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One, no one, one thousand: who is the people founding democratic societies?

Grant number: 18/02426-9
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): August 01, 2018
Effective date (End): February 28, 2022
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Political Science - Political Theory
Principal researcher:Eunice Ostrensky
Grantee:Gabriela Rodrigues da Guia Rosa
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


With a myriad of definitions, the concept of popular sovereignty refers to two very distinctive moments: the foundation and the exercise of political power in democratic societies. This project is interested in the popular sovereignty as a form of constituent power, trying to map the relations amongst the foundational moment and the experience of democracy - the so called constituted power. Our departure point is the idea that popular sovereignty, in the 17th century, emerges as a solution for the problem of political legitimacy by locating the people (a fictional and abstract entity) at the foundational place of nation-states. This means that in the very origin there are no prescriptions regarding the way political power must be exercised, let alone it must be democratic (LEE, 2016, p. 21). It is this disjunction of the two moments of popular sovereignty what motivates the discussion, especially with democratic theory, about the potentials and risks of a founding power essentially arbitrary and ungovernable. The people's constituent power creates and recreates the conditions for the democratic exercise of political power, determining an inportant limit for its control and institutionalization. In face of this problem, our objectives are: (i) think about the people as this collective, abstract and fictional subject who founds democratic society; (ii) point to the democratic limits of the popular sovereignty; and (iii) specify the differences on the use of the concept as a form of constituent and constituted power. The object of our analysis are the debates amongst contemporary political thinkers of democratic and constitutional theories and employ the notion of extraordinary power to deal with popular sovereignty.