Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

Sovereignty as care: acquaintances, mutuality, and scale in the Wa State of Myanmar

Steinmüller, Hans ORCID: 0000-0002-5921-421X (2022) Sovereignty as care: acquaintances, mutuality, and scale in the Wa State of Myanmar. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 64 (4). 910 - 933. ISSN 0010-4175

[img] Text (Steinmuller_sovereignty-as-care--published) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (230kB)

Identification Number: 10.1017/S0010417522000299


Sovereignty always relies on a double movement of violence and care. It requires the power to exercise violence as well as the capacity to care, to protect, and to nourish. In the footsteps of Foucault and Agamben, numerous scholars have rediscovered the same paradox in philosophical and legal texts. Anthropologists writing about informal and practical sovereignty pay attention to violence, but sometimes ignore the importance of care for the exercise of sovereignty. Against such tendencies to focus on texts and on violence, this article deals with sovereignty as care. The concrete examples are the relationships of care between commanders, soldiers, and villagers in the Wa State of Myanmar, a de-facto state governed by an insurgent army. In the absence of an effective government bureaucracy, popular sovereignty in this military state relies on a particular logic of personal relations, in which care is central. Subordinates have to care about leaders, whereas leaders are supposed to care for subordinates. Care provides the balance and foil for the exercise of violence, and both are necessary for the exercise of sovereignty. The combination of violence and care in personal relations is scaled up to create “the people” as the subject and object of sovereignty. The article describes the logic of personal relations that allows for the exercise of popular sovereignty in the Wa State and elsewhere.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: Anthropology
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2022 09:27
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2022 12:24

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics