Democracy and the Body Politic: From Sovereign Power to Indeterminacy

Pedro T. Magalhães

Research output: Conference materialsAbstract


As a political technology, camps materialize the ominous potential of modern democracy understood as sovereign power. Indeed, although one usually associates the massive projects of segregation, reeducation and extermination carried out in and through camps to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, the more puzzling truth is that the reasoning justifying them is not incompatible with the concept of popular sovereignty. The popular collective subject in whose name divine-right monarchs were deposed, and whose constituent power brought forth new, more egalitarian political institutions, can also turn out to be a force that closes in on itself and fosters a quest for transparent, homogeneous identity that does not shy away from employing the most ruthless coercive means. In this paper, I turn to Claude Lefort’s concept of indeterminacy as an alternative reading of the modern democratic endeavour that preserves a self-critical awareness of democracy’s ominous side. My contention is that Lefort’s concept proves to be fruitful in two ways. On the one hand, it allows us to grasp why the camp – and, for that matter, the populist strongman – is an ever-present possibility of democratic politics. On the other hand, and most importantly, it equips us with the tools to challenge these sovereigntist drifts from a specifically democratic perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventCamps, Sov­er­eignties and Polit­ical Communities - work­shop - University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 6 May 20217 May 2021


ConferenceCamps, Sov­er­eignties and Polit­ical Communities - work­shop
Internet address

Fields of Science

  • 5171 Political Science

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