Fall 2015: The End of Sovereignty?

The End of Sovereignty?
Friday, October 9, 2015 – 1:30-5:30 p.m.

359 Duques Hall, George Washington University
2201 G St NW (at 22nd St NW), Washington, D.C. 20037
Free and open to the public

The concept of nation-state sovereignty has been near the core of modern politics and modern theories of politics. The fecund notion of sovereignty as supreme authority has functioned as the norm and measure for both state power and also somewhat surprisingly for individual subjectivity as well. Sovereignty, in the most common acceptations, denotes the conjoint status of independence and supremacy; it arguably underwrites both theories of empire and modern individualism.

Many scholars have argued that state sovereignty is now “waning,” that it is diminished by transnational circuits of capital, people, and nonstate powers. In an era of globalization, state governments seem to have diminished capacity to govern their populations or control the flow of goods, people, and capital across state borders. Perhaps we could also say the same about individual sovereignty. Individuals are losing access to governing decision-making, to autonomous expressions of individual subjectivity, and instead, like states, are increasingly vulnerable to powers that undermine their ability for self-determination.

There is a growing sense that modernity has outlived the idea of sovereignty, and that this concept is no longer accurate or adequate to describe our world and our ways of moving through it. What are the effects of the end of sovereignty, and what is lost? What value is there in discarding the term for contemporary political projects, or is sovereignty necessary to sustain political projects such as indigenous rights, environmental protection, and radical democracy? This event will debate the extent of the waning of sovereignty for both individuals and states, the salience of the very concept of sovereignty for contemporary politics, and whether there is an affirmative politics that could emerge at the end of sovereignty.

In conjunction with the symposium, the Potomac Center will host a graduate student workshop on TuesdayOctober 13, at the University of Maryland.


The Natural History of Creation and the Theological Nature of Sovereignty
Mick Smith
Professor and Queen’s National Scholar, School of Environmental Studies

Queen’s University

Decomposing Sovereignty
Patchen Markell
Associate Professor

Political Science, University of Chicago

Walt Whitman and the Soft Voice of Sympathy
Jane Bennett
Professor, Political Science
Johns Hopkins University

Symposium Chair

Elisabeth Anker
Associate Professor, American Studies and Political Science
George Washington University

Videos of the lectures from this symposium are available here, with the response here