The Gender of Sovereignty

In European Politics and Aesthetics

International Conference

KU Leuven | 18-20 December 2017

To what extent would our perception of the history of sovereignty change if we systematically looked at it from a gender perspective? Sovereignty as political power or authority of governance has been a major theme in European thought from the beginning of the intellectual reflection on community. Indeed, a multiplicity of discourses and cultural practices ranging from philosophy and political theory to historiography, theology, arts and literature have, often in entangled ways, sought to legitimize, represent, explore, recalibrate or reject conceived notions of rule. While there can be no misunderstanding as to the reality of sovereignty, its conceptualization has always been a matter of imagination, as Hobbes already revealed when he conceded a reciprocity of ‘laws of nature’ and ‘persons artificial’ in his design of the appropriate rule. Yet whereas the imagination of sovereignty is not a straightforward narrative, its entire history reveals a remarkably obsessive embarrassment with gender that still persists today. No matter what political covenant became dominant, the idea of female sovereignty or women’s consistent participation in matters of authority was deemed abnormal, exceptional, unnatural, hence necessarily transitory and in need of a rhetoric of apology and endorsement. Not only state rule, but mutatis mutandis all forms of civic communal configurations, such as the field of cultural production, religious life or scholarship, seem to echo the same mantra of (un)gendered authority. And to what extent do biopolitical theories of rule and power include a gender perspective? Was political sovereignty by women not always already subject to some form of ‘biopolitical’ discourse? Does, in other words, history from the perspective of female rule yield a similar narrative from antiquity to modernity as set out by Foucault et al.? This international, interdisciplinary conference seeks to revisit the history of sovereignty in European thought and culture by consistently assuming a gender perspective from the beginnings of modernity until today.


Anke Gilleir (KU Leuven),
Aude Defurne (KU Leuven),
Ortwin de Graef (KU Leuven),
Bart Philipsen (KU Leuven),
Hannelore Roth (KU Leuven),
Michiel Rys (KU Leuven),
Beatrijs Vanacker (KU Leuven)

Scientific Committee

Marnix Beyen (U Antwerpen),
Ortwin de Graef (KU Leuven),
Raf Geenens (KU Leuven),
Anke Gilleir (KU Leuven),
Martin Kohlrausch (KU Leuven),
Bart Philipsen (KU Leuven),
Marjan Sterckx (U Gent),
Beatrijs Vanacker (KU Leuven),
Katlijne Van der Stighelen (KU Leuven),
Marianne Van Remoortel (U Gent)