Settler Colonial Sovereignty: Some implications of Jasbir Puar’s conception of the sovereign right to maim

The fourth contribution to our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim comes from Darcy Leigh and Cynthia Weber. Dr Darcy Leigh currently teaches decolonial and queer legal perspectives, as well as interdisciplinary ‘widening access’ programming, at the University of Sussex Law School. She has previously been a Teaching Fellow and/or Research Assistant at the universities of Edinburgh, Ottawa and Alberta. Dr Leigh has also worked as a facilitator, researcher and/or consultant with decolonial higher education projects Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning and the Akitsiraq Law School, as well as in the equalities and policy sectors in School, as well as in the equalities and policy sectors in Scotland. Cynthia Weber is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex.  She has written extensively on sovereignty, intervention, and US foreign policy, as well as on feminist, gendered and sexualized understandings and organizations of international relations.


State sovereignty, as a central analytical category in the field of International Relations (IR), has been too often uncontested (Walker, 1993). In spite of a wave of critical sovereignty studies in the 1990s (Ashley, 1988; Bartelson, 1995; Weber, 1995; Biersteker and Weber, 1996; Walker, 1993), with few exceptions those debates largely skirted or ignored altogether how state claims to sovereignty are woven through and require specific relationship to race and sexuality (Doty, 1996; Peterson, 1999; Weber, 1999). Only very recently have IR scholars come to recognize the centrality of sexuality and race in sovereign state formation (Anievas, Manchanda & Shilliam, 2015; Agathangelou et al 2008; Inayatullah & Blaney, 2004; Leigh, 2017; Manchanda, 2015; Rao, 2012, 2014; Richter-Montpetit, 2007, 2015, 2016; Sabaratnam, 2017; Shilliam, 2015; Weber, 2016). More recently still, IR scholars are beginning to recognize the centrality not just of sexuality and race, but also of settler colonialism and disability (Beier, 2005, 2009; Crawford, 1994, 2007; Howell, 2011, 2018; Leigh, 2015; Shaw, 2008).

Jasbir Puar’s challenging and provocative new book, The Right to Maim, pushes these discussions further, demonstrating the inextricability of state sovereignty from settler colonialism as configured through racialized and sexualized relations of debility, capacity and disability. In so doing, Puar contests the function and meaning not only of sovereign statecraft, but also of settler colonialism.

In this short piece, we focus on the implications of Puar’s reworking of sovereignty and settler colonialism.

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Spectrums of Debility and Resistance

The second post in our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s Right to Maim is by Isis Nusair, who is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and International Studies at Denison University. She is the co-editor with Rhoda Kanaaneh of Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel, and translator of Ramy Al-Asheq’s book of poetic prose Ever Since I Did Not Die. She is the writer and director with Laila Farah of Weaving the Maps: Tales of Survival and Resistance; a one-woman show based on research with Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian refugee women.  Her upcoming book is titled Permanent Transients: Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan and the USA. She is currently conducting research on the narratives of crossing of Syrian refugees into Germany. Isis previously served as a researcher at the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network.

Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability makes an important contribution to our thinking about the connection between debility, capacity and disability. The book challenges binary thinking and offers a continuum when thinking about dis/ability. Puar argues that capacity, debility and disability exist in mutually reinforcing constellation and are often overlapping or coexistent, and that debilitation is a necessary component that both exposes and sutures the non-disabled/disabled binary (xv).

Puar’s analysis emphasizes how intersectional and interdisciplinary approaches should shape our understanding of state sovereignty and the importance of examining the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability in the production of power structures in society. Her analysis of debility not only links the social, economic, political and environmental conditions in which people live but the ways these power structures manifest themselves in the global north and south.

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Anarchy, Security, Hierarchy: Reading IR with Jasbir Puar

The first post in our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim is by Sankaran Krishna who teaches politics at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. His latest essay (“Manhunt Presidency: Obama, Race and the Third World”) will be published in the journal Third World Quarterly in 2019.


Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Duke, 2017) sensitizes us to how binary categories organize our thinking and our disciplines –and often do so in ways that obscure important ethical issues. In this brief essay, I first adumbrate Puar’s thesis in her remarkable book and then take a critical look at the role that a certain binary – anarchy/security – plays in constructing the discipline of IR in specific ways, and end with some speculations on what the introduction of a third term, hierarchy, does to re-center issues of inequality, domination, racism and violence in the study of our world.

To peremptorily summarize Puar, she argues that the western discourse of disability rights is a quintessentially “white” political, economic, social, cultural and racial formation. Disability rights are fought for by and accrue primarily to affluent or middle-class citizens of western, developed societies even as these societies are themselves –through their military, economic, political, social and other interventions- responsible for much of human and planetary pain.

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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.

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