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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: June 2011

9 - Reconstructing the analysis of sovereignty: concluding reflections and directions for future research


Social construction links identity with practice. The practices that interest us in this volume are those that construct and deconstruct territorial states and international systems, as well as organize relations among these different entities. The identity of the territorial state is not given, but is constituted through complex, overlapping, and often contradictory practices. Numerous practices participate in the social construction of a territorial state as sovereign, including the stabilization of state boundaries, the recognition of territorial states as sovereign, and the conferring of rights onto sovereign states.

As Alexander Murphy notes in Chapter 4, p. 119, “the survival and success of sovereignty as an organizing principle of the modern state system has much to do with its territorial underpinnings.” But territorial boundaries are not the only ones that require stabilization. The chapters by Michael Barnett and Daniel Deudney suggest that territorial boundaries do not always coincide with spheres of authority. The boundaries between pan-Arabism and territorial nationalism (Barnett) or between Westphalian and Philadelphian authority systems (Deudney) are not straightforward, but require constant attention and negotiation to make them appear as if they are.

Roxanne Doty suggests in Chapter 5, p. 122, that state boundaries are not just a function of territory or authority relations. Rather, they are also “a function of a state's … ability … to impose fixed and stable meanings about who belongs and who does not belong to the nation.”