Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance and Human Security

First Advisor

Jane Parpart

Second Advisor

Timothy Shaw

Third Advisor

Rita Kiki Edozie


Giorgio Agamben’s concept of Bare Life has emerged as a key analytic for exploring citizenship, spatial exclusion, and violent modalities of sovereignty in contemporary political theory. My research develops a decolonial, feminist critique of bare life and sovereign exception by focusing on sex work in postcolonies as a necessary site of theorization, which significantly shapes how labor precarity, feminist securitization and postcolonial resistance is understood in International Relations. The central argument put forth is that governance of (gendered/racialized) bare life is constitutive of global governance. In other words, I argue that the securitization and production of sex work as bare life (as well as resistance to it) is a critical element of the constitutive logic at the core of neoliberal power hierarchies of economy, agency and citizenship in world politics. Based on qualitative document analyses of global, national and local policies and governance initiatives and field research with government organizations, anti-trafficking NGOs and sex work activist groups in India, I discuss how sex work governance in post-colonies emerge as configurations of the sexual-global empire, as well as a space from where to (re)imagine decolonial/ feminist resistance. The dissertation specifically grapples with three questions: one, how and why a decolonial/feminist reading of sex work governance in India as bare life helps to understand the analytic as a modality of global governance; second, how securitization of sex work and the redemptive politics of rescuing, mainstreaming sex workers and ordering/maintaining life in brothels function as modalities which (re)produce sex work in India as bare life: and third, how sex work activism and sex workers’ agency in India emerges as a conceptual basis for (re)thinking resistance in bare life. I conclude therefore that we must be careful about the fallacies of a single, homogenous definition of bare life, defined in relationality to thanatopolitics and disposability and defined solely by sovereign voice. My work argues that studying sex work in India as bare life establishes a potent conceptual space from where we can begin to think effectively about critical strategies for disrupting gender/racial hierarchies in IR epistemes and academic knowledge production.


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