Sovereign Bodies: The Necropolitics Of Torture, Self-Immolation, And Suicide Bombing

Archana B. Kaku, University of Pennsylvania


This project uses the study of bodies to examine three cases which provide important insights into questions of power and resistance: torture, self-immolation, and suicide bombing. It begins with a discussion of torture as a means through which boundaries are created and marked. I name this power of boundary-making as sovereignty. Reading declassified “torture manuals” and survivor testimonies side by side, I examine the ways that sovereignty works on the bodies of the tortured. I show how trends and commonalities in the torture methods used in divergent contexts mark bodies, in different ways, as Other. In doing so, they manifest the boundaries between proper and improper subjects. Taking torture as a model for the violent assertion of sovereignty on the body, the next two cases discuss methods of resistance which also work through the destruction of the body. The discussion of self-immolation focuses on refugees and asylum seekers, who are intensely imbricated in the issues of border-making that I identify with sovereign power. I argue that these self-immolations are an act of transgression and resistance against the idea of border enforcement. The discussion of suicide bombing, on the other hand, examines the suicide bomber and their corpse as a site of hybridity and mixing. Drawing on the materially specific ways that bodies are affected by these acts, I argue that dead, dying, and destroyed bodies are not only objects created by political agents, but also have the potential to be politically efficacious themselves.