COURSE: Authority, Sovereignty, Power

Course content

The unifying theme of the course is an investigation of the nature of power.

Power is manifested in multiple forms - legal and illegal, legitimizable and questionable, institutionalized and spontaneous, visible and invisible. The course will pursue the multiple guises of power through various conceptualizations of power as developed by significant political theorists of the 20th and 21st century. On the basis of thorough analysis of political theoretical texts, broader discussions will be initiated regarding our experiences of power today - from power executed on the level of states to cultural and ideological power hard to fathom; from power that sustains dominating social and political forms to protesting, anarchistic or even revolutionary power.


The course is structured according to the three concepts of the title: authority, sovereignty, power. ‘Authority’ and ‘sovereignty’ may both be seen as designating particular forms of power. The two concepts are certainly intimately connected, but dealing with them separately opens for a discussion of crucial conceptual tensions. The third part of the course, dedicated to ‘power’, investigates perspectives on power that escape the concepts ‘authority’ and ‘sovereignty’: power as a fundamental condition and expression of life, bio-power and ideological power.


‘Authority, Sovereignty, Power’ is an intensive course that meets for 4 hours each week during the first 7 weeks of the spring semester (February-March). The course is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.


Competency description:

The course will enhance the analytical capabilities of the students along with their general insight into theoretical positions springing from 20th and 21st century continental political philosophy. Independent and critical analysis will be highlighted - both with respect to theoretical concepts and arguments and with respect to contemporary political issues. The course will encourage and strengthen the ability of the students to develop broad reflections and to underpin them theoretically and empirically.


Core course in the Specialization "Political Theory"

The course is open to all students.


Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS

Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome
  • Describe the various definitions/understandings of ‘authority’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘power’ presented in the texts of the course
  • Analyze conceptual as well as possible empirical implications of these understandings
  • Apply the theories of the course to contemporary political issues
  • Compare the various understandings of power implied in the texts of the course and discuss strengths and weaknesses of the respective theories
  • Critically reflect upon the relevance today of a multifaceted concept of power versus a narrow and concise concept of power - and vice versa

The course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions - possibly including ‘alternative’ elements, such as excerpts from films, interviews, newspaper articles and other expressions of contemporary phenomena and debates (provided by students as well as by the course instructor).

Preliminary reading list (please note that changes may occur; the complete reading list will be available before the beginning of the semester):


Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press 1998 (excerpts of the work)

Hannah Arendt: Between Past and Future, Penguin Books 2006 (excerpts of the work)

Wendy Brown: Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Zone Books, 2010 (excerpts of the work)

Judith Butler: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of the Assembly, Harvard University Press 2015 (excerpts of the work)

Fyodor Dostoevski: “The Grand Inquisitor”, in The Brothers Karamazov, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002, p. 246-264

Foucault, Michel: Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978, Palgrave Macmillan 2009 (excerpts of the work)

David Graeber: Revolutions in Reverse. Essays on Politics, Violence, Art and Imagination, Minor Compositions 2011 (excerpts of the work)

Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition 2009 (excerpts of the work)

Antoni Negri, Michael Hardt: Commonwealth, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011 (excerpts of the work)

Bernard E. Harcourt: “Political Disobedience”, in W.J.T. Mitchell, Bernard E. Harcourt, Michael Taussig: Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, University of Chicago Press, 2013, , p. 45-91

Friedrich Nietzsche: Beyond Good & Evil, Cambridge University Press, 2002 (excerpts of the work)

R.B. Friedman: “On the Concept of Authority in Political Philosophy”, in Joseph Raz (editor): Authority (Readings in Social & Political Theory), NYU Press, 1990, p. 56-92

Carl Schmitt: Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, The MIT Press, 1985 (excerpts of the work)

Carl Schmitt: The concept of the Political, University Of Chicago Press, 2007 (excerpts of the work)

Max Weber: The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Martino Fine Books 2012

Slavoj Zizek: Living in the End Times, Verso, 2011 (excerpts of the work)

The course presupposes a general interest in political theory broadly conceived. The course is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28