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Movements like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Tea Party embody some of our deepest intuitions about popular politics and 'the power of the people'. They also expose tensions and shortcomings in our understanding of these ideals. We typically see 'the people' as having a special, sovereign power. Despite the centrality of this idea in our thinking, we have little understanding of why it has such importance. Imagined Sovereignties probes the considerable force that 'the people' exercises on our thought and practice. Like the imagined communities described by Benedict Anderson, popular politics is formed around shared, imaginary constructs rooted in our collective imagination. This book investigates these 'imagined sovereignties' in a genealogy traversing the French Enlightenment, the Haitian Revolution, and nineteenth-century Haitian constitutionalism. It problematizes taken-for-granted ideas about popular politics and provokes new ways of imagining the power of the people.Read more
- Provides a detailed and critical understanding of 'the power of the people', allowing a better understanding of contemporary popular political movements
- Breaks methodological ground in political theory by focusing attention on a much wider variety of archival sources
- Draws important connections between mainstream political thought and postcolonial theory
Reviews & endorsements
"Imagined Sovereignties demonstrates the central importance of peoplehood and political imagination to democratic politics. Olson reveals the conceptual and mythological underpinnings of popular politics, not to dispel these myths, but to bring more careful critical attention to how they operate. This is an exemplary work of historically situated democratic theory."
Jason Frank, Cornell University, New YorkSee more reviews
"Imagined Sovereignties is a beautifully written and deeply insightful book. It does a fantastic job de-naturalizing the concept of ‘the people' and illuminating the ways that popular sovereignty is constructed in specific historical moments. Olson not only provides fresh insight into the founding of the French Republic, he also examines the Haitian Revolution and its competing political imaginaries. Imagined Sovereignties is an important contribution to the theoretical literature on constituent power."
Margaret Kohn, University of Toronto
"What is fascinating in Olson's exposition of the myths of popular sovereignty is how the fantastic becomes real, how magical evocations of "the people" have actual and tangible effects. In this way, the desires and phantasms of community become the basis for normativized notions of membership, with a concomitant set of exclusions from these categories. Olson performs a brilliant exposition of these issues."
James Martell, San Francisco State University
"In the age of globalized governance, notions of popular sovereignty become increasingly problematic, but remain hotly disputed. Drawing on acute readings and broad historical comparisons, Kevin Olson has reconstructed what he calls "folk foundationalism" as a plastic fantasy, albeit one that has immense historical repercussions through its "inciting" to discourse and action and, therefore, its material normativity. This critique initially produces embarrassment, but in the end it liberates the political imagination. It is both very timely and remarkably original."
Etienne Balibar, Columbia University, New York
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- Date Published: April 2016
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9781107113237
- length: 230 pages
- dimensions: 235 x 158 x 20 mm
- weight: 0.5kg
- contains: 5 b/w illus.
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
1. Imagining politics
2. 'Sovereignty is an artificial soul' - Ernesto Laclau and Benedict Anderson in dialogue
3. How do we write a history of normative practices? - Castoriadis, Taylor, Foucault
4. The problem of the people in Enlightenment France - a short genealogy of political collectivity
5. Chimeras of political identity - intermediate reflections on the pathways of political imagination
6. Sovereign imaginaries of the Revolutionary Caribbean
7. Conscripted by modernity? - imagining sovereignty in the wake of colonialism
8. Imagining the power of the people - critical reflections on the sovereignties of our time.
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