereignty has been asserted or deployed. Third, the textual and theatrical support for invocations, expressions, plays, and re-articulations of sovereignty. To engage with these themes, we are beginning to invite scholars in history, political science, law, and comparative literature.

This two-day conference centered on Europe and the Atlantic World but expanding toward Islamic and Chinese approaches to the problem of sovereignty, and specifically concerned with spatial and temporal frontiers—spaces of conflict and exchange; stages and stagings of sovereignty within particular traditions; top-down and popular forms; but also historical citations and revisions of existing or seemingly dated theories of sovereignty. We are thus aiming to craft a group of scholars and papers bridging periods, areas, and fields in order to allow for such connections to become major foci of discussion.


Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, NYU

Stefanos Geroulanos, NYU

Nicole Jerr, Johns Hopkins University

Jason Frank, Cornell University

Wilson Chacko Jacob, Concordia University

Anke Hennig, Freie Universität Berlin

Joachim Kurtz, Universität Heidelberg

Bernadette Meyler, Cornell University

Glenn W. Most, Scuola Normale di Pisa/University of Chicago

Eugene R. Sheppard, Brandeis University

Miranda Spieler, University of Arizona

Justin Stearns, NYU-Abu Dhabi


NYU Silver
100 Washington Square East, Room 401
New York, NY 10003 United States
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