Vancouver Institute for Social Research: Christina Hendricks

April 20, 2015

Christina Hendricks – Foucault on Beheading the Sovereign


“What we need … is a political philosophy that isn’t erected around the problem of sovereignty, nor therefore around the problems of law and prohibition. We need to cut off the King’s head: in political theory that has still to be done.”


So said Michel Foucault in an interview first published in 1977 (Truth and Power, in Power/Knowledge, Ed. Colin Gordon, Pantheon, 1980). This presentation will not address whether or not political theory has yet cut off the king’s head (though discussion of this issue is welcome); rather, I will discuss why, according to Foucault, it should be done. What is the problem with thinking of power relations in terms of “law and prohibition,” in terms of sovereignty? Drawing from The History of Sexuality Volume I and some of the lectures in Society Must be Defended and Security, Territory and Population, I will distinguish between what Foucault calls “sovereign power” and “biopower,” and will explain his later understanding of power through the notion of “governmentality”. In this way I, along with those present through our discussion, will address why Foucault thought sovereignty no longer provided a useful model for analyzing power relations (at least in the mid- to late-twentieth century).


The Vancouver Institute for Social Research (VISR) is an independent, para-academic, graduate-level, theory-based free school that began in Feb. 2013. Our intent is to move beyond the borders of the traditional university and to open up a more accessible platform in the city for the engaged discussion of critical theory.


The Institute’s fourth session will be organized around the theme of “Sovereignty,” and is being held from March 2 to April 27, 2015.


Once a week on Monday evenings from 7-9 pm at the Or Gallery (555 Hamilton Street), professors, grad students, and local activists will be presenting on topics of their choice. The seminar will be free to the public and advance readings will be distributed through our WordPress site. Videos of past classes can be found here.


Venue is wheelchair accessible

Participant Bios

Christina Hendricks is a senior lecturer in UBC’s Philosophy department. She works predominantly on issues pertaining to ethics, sex, and gender.