Sovereignty is a contentious topic in debates in Britain, Europe and internationally.  The British PM Theresa May contrasted British and European attitudes to ‘pooling’ sovereignty; US President Trump used the concept 21 times in his first speech to the UN.  Sovereignty has been at the heart of political philosophy for centuries, and yet it is far from clear what work sovereignty is actually doing in the modern world.  Why is sovereignty seen as indivisible?  Why are we prepared to allow supranational authority e.g. in human rights, but baulk at other external interventions?  Is sovereignty always popular?  What role does sovereignty have in a world of international finance, global information exchange, and international regulation?  What significance does sovereignty have outside western Europe?

We wish to approach sovereignty on three key axes:

  1. Historical, looking for alternative genealogies and placing the concept in a broader framework than the traditional post-Westphalian narrative
  2. Through contemporary global challenges, specifically international relations and the role of supranational military forces; regulation, with specific focus on financial markets; and human rights, with a specific focus on migration and environmentalism.
  3. Through sociology, using the powerful new paradigm developed by Hartmut Rosa, Resonance, to set the concept within the framework of critical theory.

The conference will thus:

  1. renew and reinvigorate traditional genealogical approaches;
  2. contextualise philosophical arguments through the areas of Sovereignty and the military; Sovereignty and regulation; and Sovereignty and human rights.
  3. set this in the context of a powerful new sociological methodology which both has something to say about why sovereignty is in difficulties as a concept, and about how we might manage an alternative conception of sovereignty.

Timetable and Speakers

The conference will take place over four sessions.  Each will allow ample space for discussion from invited respondents.

Session 1 will address two ancient case studies, Rome and China.  The session will demonstrate the constitutive relevance of the Roman case to early modern thought, but that it also offers an alternative way of construing sovereignty, as does the Chinese model.  Session 2 will continue the discussion of alternative models of sovereignty into the early modern period.  The discussion will focus on the absence of the notion of indivisibility in these instances.  Session 3 will look at specific areas where notions of sovereignty are under strain, or where sovereignty is potentially harmful; limit cases in human rights and asylum; areas where strong and despotic leaders use sovereignty to create conditions of harm.  In all instances, counter movements use mechanisms and languages which go beyond sovereignty to stake more universal claims.  Session 4 will consider areas of regulation including the use of force, the relevance of law, and the relevance of sovereignty in a global financial market.   This will lead into a reflection on the sociology of sovereignty in an accelerating and globalising world, led by leading sociologist Prof. Hartmut Rosa.  The concluding panel will draw together the work of the preceding sessions with a reflection on how to reshape the notion of sovereignty for the 21st century.