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Sawyer Seminar: Political Will





2014-2015

John E. Sawyer Seminar on the topic of “Political Will”

The notion of “political will” is at the heart of debates about the meaning and character of political life. It informs definitions of sovereignty, whether the popular consent of the “people” or other forms of authority. It is an idea that works to legitimize the juridical order and systems of law, in particular the legal form of the constitution. And it is implicit to definitions of democracy and cosmopolitanism alike. Yet despite its centrality, the concept of political will has remained relatively unanalyzed within political theory.

This Sawyer Seminar aims to study the topic of political will from a range of disciplinary angles, theoretical approaches, and cultural perspectives. In so doing, we hope to pose a series of questions about political will. First, how is political will genealogically related to correlative constructs, such as jurisdiction, liberalism, and governmentality, and how might a focus on political will shed new light on those terms? Second, how might one historicize and lend contextual specificity to conceptions of political will? What insights into the nature of political will can be gained from a comparative, cross-cultural analysis? Third, what role do culture, aesthetics, and desire play in forging and sustaining political will? Is it generated in the imagination and/or affective, materially grounded practices; or it is better explained as an abstract concept governed by the operations of reason? Fourth, what particular contributions do varying theoretical frameworks (deconstruction, psychoanalysis, Marxism, biopolitics, affect theory, postcolonial studies) offer to an account of political will?

While political will is a category that informs nearly all aspects of political existence, this Seminar will devote particular attention to analyzing four sub-topics related to political will: sovereignty and biopolitics, cosmopolitanism, democracy, and constitutionalism. In addition, we expect that many of our conversations will be oriented around questions of aesthetics and the imagination, thus investigating both the cultural and affective attributes of political will?