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Reading: Sovereignty in the City: The Tacticalization of 'Disallowed' Life


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Sovereignty in the City: The Tacticalization of 'Disallowed' Life


Benjamin Taylor

Political Science, Virginia Tech, US
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In this paper, I perform close readings of several of the narratives included in the This American Life podcast in order to rethink sovereignty outside of the framework of the state as it is lived and practiced in everyday circumstances. Drawing on Bonnie Honig’s reformulation of sovereignty as a modality of power that is not possessed by a singular authority but instead embodied in the collective activity of a people, I use these narratives to assist in theorizing a politics that seeks not emancipation but rather the enactment of futures that are more egalitarian. Such a politics is best conceived a struggle against forms of violence enacted at specific sites rather than as expressions of unified forms of domination. To undertake this analysis, I begin by briefly outlining Honig’s line of inquiry, after which I turn to the specific narratives documented by This American Life, reading them not merely as the chronicles of life in Englewood but as theoretically fecund exemplars of collective and individual sovereignty. Finally, I conclude by exploring what the reading of such narratives as instances of sovereignty can reveal for us regarding politics more generally. Conceiving of the characters in these narratives as sovereign actors seeking to survive rather than as either helpless sufferers (those who experience violence) or criminals (those who act violently) helps to illuminate the complex political dynamics that sustain poverty and produce violence in locales such as Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
How to Cite: Taylor, B., 2017. Sovereignty in the City: The Tacticalization of 'Disallowed' Life. Spectra, 6(1). DOI:
Published on 08 Sep 2017.


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