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Over the past months, appeals to ‘individual sovereignty’ have brought together a wide range of political actors across Europe, united in their rejection of face masks, ‘social distancing’, and other forms of state-imposed regulation of behavior and mobility. In this short piece, Professors Eckes and Bialasiewicz take to task the notion of ‘individual sovereignty’ which has been invoked by these movements to contest the pandemic powers of the state.

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Over the past months, appeals to ‘individual sovereignty’ have brought together a wide range of political actors across Europe, united in their rejection of face masks, ‘social distancing’, and other forms of state-imposed regulation of behavior and mobility. Opposition to state efforts to govern the spread of the pandemic has created, indeed, the most unlikely of coalitions—from anarchists and natural health proponents to anti-vaxxers and libertarians of all stripes (from the radical-ecological to the right-nativist)—all mobilizing around a purported defense of ‘personal freedoms’ and ‘individual rights’ against the sovereign power of states.1

In this short piece, Professor Christina Eckes and Professor Luiza Bialasiewicz take to task the notion of ‘individual sovereignty’ which has been invoked by these movements to contest the pandemic powers of the state. Our aim is to point out some fundamental contradictions that underpin such claims-making, from a legal and political-geographic point of view. As Simpson notes in his commentary, the impacts of both the pandemic and of the extension of state powers in attempting to contain it have been profoundly unequal across space and across different bodies, deemed more or less worthy of protection and care. While cognizant of the inherent inequalities (if not directly violence) of state pandemic-politics, we wish to draw attention here also to the potential perils that the contestation of state powers may bring when it throws into question the very bases of democratic collectivity. By highlighting how the claims of today's protest movements ably meld neoliberal appeals to ‘individual responsibility’ with a mystified and de-politicized notion of ‘sovereignty’ evacuated of its collective content, we add to Mitropoulos's argument that the absence of collective action under pandemic circumstances conditions life chances on private wealth.

The article focuses on three claims made by these movements:

1. Re-claiming ‘fundamental rights’

2. ‘We are the people’

3. ‘Individual’ sovereignty

To read the full article, please visit the ScienceDirect website here.