Sovereignty: The 2021 Annual Soyuz Symposium 4-7 November 2021 (School of Arts and Humanities and Division of Social Anthropology, HSE St Petersburg) (online)
The annual symposium of Soyuz: Postsocialist Cultural Studies Group of the American Anthropological Association explores newly competitive reassertions of sovereignty in geopolitical and regional arenas, and new regimes of security within and beyond national borders. Keynotes speakers: Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge) and Jeanne Kormina (HSE St Petersburg).
We live in a world of newly competitive reassertions of sovereignty in geopolitical and regional arenas, and new regimes of security within and beyond national borders. These assertions are no longer grounded in competitive yet universalist models of modernity, such as socialist, welfare-state and neoliberal. Some are increasingly indifferent to such distinctions, as in China’s geopolitical projects. Others, from USA to Russia, work through claims to cultural and political exceptionalism. Yet others also perpetually redraw the line between politics and religion, bringing thereby to light a strong nexus between sovereignty and the modern state’s entitlement to define and regulate religion.
These transformations prompt questions, first, about the range of these sovereignties and their respective subjects, and, second, about theoretical conceptualisation of these multiple and contested forms. Recent resurgence of research interests in sovereignty have been inspired by the scholarship of Agamben and Schmitt who highlight its specific European legacies of Roman law and classical Greek distinctions of bios and zoe. How do new assertions of sovereignty challenge sovereignty’s and international law’s classic Eurocentric foundations? What kinds of political distancing from Europe/the EU do these assertions of sovereignty constitute both from outside Western Europe (Russia and the USA) and within it (Hungary, Poland and the UK)? Conversely, what is taken at face value about these European legacies when they are emulated in the aspirations of the EU ascent and claims to Europeanness from Ukraine and Georgia to the states of the former Yugoslavia? What are spaces from where we engage with these concepts critically? How do these concepts circulate in complex landscapes of interrogation, imitation and disconnection which are simultaneously political and analytical? Given that our conceptualisation often takes ideal-typical form, how do we account for topographies of actually existing sovereignties that cut across different types of power and rule over different kinds of subjects, bodies and populations? Why might the very notions of “type” and “kind” be here problematic?
The 2020 Annual Soyuz Symposium addresses these questions by drawing on current research in anthropology and related disciplines such as history, political philosophy and interdisciplinary area studies. We invited ethnographically grounded as well as theoretical papers that chart idioms of sovereignty across the post-Soviet global space. How are they shaped by the history of post-socialist transformations — such as legacies of the former Soviet states’ break-down throughout the 1990s and their resurgence in the 2000s? What are these idioms of sovereignty and rule? How are they articulated and constituted domestically in relationship to their subject populations, bodies and social spaces, and internationally? How do they reshape the concepts of nation and belonging including their currently rising far right versions? What happens when these regimes of sovereignty come into conflict or extend into territories such as Syria, Africa and Latin America? What is “territory” for these forms and idioms of sovereignty? How do they draw on region’s imperial legacies (e.g. Russian and Ottoman)? How do they work through the categories of the secular and the religious? What are these sovereignties’ new scales and arenas? What is digital sovereignty in cyber-warfare and big data, or “sexual sovereignty” that guides rights of sexual minorities and the Russian-US relations in the sphere of international adoption? How are these new arenas visible in transnational border control regimes, such as the EU; transnational infrastructural projects, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and relations between central states, sub-national regions, or corporate and NGO actors? In what ways, if at all, are these forms of sovereignty neoliberal? How one can interpret their ubiquitous reliance on subcontracting, delegating and outsourcing services, social obligations, and even violence?
Programme (timetable according to Moscow time zone)
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