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Article

The Sociology of the State: The State as a Conceptual Variable  

Yale H. Ferguson and Richard W. Mansbach

The “state” is the theoretical and empirical bedrock of the international relations field, yet it is a hotly debated concept and is routinely defined to suit the normative and/or empirical ends of scholars and practitioners. It is thus a conceptual variable. The state has so many “meanings” and connotations that the term must be carefully defined every time it is used. Perhaps the most that can be said, with any degree of certainty, is that today the sovereign state has a recognized status in international law, continues to be an important identity symbol for many citizens, and is the focus of citizen demands for the provision of collective goods. Beyond such a statement, the going gets far more difficult. Different “schools” of social science theory view the state with different lenses. Whether the concept of state has any applicability to polities that predated early modern Europe is dubious. In any event, the state and all its variants were contingent products of particular times and European space, and states have continued to adapt and evolve over the centuries to such an extent that the “modern” state bears little resemblance to its Westphalian predecessor. Indeed, modern states themselves evince such a remarkable diversity that they have little in common with one another except sovereign legal independence. That status, in turn, is not to be confused with “real” independence, which has become increasingly evident in our present-day substantially globalized world. The traditional “inside/outside” distinction offers little consolation to state decision makers who find the “outside” severely constraining their capacity to offer their citizens security and welfare. The state’s “crisis of authority” has only worsened with the spread of illiberal populist nationalism and the “return of geopolitics.”

Article

Ethics and Sovereignty  

Matthew Weinert

Literature concentrated on sovereignty’s location laid the groundwork for the distinctive sort of ethical detachment that has characterized sovereignty in international relations (IR). While it is customary to refer to sovereign absolutism as linking a logic of prerogative with sovereignty, mainstream IR theory has reproduced its own variation on the theme and done little until recently to decouple the two. Yet beginning in the late 1970s, the literature began to entertain the idea that interdependence and globalization impede, constrain, corrode, or diminish the core assumptions of sovereignty: the centralization of power and authority, the supremacy of the state, the state’s capabilities to achieve its objectives, and the degree of permissiveness afforded by an anarchical system. Put differently, the space within which sovereignty could operate unencumbered rapidly diminished in size and scope, and the sovereign state, by losing control over various functions, was becoming incoherent at minimum, and irrelevant at maximum. If these arguments focused on a narrow question, then a new literature emerged in the mid to late 1990s that focused on, and questioned, sovereignty as authority. Moreover, the debates about globalization underscored sovereignty’s disjunctive nature. Yet by linking it so closely with material structures and factors, the literature generally elided consideration of the constitutive effect of international norms on sovereignty and the ways the institution of sovereignty has changed over time.

Article

Nations Across Borders  

Katelin Knight and David Romano

As entities who exist superimposed on each other, nations and states have developed complex relationships, both advantageous and detrimental. States view nations favorably when state loyalty develops from marrying the unity of its dominant nation to the state’s institutions, but these governments may also view minority nations as a threat to the unity of their populations. Similarly, nations may benefit from the security and legal protection provided by statehood (as in the case of nation-states) but may also fall victim to the states whose borders they exist within. The latter includes nations settled in states with which they do not identify and whose institutions do not provide the nation adequate representation. States seeking to homogenize their population for nation-state creation have, at times, viewed minority communities, such as these, as a hindrance to their goal and used drastic measures to eliminate them from within their borders. Besides more subtle methods of forced assimilation, such as banning aspects of the minority culture and implementing mandatory re-education, some states have also added ethnic cleansing and genocide as tools for nation-state development. Combating the abuse of minority communities constituted by these events requires an understanding of the different actors at play. While the terms “nation,” “state,” and “nation-state” tend to be used interchangeably throughout media reports, general conversation, and some areas of academia, their distinct meanings should be highlighted. While obtaining statehood involves meeting specific criteria, the development of nationhood does not. Nations exist in various forms and often cross state lines. For many peoples, geopolitical borders do not define the beginning and end of their communities. These nations and groups tend to exist across the territory of multiple states (multistate nations) and/or alongside many other nations within the boundaries of a single state (multinational state). Recognizing the role of multinational states and multistate nations in the global system rests on the ability to differentiate between “nation” and “state.” Thus, realizing the distinction between these terms is the first step in discussing the intricacies of the interactions between nations, states, and nation-states.

Article

Globalization and Globality  

Agnieszka Paczynska

Globalization has opened up new avenues of investigation in many disciplines. Among these are political science and political sociology, where scholars have engaged in heated debates over issues such as the ways in which state sovereignty is changing, the role of new nonstate actors in shaping international social and political dynamics, and how globalization processes affecting patterns of social and political conflict. Scholars have extensively explored the impact of globalization on the nation-state. While some view the nation-state as increasingly constrained and weakening, others see it as the main actor in the international arena. Since the 1990s, the number of non-governmental organizations has grown significantly and increasing numbers are engaged in and form alliances with other civil society organizations across state borders. Some are engaged in long-term development work, others in humanitarian assistance, yet others focus primarily on advocacy. The extent of their influence and its consequences remain topics of often contentious debate within the literature. The debate on how globalization shapes conflict processes has also been contentious and deeply divisive. Some analysts view globalization processes as contributing to the emergence of new cultural and religious conflicts by challenging local cultural, religious, or moral codes, and imposing Western, secular, and materialistic values alien to indigenous ways of organizing social life. For others, the link between globalization processes and ethnic and cultural conflicts is at best indirect or simply nonexistent.

Article

Using Geography to Rethink the State  

James D. Sidaway and Carl Grundy-Warr

The state can be viewed as a form of community. Forms of human community and their attendant territorialities have been characterized by extreme variation, both historically and geographically. A profound territorial link exists between the state and the nation, with the former claiming to be a sovereign expression of the nation. A common feature of states is that they all have territorial boundaries. Moreover, the state can be interpreted as a territorial–bureaucratic expression of nationalism, found in many public rituals such as coronations and remembrance days, military parades, national holidays, swearing in of governments, and state funerals. One of the most contentious issues among states, potential states, and nations revolves around sovereignty. Challenges to sovereignty and the historical and geographical complexity of nations may be seen in terms of political landscapes as “sovereigntyscapes.” Related to the question of sovereignty are the so-called “shadow powers and networks” that transcend territorial boundaries. In the field of political geography, in tandem with significant strands of International Relations and Political Science, state power is recognized as a key, albeit not the only form, of territorial politics. The state’s relationship with the ideas of nation and citizen give rise to a host of particularisms, similarities, and contradictions that require theoretically informed yet thoroughly grounded research in divergent contexts.

Article

Gender and the State  

Natalie Florea Hudson

One of the main arguments advanced by feminists is that we must move beyond adding women to existing structures and institutions, and focus more on the theoretical, cognitive, and even moral commitments that emphasize the very creation and ongoing reproduction of such political bodies. Central to this concern are the feminist debates about the state and the gendered reproduction of the state in discourses ranging from security and violence to development and globalization. Feminist theorists have raised various approaches and critiques against the state. Some have shown how the state is deeply and fundamentally embedded to patriarchy, while others have described the state as a terrain that can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a manner that moves away from systems of domination, gendered hierarchy, and power over towards arenas that foster inclusion and emancipation. In response to mainstream international relations (IR) theory, feminists have argued that the state and its related notions of citizenship and sovereignty are gendered social constructs. They continue to challenge the primacy of the state in mainstream IR, while also engaging the state as an important political actor in the feminist quest for emancipation, equality, and justice. One strategy employed by some feminist organizations and women’s movements in an attempt to go beyond gender balancing and the rather basic goals of liberal feminism, but to still find ways to engage the state and state actors in meaningful ways, is gender mainstreaming.

Article

Human Rights and the State  

Sonia Cardenas

The modern state’s role vis-à-vis human rights has always been ambiguous. States are the basic guarantors of human rights protections, just as they can be brutal violators of human rights. This basic tension is rooted in the very notion of statehood, and it pervades much of the literature on human rights. As the central organizing principle in international relations, state sovereignty would seem to be antithetical to human rights. Sovereignty, after all, is ultimately about having the last word; it is virtually synonymous with the principle of territorial non-interference. Meanwhile, humanitarian intervention would at first glance seem to be a contravention of state sovereignty. Yet not all observers interpret human rights pressures as a challenge to state sovereignty. Modern states can be highly adaptive, no less so when confronted with human rights demands. One of the principal, if overlooked, ways in which states have adapted to rising global human rights pressures is by creating new institutions. This is reflected in the formation of national human rights institutions (NHRIs): permanent state bodies created to promote and protect human rights domestically. These state institutions are remarkable due to their rapid and widespread proliferation around the world, the extent to which they sometimes represent a strategy of appeasement but nonetheless can be consequential, and their potential for domesticating international human rights standards.

Article

Sovereignty as a Problematic Conceptual Core  

Rosemary E. Shinko

The concept of sovereignty has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. Sovereignty presents the discipline of international law with a host of theoretical and material problems regarding what it, as a concept, signifies; how it relates to the power of the state; questions about its origins; and whether sovereignty is declining, being strengthened, or being reconfigured. The troublesome aspects of sovereignty can be analyzed in relation to constructivist, feminist, critical theory, and postmodern approaches to the concept. The most problematic aspects of sovereignty have to do with its relationship to the rise and power of the modern state, and how to link the state’s material reality to philosophical discussions about the concept of sovereignty. The paradoxical quandary located at the heart of sovereignty arises from the question of what establishes law as constitutive of sovereign authority absent the presumption or exercise of sovereign power. Philosophical debates over sovereignty have attempted to account for the evolving structures of the state while also attempting to legitimate these emergent forms of rule as represented in the writings of Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. These writers document attempts to grapple with the problem of legitimacy and the so-called “structural and ideological contradictions of the modern state.” International law finds itself grappling with ever more nuanced and contradictory views of sovereignty’s continued conceptual relevance, which are partially reflective and partially constitutive of an ever more complex and paradoxical world.

Article

Muslim Views of the Polity: Citizenry, Authority, Territoriality, and Sovereignty  

Nassef Manabilang Adiong

Muslim views on the polity represent the paradigmatic understandings of how Muslims relate citizenry, authority, territoriality, and sovereignty to the overarching influence of the Western nation-state system. For instance, the meaning of citizenry in the modern state system was adopted by several Muslim societies during the decolonization period. Faith or submission to the will of God was the main criterion to become part of the group (usually referred to as the ummah). However, orientalists regarded ummah as a synonym for tribe, while Arab linguists insisted on a religious connotation. Authority, on the other hand, is ultimately enshrined in the personhood of the Prophet who is the spiritual leader, executor, legislator, and judicial interpreter of God’s message. Since in reality the Prophet is no longer existing, leadership is bestowed on the subsequent followers, and sometimes the ummah may possess leadership status through a social contract between the ruler and the ruled. The manifestation of operationalized authority needs a political space, domain, or place, which is attainable via the notion of territoriality. This is loosely conceptualized as an ummah that has geographical aspects, cultural traits, and a lingua franca. In the 8th century, jurists divided Muslim territoriality into two analytical terms, the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the abode of war/the enemy (dar al-Harb), while the Shia version of abodes rests in the Qur’anic dichotomy of “oppressed–oppressor.” The last concept pertains to sovereignty (hakimiyyah), commonly understood as “the will of God” and advanced by Islamists in the 20th century. In medieval times, it was understood as the promotion of public welfare envisaged in Shari’ah, while in modern times, Islamic modernists argued that Islamists wrongfully understood sovereignty and that the root word used in the Qur’an meant “to govern.” Nowadays, the assertion that symbolizes God’s sovereignty can be found in some modern Muslim states.