This article explores the aesthetic elements of sovereignty. Building on the anthropological literature on sovereignty and on contemporary work on the politics of aesthetics, the article analyzes contemporary appearances of Batman symbols and figures in Rio de Janeiro. Despite political debate and academic discussion about the Batmen appearing in mafia-like militias and popular street protests in Rio, the question of what these appearances tell us about the relations between popular imagery and political contestation has remained untouched. This article supports the work of writers who argue that superhero comics and movies present fierce figures that operate in the zone of indistinction, at the crossroads of lawful order and its exception. However, it adds to this literature an analysis that shows in what kind of sociopolitical contexts these figures operate and how that plays itself out. To understand the contemporary appearances and force of figures of the entertainment industry better, this article proposes the concept “popular culture of sovereignty.”
Brazilian Conflicts and the Popular Culture of Sovereignty
Sovereignty and Social Contestation—Between Violence and Alternative Sociocultural Orders
Martijn Oosterbaan and Wil G. Pansters
In the past decade, the concept of sovereignty has swiftly risen in popularity within anthropological circles, especially in relation to violence in postcolonial and post-authoritarian societies (Das and Poole 2004). The rationale of this section is rooted in the aspiration to build on and further develop anthropological understandings of conflict and violence centered on the notion of sovereignty. Whereas the contributors to the section are indebted to theoretical approaches influenced by the writings of Agamben (1998, 2005), they also present analytic advantages and shortcomings. For instance, a recent critique of Agamben’s notion of sovereignty—and of many of his followers—is that it reproduces totalitarian notions of modern politics that cannot account for the historical existence of “ordered” communities “free from subjection, and … free from subjecting others” (Jennings 2011: 43).