Slutwalk and Sovereignty: Transnational Protest as Emergent Global Democracy

38 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


A critical challenge for contemporary political thought is to grapple with the ways emerging forms of political practice contest traditional understandings of sovereignty. In order to investigate this, I analyze SlutWalk, which began as a local protest against a Toronto police officer’s statement that women should not dress like sluts if they do not want to be victimized by rape and rapidly expanded into an anti-sexual violence movement spanning six continents. I weave an empirical examination of the SlutWalk movement with a series of theoretical arguments. Empirically, I map the evolution of the protest through online organizing and use first-person accounts by protestors to attempt to illuminate their motivations and goals. I supplement this data with news media accounts, photographs, and video. I also recount the movement’s internal debates, highlighting criticisms that SlutWalk harbors racial bias as well as objections to the tactic of reclaiming language. I compare the first SlutWalk to the re-interpretations of the movement in other places and find that while the same anti-sexual violence messages are reiterated by all SlutWalks, the way these messages are conveyed are adjusted to fit the local culture. Theoretically, I contend that transnational protests cannot be comprehended within the paradigm of modern state sovereignty because they involve coordinated political activity by activist civil society networks unlimited by national borders. I argue that the modern state system is at a transitional point in which the mythos and the material power of the nation-state remain, yet new ways of practicing politics and organizing political authority are beginning to emerge. In order to comprehend these new forms, I develop a conception of post-national democracy which draws on Benhabib’s notions of cosmopolitanism and democratic iterations, Connolly’s view of pluralism, and Brown’s idea of sovereignty. Specifically, I argue that democratic deliberation in the sense of political contestation rooted in agonistic respect can be uncoupled from national governments, but only if both state and individual sovereignty are reconstructed in a way that neutralizes the liberal subject’s fears of permeable borders and an impure body politic. I use SlutWalk’s understanding of consent and bodily sovereignty as a metaphor for opening new ways of thinking about subjectivity, but also recognize the disjunctures between international and interpersonal relations.

Keywords: gender, feminism, sovereignty, transnational, protest, democracy, SlutWalk

Suggested Citation

Leach, Brittany, Slutwalk and Sovereignty: Transnational Protest as Emergent Global Democracy (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Brittany Leach (Contact Author)

University of Georgia ( email )

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