Becoming Otherwise: Sovereign Authorship in a World of Multiplicity

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Virginia Tech

This thesis explores the theory and practice of sovereignty. I begin with a conceptual analysis of sovereignty, examining its theological roots in contrast with its later influence in contestations over political authority. Theological debates surrounding God’s sovereignty dealt not with the question of legitimacy, which would become important for political sovereignty, but instead with the limits of his ability. Read as an ontological capacity, sovereignty is coterminous with an existent’s activity in the world. As lived, this capacity is regularly limited by the ways in which space is produced via its representations, its symbols, and its practices. All collective appropriations of space have a nomos that characterizes their practice. Foucault’s account of “biopolitics” provides an account of how contemporary materiality is distributed, an account that can be supplemented by sociological typologies of how city space is typically produced. The collective biopolitical distribution of space expands the range of practices that representationally legibilize activity in the world, thereby expanding the conceptual limits of existents and what it means for them to act up to the borders of their capacity, i.e., to practice sovereignty. The desire for total authorial capacity expresses itself in relations of domination and subordination that never erase the fundamental precarity of subjects, even as these expressions seek to disguise it. I conclude with a close reading of narratives recounting the lives of residents in Chicago’s Englewood, reading their activity as practices of sovereignty which manifest variously as they master and produce space.

Sovereignty, Biopolitics, Spatial Politics, Political Theology, Urban Geographies