some thoughts on sovereignty

this posting is, again, a bit theoretical but also asks those of you who might read this blog to help me out a bit

in one of my writing induced moments of insomnia, i started thinking that perhaps a good way of thinking about sovereignty might be by analogy to what some scholars in economic anthropology have done with the concept of primitive accumulation. if political accumulation is an uneven and ongoing process, could we also think about sovereignty not in terms of the hobbesian mythology of the war of all against all or some originary moment of violent occupation, but an uneven, shifting, and ongoing process in which the state comes to rule or manage populations, communities, families, or individuated subjects?

it seems that such an idea would allow us to think about the different ways that colonial powers governed subject populations, what kelly and kaplan have called the “constitutive deals” of colonialism; it would also give us a way around agamben’s ethnographically and historically ungrounded (and ungroundable) notion of bare life, which results, it seems to me, from foucault’s very unclear working out of the historical discontinuity between sovereign power and biopower. we would also be able to see the current discussions of tensions between (or shift across) citizenship as individual right versus communal or collective rights in multicultural polities as related to the working of this process historically

my question has to do with my current project on ‘amis far ocean fishermen. if, in fact, the making of individual subjects or populations as knowable and governable requires more attention to an ongoing process, it will also require greater historical and ethnographic care, particularly in thinking about the types of mediation between state agency and communities. i’m thinking here not just about the relationship between far ocean fishermen’s desire to build concrete houses and KMT policies to improve the lives of “mountain people,” but also in terms of the constitutive deals of japanese colonialism, which having defined ‘amis as largely “civilized” both included them in civil property codes and deprived ‘amis communities of reservation land–an political economic feature that pushed ‘amis men more quickly toward wage labor. as i would argue, we can also see registration of state projects in age set names in a’tolan. thus it might be possible to think of ongoing negotiations around the extension of sovereignty

but i have a couple of questions. first, is there actually something circulating in the literature that resembles my analogy between primitive accumulation and sovereignty? does this idea sort of work? finally, what would i call this process?

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