• Judith Butler;
  • violence;
  • vulnerability;
  • ethical perspective;
  • new war prison;
  • sovereignty;
  • governmentality;
  • Ulrich Beck;
  • cosmopolitanization thesis


This article proposes that Butler's Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence provides a valuable contribution to the sociology of cosmopolitanism on the basis of a perspective which forcefully addresses the new sovereign power of the USA which reneges on the possibilities of cosmopolitanization by means of resurgent nationalism, extra-legal modalities of militarization and incarceration (‘the new war prison’) and state powers now integrated into normalized practices of everyday governmentality. Butler's Foucauldian approach to power and subjectivity is contrasted with Beck's understanding of self-reflexivity in cosmopolitanized society. Butler's feminist-inspired approach to mourning and grief and her account of vulnerability and violence also encourage a response to recent acts of terrorism and subsequent wars by means of an ethics of non-violence. Drawing on the Levinasian concept of ‘the face’ Butler explores the obligation posed by ‘the face’ to refuse violent confrontation. The article suggests a sociological reading of Butler's ethical account which throws light on issues pertinent to the cosmopolitanization thesis, through an interrogation of the relations of power and powerlessness which underlie encounters with otherness.