The Right to Maim: A Symposium

Alison Howell is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University – Newark, where she is also affiliated to Women’s and Gender Studies, the Division of Global Affairs, and Global Urban Studies. Her research examines the global politics of science and technology, especially as it relates to the uses and abuses of medicine in war and (settler) colonialism. She is currently co-authoring a book with Melanie Richter-Montpetit, under contract with Oxford University Press, titled Race and Security Studies.


I’m delighted to provide an opening introduction to the Disorder of Things symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim.

Clearly, Puar’s vast body of work has already had a significant impact on International Relations. Recently published in a tenth anniversary edition, Terrorist Assemblages offered IR students and scholars a set of concepts including homonationalism, which continue to help us to develop deeper understandings of the queer politics of global racial violence and imperialism. The Right to Maim is no less bold in its interventions, yet again re-shaping our understandings of topics at the heart of much IR research, including war, security, (settler) colonialism and capitalism. It also offers altogether new avenues for research.

The Right to Maim channels and challenges a considerable array of intellectual resources in order to show how debility, disability, and capacity constitute an assemblage that states use to control populations. From this vantage point, the book insists that we re-think racial (state) violence in order to interrogate not only acts of killing, but also political assemblages aimed at maiming – including the Israeli state’s policies in Palestine.

A number of themes will catch the eye of readers interested in particular in global politics and international relations. I want to briefly highlight three.

The first is the book’s hefty challenge to debates on biopolitics and necropolitics, which are too often seen as a binary system (‘make live’ versus ‘let die’). The Right to Maim opens up a whole analytical field by recognizing acts of maiming as central to liberal political formations that debilitate not as a side effect of rule, but as fundamental and often planned acts. This process, moreover, is inextricably connected to systems of sexuality, race, and disability.

Which brings me to my second point. The Right to Maim can offer IR readers frameworks through which they can take the global politics of disability more seriously. Drawing on but also significantly contesting Critical Disability Studies, this book presses us to think about how disability and debility are not mere effects of global politics, but rather, an organizing principle of global political assemblages.

Finally, The Right to Maim might help us re-think concepts central to IR thought, even as they may not take center stage in the book. As the contributors to this symposium show, by highlighting ‘the right to maim’ the book incites IR readers to re-evaluate central IR concepts, such as anarchy or sovereignty. Contributions to the symposium explore these themes as well as other avenues of thought in their readings of The Right to Maim.

The full series of posts in this symposium on The Right to Maim will be collected here.

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