Rethinking Sovereignty: Histories from the South


Rethinking Sovereignty: Histories from the South

Rethinking Sovereignty: Histories from the South

November 09, 2023 / 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm / Add to Calendar
3401 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

Prathama Banerjee
Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India; Visiting Scholar, International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs

In this seminar, we ask if the concept of sovereignty—as it evolved out of European histories of early modern absolutist states and subsequently globalized via the work of colonialism and nationalism—works well in understanding the nature of political power in the world today. We begin the discussion by studying histories of kingship, caste, and indigeneity in South Asia, which show that the socially dispersed nature of political power in this region disrupts the Hobbesian state/society binary on which the modern idea of sovereignty rests. We then set up a framework of connections and comparisons that allows us to think South Asian histories together with histories of political power in Southeast and West Asia. We also analyze the role of colonialism—both settler colonialism (such as in the United States) and commercial colonialism (such as in South Asia)—in instituting sovereignty as the primary ground for both rulership and resistance, with serious implications for politics of autonomy in our times. Along the way, we discuss, as a constitutive part of the problematic of ‘rethinking sovereignty,’ the temporal and philosophical implications of bringing precolonial and non-modern histories to bear upon modern political theory, and the disciplinary critique that such an exercise might entail.

Prathama Banerjee is a historian and political theorist at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. She works at the intersections of literary theory, cultural history, and political philosophy, and is currently engaged in researching the role of economic concepts in democratic politics in twentieth-century India. Banerjee is the author of The Politics of Time: “Primitives” and History-Writing in a Colonial Society (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Elementary Aspects of the Political: Histories from the Global South (Duke University Press, 2020).

Advance Registration for the seminar is required. To register and receive readings, please contact

Presented by the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Institute for South Asia Studies.

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