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Insurgent Rule as Sovereign Mimicry and Mutation: Governance, Kingship, and Violence in Civil Wars

  • Bart Klem (a1) and Sidharthan Maunaguru (a2)

This article uses the case of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to make a conceptual argument about sovereignty. Despite its aura of natural order, sovereignty is ultimately self-referential and thus somewhat arbitrary and potentially unstable. At the heart of this unsteadiness, we posit, lies the paradox between the systematic tenets of rational governance and the capricious potential of sublime violence. Both are highly relevant to the LTTE case: the movement created de facto state institutions to mimic governance, but simultaneously deployed an elaborate transcendental register of sacrifice, meaning, and intractable power wielded by a mythical leader. To capture this paradox, we connect the literature on rebel governance with anthropological debates about divine kingship. We conceptualize sovereignty as a citational practice that involves the adaptation, imitation, and mutation of different idioms of authority: political and religious, modern and traditional, rational and mythical. Understanding sovereignty in this way debunks the idea that insurgent movements are merely lagging behind established states. As sites of mimicry, bricolage, and innovation, they transform the way sovereignty is practiced and understood, thus affecting the frame that sovereignty is.

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