Graduated and paternal sovereignty: Stephen Harper, Operation Nanook 10, and the Canadian Arctic

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The idea of ‘graduated sovereignty’ has been used in economic geography and related fields to describe neoliberal capitalism and its negative implications for countries in the Global South. Scholars such as Aihwa Ong use the term primarily to reflect on how states and their elites in the Global South flexibly manage territories and populations at different spatial scales, including export-processing zones. In this paper, attention is given to how ‘graduated sovereignty’ is a useful lens to interrogate territorial claims (including the preservation of territorial integrity) and the spatially varied performance of state power. The Canadian government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government’s Arctic policies and strategies are a case in point. Graduated sovereignty is only one element, however, as the paper considers how a form of paternal sovereignty plays a part in managing the normative ideas of territorial integrity, the presence of exceptional circumstances, and the role of future uncertainties. Using Operation Nanook 10 as a short case study, the paper considers how the government puts to work an uncertain future regarding the Canadian Arctic is materialised and then made actionable by invoking both graduated and paternal forms of sovereignty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-1010
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • sovereignty, geopolitics, paternalism, anticipation, futures

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