Ann Laura Stoler is Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and the author and editor of many books, including
On Degrees of Imperial Sovereignty
This chapter takes the post-9/11 resurfacing and overdetermination of “imperialism” as a moment to identify and question the assumptions that inform comparisons and commensurabilities of imperial practices. What counts as imperial in these evocations of empire, and how are they to be compared? It argues that for too long (post) colonial studies has held a myopic understanding of empire that sidelines and treats as “exceptional” a range of imperial formations and practices that could instead be considered exemplary. Here, the political history of “American exceptionalism” is an entry to an analysis that considers imperial polities as those whose techniques of governance thrive on the production of exemptions, exceptions, and their uneven and changing proliferation.