States, subjects and sovereign power: Lessons from global gun cultures

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This article examines demand for guns for personal protection in the USA, South Africa, and India. To make sense of pro-gun sentiment across these different contexts, I argue that gun owners and carriers who arm themselves for personal protection represent a particular kind of ‘responsibilized’ subject. Drawing on Foucault's analysis of sovereign power and governmentality, I develop a theory of the ‘sovereign subject’. This is a political rationality marked by private individuals’ capacity and desire to perform sovereign functions that the state has typically monopolized, specifically the exercise of legitimate, lethal violence. I conclude the article by suggesting four characteristics (historically precarious state monopoly on sovereign power; legality of civilian use of guns; preponderance of criminal guns; and US influence) that may encourage demand for guns in high-crime societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-353
Number of pages19
JournalTheoretical Criminology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Foucault
  • guns
  • police and policing
  • responsibilization
  • self-defense

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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