The crowd is not a technology or a subject of sovereignty. It is neither the ‘agent’ who could take, create or destroy sovereignty; nor a ‘means’ for others to become sovereign. The crowd is remarkable because of its prevalence and excision. It is often there in those paradigmatic moments of sovereignty, but generally maligned and denigrated. This site is designed to investigate the intuition that today the crowd presents a distinct way of thinking. Unlike the nation, people or proletariat, the crowd has remained something to be reviled, and as such it remains unburdened by the weight of idealisation. The crowd is crucial, but not in its rationality, its wisdom or its possibilities to provide capital efficiently. As Freud or Canetti saw clearly, it is a protean and affective co-presence, whose dynamics are crucial to both everyday and spectacular politics.
The project is called Crowded Sovereignty, as it is not simply a matter of crowds. Sovereignty is most often imagined in uncrowded scenes. Time and space are usually presupposed. Even in the crazy moment of decision, brought on by some crisis, the sovereign seems to pause before the leap. Sovereignty is usually thought of as lonely words of decision from the majestic and terrific One, or a hubub of the few selected by representation or status. But in these sovereign scenes there is order and regularity, irrespective of whether they produce something pure and pristine, or blood, torment and wretchedness. This project wants to think about the everyday and cacophanous moments when sovereignty is crowded out, shouted down or silently subtracted. In this sense, it comes at the juncture of three themes:
- The first is a questioning of the crowd. It is an investigation into the various ways in which it takes place, is theorised or denigrated. The crowd in its transience, borderlessness and dispersed (dis)order, stands away from sovereign modes of thought.
- The second is a continuing engagement with an open constituent power. That means thinking about constituent power in ways that do not simply pose the consitution or the sovereign, once more at the pinacle.
- The final theme is disorder. This is an opportunity to think about how law seeks to generate dis/order. Law and order seem inexorably bound to one another. Law is the soothing balm of order which punishes the violent and compensates the suffering. The crowd which tears up the streets for missiles seems like the very opposite of the ordered theatricality of the court-room. But this strand begins to develop a more nuanced idea of the relation, investigating the legal field of the ‘law of disorder’. This includes everything from transitional justice, humanitarian law, to rights, pubic law and policing. This will develop initially through my undergraduate course Law and Disorder at the University of Warwick.
The project, at this stage is less a fully worked out process with stages and findings, than a disordered crowd of ideas, leads and reflections. I hope you will join me in developing it.
About the Author
Dr Illan rua Wall is an Associate Professor in the School of Law, University of Warwick. He is one of the editors of the blog Critical Legal Thinking, and is on the editorial board of Law and Critique, and the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Critical Globalization. He has published on critical legal theory, theories of constituent power, the Arab Spring, protest and transitional justice in Colombia, theories of human rights and revolt, and new Andean constitutional apparatuses. This includes the books Human Rights and Constituent Power and New Critical Legal Thinking (with Costas Douzinas and Matt Stone). Most of his articles can be found on Academia.