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Sovereignty without hegemony, the nuclear state, and a ‘secret public hearing’ in India

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 12:00 authored by Raminder Kaur KahlonRaminder Kaur Kahlon
How can sovereignty provide the premises to think outside of sovereignty? In other words, how is it possible to perceive of resistance to sovereignty which itself is deemed to have been caught up in the double bind of sovereignty? With a critical appraisal of theories on the ‘state of exception’ in conversation with Robert Jungk’s consideration of the ‘nuclear state’, I account for the nuclear state of exception which has acquired sovereignty in several nations in the post-world war II scenario. I then provide a critical appraisal of studies of resistance, and account for how ways of conceptualising contestation and challenges in the shadows of sovereignty can be pursued in what I describe as a case of ‘sovereignty without hegemony’. With an ethnographic illustration of a public hearing in the vicinity of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant that has been under construction in Tamil Nadu since 2002, I describe the events before, during and after the public hearing as a means with which to demonstrate the oscillation of the nuclear state between a propensity for violence and rational-legal proceduralism and in the process, its (re)production as distant, hierarchical and unaccountable to the public. Nevertheless, in between the sutures of techno-political authoritarianism and public accountability, absolutism and democracy, the public hearing represented a bleak ray of hope which local residents utilised to their own ends and exercised dispersed forms of resistance and mobilization, ranging from the ‘agonistic’ (Foucault) to the ‘potential’ (Agamben).


Publication status

  • Published


Theory, Culture and Society




SAGE Publications





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Department affiliated with

  • Anthropology Publications

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