Vicente L. Rafael (2019), The Sovereign Trickster, The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 78, No. 1 (February) 2019: 141–166.
In our current moment, authoritarian figures loom large. One of them is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. He seems to embody two notions of sovereignty. One is related to law, the other to norms: on the one hand, the power of taking exception to the former, deciding who will live and who will die; on the other hand, the freedom from the limits of the latter by way of dissipation, irresponsibility, and excess. This article explores the double sources of his power with reference to the works of Michel Foucault and Achille Mbembe. While most of Foucault’s work has focused on Europe, Mbembe has written about postcolonial conditions in ways that make critical use of Foucault. Drawing from their writings, this article situates Duterte as a “sovereign trickster” who seeks to dominate death while monopolizing laughter. Finally, this article speculates on the comparative usefulness of this figure of the sovereign trickster with regard to President Donald Trump, whose form of tricksterism derives, the author argues, from the tradition of blackface minstrelsy.
Keywords: death, drug war, Duterte, Foucault, Mbembe, Philippines, sovereignty, trickster, Trump